Frostbite, slippery roads coming with sub-zero weather

Dean Shipley Staff Writer

January 4, 2014

Cold is coming, not just barely cold, but sub freezing, single-digit, flash-freeze-your-skin cold. The weather people are talking for Monday through Wednesday, single digit temperatures and wind blowing hard enough to get the square-rigged Constitution up to ramming speed. That velocity will bring wind chills of -20 to -30 degrees fahrenheit.

With a temperature of zero degrees and a wind with a velocity of 15 mph, the wind chill chart tells us it feels like 19 below. Drop that temperature to -5 degrees with the same velocity of wind and it feels like 26 below.

Those sub-zero temperatures/conditions are unkind to the human condition. That means exposure to the extremely cold temperatures can cause two problems: hypothermia and frostbite.

If at all possible, advises Jennifer Michaelson of the Madison County Health Department, “get out of the open weather, take shelter.”

Stay indoors.

When outdoors, both of the aforementioned conditions can set upon humans (and animals) within minutes.

Hypothermia in humans sets on when the core body temperature drops below 95 degrees F. That drop from the body’s normal, 98.6 degrees, brings on uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion, according the National Weather Service (NWS).

It generally requires medical attention. If that’s not possible it is advised to slowly warm the hypothermic person.

Frostbite is the literal freezing of human tissue. Obviously the most susceptible tissue is found at the body’s extremities: fingers, toes, earlobes, tip of the nose. Signs of frostbite include the loss of feeling in the affected extremity, white or pale appearance of the flesh.

Again, if those symptoms are spotted or suspected, Michaelson said call the doctor. If he/she’s not available, slowly warm the affected area or areas.

The onset of frostbite is faster as the temperature and wind chill drop. The aforementioned examples provide a time period of 30 minutes in which frostbite can occur. As temperature drops and wind velocity rises the time period to incur frostbite drops. For example, with a temperature of -15 degrees, and a wind velocity of 45 mph, the wind chill stands a -51 and in that environment, it takes only five minutes for frostbite to afflict unprotected flesh.

So the key is protect your flesh. Cover it. Fingers clustered together in mittens endure cold much better than in gloves. Wool socks in insulated boots provide more warmth than cotton socks. Cover ears with ear muffs or flaps from hats pulled down. Cover the face with a scarf.

With the extremities protected, dress the body core in layers of clothing to trap air between them and thus insulate the body against cold.

Michaelson also said to protect animals against extreme cold because they don’t like it any more than we do (well most of us). They need shelter and a water supply that won’t freeze because hydration is necessary even in the cold.

Driving in extreme cold presents its challenges as well.

A significant amount of snow 2-4 inches, is expected to fall on Monday. Following thereafter will be the aforementioned extreme cold.

In Plain City, the street department plows snow and treats the streets with salt only. Village Administrator Kevin Vaughn said even though the village has used more than it did last year at this time, but the supply is fine. But good ole NaCl (sodium chloride for you chem-geeks) becomes ineffective as a snow melter at 15 degrees above zero.

With that chemical reaction rendered inactive by the temperature, Vaughn said drivers should drive slower. The main traffic arteries are nearly clear, but secondary streets are plowed but remain snow covered.

County engineer David Brand said the number nine limestone, aka grit, which the engineer’s office adds to salt, will help with traction on the county roads which may be snow-covered. But Brand also cautioned drivers to be aware of the mercurial road conditions which could be present on a given surface.

“Road conditions will vary greatly from location to location, from route to route,” he said.

His best advice to those on the road during extremely cold weather conditions is plan for the worst case scenario, dress warmly and drive in anticipation of slick roadways.

Brand said with fresh shipments of salt, the engineer’s office is well-stocked to treat county roads.