Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Any Time of Year

In the temperate parts of the Northern Hemisphere, this is the time of year when people bundle up and sit in front of the fireplace drinking hot chocolate. It's cold outside. It's rainy or perhaps snowy. It's mukluks and mittens weather, with a parka and hood to keep the chill away. This is the time of year when folks become aware of how quickly hypothermia can happen.

But, what many don't understand is that hypothermia can happen anywhere and any time of year. Technically, hypothermia is a loss of body core temperature. The core is 98.6 degrees F., and that warmth is trying to escape by any means available. Here are the ways your body loses heat:

  • Conduction — direct contact with an object that is cooler than the core temp.
  • Convection — movement of air around your body carries away the warmth.
  • Radiation — your body radiates warmth away from itself.
  • Evaporation — damp clothing acts like a "swamp cooler" type of air conditioner for your body.
  • Exhalation — with each breath, you lose heat from inside and replace it with cold air.
  • Elimination — yup, even the bodily act of elimination transfers warmth from inside. 
All of these natural functions take place 24/7 no matter what part of the planet you're on, no matter what the season.

Of course, if you're in a hot environment and expose yourself to excessive heat and exercise, you can go the other way and end up with heat exhaustion or heat stroke (another issue for another post). But even in the desert or the tropics, when the sun goes down so does the ambient temperature, leaving you vulnerable to hypothermia.

So, what can you do to counteract the body's natural tendency toward temperature loss?

  • Get dry. Stop whatever is making you wet. If you're in the water, get out. If you're in wet clothing, get out of them and dry your skin, then get into something (a shelter, dry clothing, etc.) to protect yourself from the breeze. When you're wet, your body will be working overtime on the deadly trio of convection, radiation and evaporation.
  • Take shelter from the wind. Dry your hair, because you lose a lot of body heat through the scalp. Cover your head. 
  • Get a fire started to completely dry your body, hair and clothing. 
  • Heat water for a warm drink. Add calories to the hot water — chocolate, a soup mix, etc.
  • Heat up some food an have a hot meal. 
  • Wrap in cloth a stone warmed by the fire, and tuck it into your jacket or sleeping bag.
  • Use the fire to signal for help — smoke by day, flames by night. The sooner you get rescued, the better. 
Hypothermia is not just a cold weather issue. It can happen in relatively mild temperatures when you get wet and fatigued. Swimmers in warm tropical water can become hypothermic if they stay in the water too long. Any time of year and any place on the planet, hypothermia is a deadly hunter that stalks human prey.


  1. Thsnks Rich. That's one of the best explanations of Hypothermia I've read.

  2. Any time of year and any place on the planet, hypothermia is a deadly hunter that stalks human prey.

    To bad it's not more effective, too many monkeys on this rock.