Monday, January 24, 2011

Bitter Cold

In Connecticutt, a woman's frozen body was found in her driveway after a neighbor called police. According to the police report, Denise O'Hare apparently fell in her driveway and froze to death when temperatures were close to zero.

As I write this, the wind chill in some areas of New England are down to 50 degrees below zero. That is lethal cold. It's cold enough to freeze exposed flesh almost instantly, resulting in immediate frostbite. And it's cold enough to kill someone unfortunate enough to be exposed to it for very long. During this cold snap, a Philadelphia man froze to death in his car, where he had chosen to sleep the night. 

Wind chill is a combination of thermometer temperature and the additional chilling effect of the wind. From the chart below, you can see the relationship between decreasing temperature and increasing wind.

The best way to protect yourself against wind chill is to stay indoors where you have the benefit of an active heating system. If you must go outdoors, dress in layers that trap body-warmed air between the layers of clothing, wear a windproof shell over all the layers, and make sure none of your skin is exposed. Along with all your other clothing, a neoprene facemask and goggles are essential items of protective gear in extreme cold.

Getting out of the wind is a top priority, so look for a windproof shelter. In bitter cold weather, the inside of a vehicle turns the interior into a perfect refrigerator, unless you have a heat source.

If you close yourself up tightly in an enclosed space and use a heat source that employs combustion of any type, you risk death by oxygen depletion (asphyxia) or from carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a hibachi or BBQ indoors, and be careful to provide adequate fresh air ventilation if you use propane appliances such as a camp stove or propane heater in an enclosure. 

It's easy to die in times of extreme cold, and you must be careful every step of the way. 

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