Extreme Winter Blast

This will be a winter to remember.  The city is actually in danger of running out of salt!  We are breaking all sorts of records this year with our continual freezing temperatures and icy accumulation.  We normally have around 42 inches of snow for the whole winter and we are well past that mark now.  It has put an extreme demand on our PennDOT road crews who have used around 22,000 tons of road salt in Allegheny County this winter. They used 5,000 tons around the same time last year.  This winter is to say the least abnormal.

So how do your prepare for an anomaly?  My personal mantra is to always be prepared for disaster but it doesn’t not make me fatalistic in nature.  I just like to adopt the old Boy Scout mantra “Be Prepared” in general.  But I firmly believe in deferring to others who are more accustomed to such chilly climes.  In Alaska anything above -10 is considered great weather.  They must know a thing or two about dealing with the cold.  Warming their cars up for 20 minutes or so and keeping their gas tank full to avoid condensation is commonplace.  They also make sure the power steering pump warms up before making tight turns out of their driveway. Otherwise you could be replacing your power steering hose which suffers from ice cold fluid entering at very high pressure through the hose.

Being prepared really can lessen the impact of extreme weather.  But there are some days when you just don’t want to step outside all – even in Alaska.  Simple advice.  If it is -20 below with wind chill, stay home.  Make hot chocolate.  Clean the house.  Read a novel.  Work from home.  Do anything but subject your delicate skin and internal infrastructure to abnormally low temperature.  The human body is far worse at acclimatizing to frigid conditions than it is to heat or altitude.  The two main cold-weather illnesses are frostbite and hypothermia.  Frostbite means that yo­ur skin has fallen below the freezing point and ice crystals are forming within your skin cells and killing them.  Frostbite can happen within 30 minutes if wind chill makes the temperature feel like -28 or colder. If it is -40, it only takes 10 minutes for a person to get frostbite. At -55, frostbite can set in within 2 minutes.

Severe frostbite penetrates all the way to the muscle and bone and is characterized by tingling of extremities and changes in your skin’s color and texture. The stages of frostbite are:

  • Red skin – initial stage
  • White skin – middle stage
  • Hard skin – getting severe
  • Blisters – severe
  • Blackened skin – advanced stage

Hypothermia is when your body loses more heat than it produces and your core body temperature drops. Some of the symptoms of hypothermia are:

  • Slurred speech
  • Stiff joints
  • Loss of coordination
  • Slow pulse
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Puffy face
  • Mental confusion

So stay inside if at all possible and use caution if you have to go out.  All body parts and skin should be completely covered.  It is all about core heating and dressing in layers.

Base Layer

Consists of thermal underwear or other comfy tight-fitting apparel worn against the body.  Should be made of fabrics like silk, polyester and poly blends that are excellent at  wicking moisture off your skin. This is critical because after you’ve generated perspiration you don’t want to suffer dramatic drops in body temp when you stop moving.

Mid Layer

Everyday items like a T-shirt, casual pair of pants, etc. make up your mid layer. The object is to provide a little insulation and look good when you head inside and remove outer layers. Wool, cotton, and nylon often make good mid layers.

Insulating Layer

Can make an insulated jacket even warmer or can act as the primary source of warmth inside a shell. Should be lightweight and low-bulk for active sports and is commonly a pullover jacket, sweater or vest. Some great insulating materials include Polartec® polyester fleece, boiled wool, goose down and synthetic fill.


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