Extremely cold air comes every winter in at least part of the country and affects millions of people across the United States. The arctic air, together with brisk winds, can lead to dangerously cold wind chill values. People exposed to extreme cold are susceptible to frostbite in a matter of minutes. Areas most prone to frostbite are uncovered skin and the extremities, such as hands and feet. Hypothermia is another threat during extreme cold. Hypothermia occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce.
Cold weather also affects crops. In late spring or early fall, early arrival of cold air can damage or kill produce for farmers, as well as plants and flowers at your home or business. A freeze occurs when the temperature drops below 32°F. Freezes and their effects are significant during the growing season. Frost develops on clear, calm nights and can occur when the air temperature is in the mid-30s. Each plant species has a different tolerance to cold temperatures. You may also want to check out our winter safety site for snow and more cold season hazards information.
As temperatures drop this winter, the American Red Cross offers ten steps people can take to stay safe during the cold weather.
1. Layer up! Wear layers of lightweight clothing to stay warm. Gloves and a hat will help prevent losing your body heat.
2. Don’t forget your furry friends. Bring pets indoors. If they can’t come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
3. Remember the three feet rule. If you are using a space heater, place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least three feet away – things such as paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs.
4. Requires supervision – Turn off space heaters and make sure fireplace embers are out before leaving the room or going to bed.
5. Don’t catch fire! If you are using a fireplace, use a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
6. Protect your pipes. Run water, even at a trickle, to help prevent your pipes from freezing. Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children. Keep the garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage.
7. Better safe than sorry. Keep the thermostat at the same temperature day and night. Your heating bill may be a little higher, but you could avoid a more costly repair job if your pipes freeze and burst.
8. The kitchen is for cooking. Never use a stove or oven to heat your home.
9. Use generators outside. Never operate a generator inside the home, including in the basement or garage.
10. Knowledge is power. Don’t hook a generator up to the home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator.