Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

January 6, 2014

Adjusting to frigid temps

ASHLAND — The Tri-State area has a temperate climate with relatively comfortable summers and winters, and the rules we follow to deal with seasonal changes in temperature are fairly well established.

Average winter temperatures of 30s during the day and 20s at night are seldom a threat to life or property. But when temperatures dip below what we are used to dealing with, then those rules need to be adjusted accordingly. Prolonged — or in the case of those with health issues, even temporary exposure — to frigid temperatures and the added concern of wind chill can have serious consequences.

Wind chill factor is a means by which scientists measure the loss of heat in the human body caused by low temperatures and wind, measured by the effects on exposed skin. That measurement can be applied to animals as well; and an important fact to remember when considering animals like dogs is that they must have water to assist in regulating their own body temperature. Frozen water dishes in the winter can have devastating results, and water dishes must be emptied and refilled regularly — or if possible, simply bring the animals inside. A good rule of thumb would be to consider animal water as being in a freezer that is much colder than the one in our kitchens.

 Hydration is important to humans in winter as well, beyond the obvious hot chocolate or coffee. Preparation and length of exposure are key factors as well. The human body needs to maintain its core temperature, because if that temperature drops as low as 95 degrees (a mere 4 degrees), medical attention is required . . . immediately.

The human body loses heat in winter months due to evaporation through the skin and normal respiration, and it uses energy to maintain the core temperature. If the body loses heat faster than it is able to replace it then it can result in conditions such as hypothermia and frostbite.

According to the National Weather Service, for the night of Jan. 6 (Monday), the wind chill factor will cause frostbite within only 15 minutes of skin exposure, and those conditions will continue for several days. The main way to prevent this would, of course, be to remain inside with a good source of heat.

Unfortunately some residents will need to be outside during the extreme weather conditions and should take precautions including covering exposed skin. if travel is necessary then include items such as blankets and hand warmers (such as used by hunters) in emergency kits, and carry a cell phone in case an emergency call is required. Cell phones will typically make emergency calls (911) even if they are out of minutes.

Ten degrees can make a huge difference, and wind chill factor should not be ignored. Be prepared, and if possible limit exposure to intervals of less than 10 minutes, even if you don’t feel cold. We should all use common sense in extreme weather conditions and not overextend ourselves or allow others to do so.

CHARLES ROMANS is a freelance writer who lives in Greenup County.

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