When living in rural North Dakota, it is important that you prepare for and dress for the varying degrees of cold weather.
Cold Weather Hazards
Learn the signs of, and basic treatments for, frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers and toes. Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. It leads to a loss of feeling and color in the areas such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. You may have a greater chance of developing frostbite if you have poor blood circulation or are not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures.
Signs and symptoms of frostbite are redness or pain in any skin area. Get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin as frostbite may be beginning.
Any of the following signs may point to frostbite: white or grayish-yellow skin area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, numbness. A person with frostbite may not know they have it until someone else points it out because the frozen parts of their body are numb. If frostbite is suspected seek medical care. Also check if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a more serious condition and requires emergency medical care.
If a person shows signs of frostbite, but there are no signs of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, get the person into a warm room as soon as possible. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on feet or toes that show signs of frostbite as this increases damage. Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage areas as this can cause more damage. Put affected areas in warm (not hot) water. Water temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body. If warm water is not available, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, use the heat of an armpit to warm frostbitten fingers. Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn. Don’t substitute these steps for proper medical care. Frostbite should be checked by a health care provider.
Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. The body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up the body’s stored energy, leading to lower body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it. Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures but occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Victims of hypothermia are often older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; people who remain outdoors for long periods and people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.
The following are warnings signs of hypothermia in adults: shivering, exhaustion or feeling very tired, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness. Warning signs of hypothermia in babies are bright red features, cold skin, and very low energy.
Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If the above signs are noticed take the person’s temperature. Seek medical attention immediately if the temperature is below 95° F. If you are not able to get medical help right away try to warm the person up by getting them into a warm room or shelter.
Remove wet clothing. Warm the center of the person’s body—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Another method is to use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets. Warm drinks can help increase body temperature. Do not give alcoholic drinks or try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck in a warm blanket. Get proper medical attention as soon as possible. In severe cases of hypothermia a person may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the person gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Perform CPR, even if the person appears dead. CPR should continue until the person responds or medical aid becomes available. Keep warming the person while performing CPR. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Wind Chill is the temperature it “feels like” and based on rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by effects of both wind and cold. Animals are also affected by wind chill; however cars, plants, and other objects are not.
Stay inside to survive during a storm. Use fire safeguards and properly ventilate fireplaces, wood stoves and space heaters. Make sure gas furnace vents are not blocked by snowdrifts once it is safe to go outside. For gas furnaces with roof vents consider turning off the furnace until snow melts off of the roof. Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows. NEVER heat the home with a gas stovetop or oven. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a greater risk during winter storms. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless poisonous gas. Carbon monoxide poisoning leads to hypoxia or oxygen starvation of blood cells. Carbon monoxide is a pollutant of hydrocarbon fuels including natural gas, propane, wood, coal and gasoline used in wood stoves, heat stoves, fireplaces, wood-pellet stoves, box or parlor stoves; oil, propane or natural gas boilers, furnaces, cooktops and ranges, some refrigerators, hot water heaters, space heaters and fireplaces or hearth products; gas or diesel fuel equipment such as generators and bio-agricultural or other fuel burning types of heating stoves. Homes should have at least one carbon monoxide (CO) detector on each floor, one in or just outside each sleeping area and one in the basement, attic, closed in porch or sunroom and garage. CO detectors use batteries which should be replaced every six months.
If the heat goes out, close off unneeded rooms to conserve heat. Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors and close window coverings to keep heat in. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Drink lots of water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic drinks to prevent dehydration. Cold air is very dry. Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing removing layers to avoid overheating, perspiration and chill.
Limit your time outside. Wear warm layers of clothing if going outside is necessary. If caught outside in a storm find shelter or build a lean-to, windbreak or snow cave for wind protection. If possible build a fire for heat and to attract attention. Melt snow for drinking water (eating unmelted snow will lower body temperature). Try to keep your blood circulating by moving from time to time. Avoid overexertion by shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow, especially if not in good health. Strain from cold and hard labor can result in a heart attack and sweating can lead to chills and hypothermia.
After the storm, tune into local news stations for updated information on road conditions. If power was lost during the storm, check with utility companies to find out when power will be restored. Check that vehicle exhaust pipes are clear before driving and brush all snow off of the vehicle before driving, especially snow that can blow up or fall on the windshield or a passing vehicle. Allow additional time for blocked, closed, icy roads or roadside assistance. Watch for crews cleaning roads and do not pass snow plows as the driver cannot see you nor can oncoming traffic. Watch for black ice on roads where snow has been cleared as water melt on roads may freeze into a clear sheet of ice which is most common in the early morning due to below freezing nighttime temperatures. Check in with family and friends. Seek medical attention if needed or call 9-1-1 if there is a medical emergency. It is common to feel fear and anxiety about winter storms. There are resources to help manage stress during a traumatic event.
For more information on winter readiness see FEMA’s How To Prepare for A Winter Storm Guide. Morton County’s Winter Weather Preparedness and Safety Guide is an excellent resource for any North Dakota resident.