Health and safety tips for the snow, ice, frigid temps

PHILADELPHIA - January 3, 2014


Your Base Layer: Moisture Management This is your next-to-skin layer. It helps regulate your body temperature by moving perspiration away from your skin. Keeping dry helps you maintain a cool body temperature in the summer and avoid hypothermia in the winter. If you've ever worn a cotton T-shirt under your raincoat while you hiked, you probably remember feeling wet and clammy, even though you weren't getting wet from the rain itself. Cotton is a fabric that retains perspiration and can leave you chilled. For outdoor comfort, your base layer should be made of merino wool (popularized by brands such as SmartWool, Ibex and Icebreaker), synthetic fabrics (polyesters such as Polartec Power Dry or Patagonia Capilene) or, for less-active uses, silk. Rather than absorbing moisture, these fabrics transport (or "wick") perspiration away from your skin, dispersing it on the outer surface where it can evaporate. The result: You stay drier even when you sweat, and your shirt dries faster afterwards. Examples: A base layer can be anything from briefs and sports bras to long underwear sets (tops and bottoms) to tights and T-shirts. It can be designed to fit snugly or loosely. For cool conditions, thermal underwear is available in light-, mid- and expedition-weights. Choose the weight that best matches your activity and the temperature.

Your Middle Layer: Insulation The insulating layer helps you retain heat by trapping air close to your body. Natural fibers such as wool and goose down are excellent insulators. Merino wool sweaters and shirts offer soft, reliable warmth and keep on insulating even when wet. For very cold and dry conditions, goose down is best. It offers an unbeatable warmth-to-weight ratio and is highly compressible. Down's main drawback is that it must be kept dry to maintain its insulating ability. A new innovation—water-resistant down—promises to change this. Classic fleece such as Polartec 100, 200 or Thermal Pro polyester and other synthetics such as Thinsulate provide warmth for a variety of conditions. They're lightweight, breathable and insulate even when wet. They also dry faster and have a higher warmth-to-weight ratio than even wool. Classic fleece's main drawbacks are wind permeability and bulk (it's less compressible than other fabrics). Wind fleece such as Polartec WindPro polyester or Gore WindStopper adds a high level of wind resistance to fleece. How? It uses a hidden membrane that does not affect breathability.

Your Shell Layer: Weather Protection The shell or outer layer protects you from wind, rain or snow. Shells range from pricey mountaineering jackets to simple windproof jackets. Most allow at least some perspiration to escape; virtually all are treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) finish to make water bead up and roll off the fabric. An outer shell is an important piece in bad weather, because if wind and water are allowed to penetrate to your inner layers, you begin to feel cold. Furthermore, without proper ventilation, perspiration can't evaporate but instead condenses on the inside of your shell. Fit is another consideration. Your shell layer should be roomy enough to fit easily over other layers and not restrict your movement. Shells can be lumped into the following categories:

  • Waterproof/breathable shells: The most functional (and expensive) choices, these are best for wet, cool conditions and alpine activities. Shells using laminated membranes such as Gore-Tex and eVent offer top performance; those using fabric coatings are a more economical alternative. Shells are categorized by REI as either rainwear, which emphasizes low weight and packability, or mountaineering wear, which is more abrasion-resistant and has additional features.
  • Water-resistant/breathable shells: These are best for light precipitation and high activity levels. Less expensive than waterproof/breathable shells, they're usually made of tightly woven fabrics (such as mini-ripstop nylon) to block wind and light rain.
  • Soft shells: These emphasize breathability. Most feature stretch fabric or fabric panels for added comfort during aerobic activities. Many offer both shell and insulative properties, so they in effect combine 2 layers into 1. Soft shells include cold- and mild-weather options.
  • Waterproof/non-breathable shells: These economical shells are ideal for rainy days with light activity (e.g., fishing, sports viewing). They are typically made of a sturdy, polyurethane-coated nylon which is water- and windproof.
  • Insulated shells: Some outer shells have a layer of insulation built in—such as fleece—making them convenient for cold, wet conditions, but not as versatile for layering in fluctuating temperatures.

Layering information from: REI


Frostbite can set in less than 30 minutes if areas are exposed. The areas most likely affected are: fingers, toes, ears and nose

If you have kids heading out to play in the snow or if you are going out to shovel, make sure you are fully covered up be sure to take breaks.

Signs of frostbite include:

  • Painful or prickly sensation

  • Red, white, pale or grayish-yellow skin

  • Hard or waxy-looking skin

These are all signs you need to get inside and slowly warm up.

Hypothermia is when your body temperature drops to a dangerous level.

Signs include:

  • Shivering

  • Lack of coordination

  • Slurred speech

  • Shallow breathing

People, many times are not aware this is happening. They can seem very confused.

Just like frostbite, hypothermia can get worse quickly so you need to get someone inside if you see this happening.

Take off any wet clothes, get them warm, and for severe symptoms you should call 9-1-1.

If you or your child suffers from asthma, add a couple of things to your 'to do' list:

1. Make sure your/your child's inhalers are full and up to date and you have your peak/flow meter available.

2. Talk to kids about being aware of their symptoms if they're going to go sledding, or build a snowman. Know when to stop and take a break.

3. Have a full supply of your asthma medication well before the snow starts falling.

4. If you have asthma induced by exercise or extreme cold, avoid shoveling snow! Find a volunteer to do it for you, or pay someone to shovel you out.

5. Have all emergency medical numbers at the ready.

According to the American Lung Association, your plan should include not only a list of the asthma triggers you need to avoid, but also the specific symptoms you need to be on the lookout for, such as coughing, wheezing, or shortness of breath.

The plan should also list your regular medications, the symptoms they control, and most important, what to do and what to take in the event of an asthma emergency. "You should always have on hand one or more fast-acting medications, drugs you know you can take for immediate relief," says Deb Brown, CEO of the ALA of the Mid-Atlantic.

The American Lung Association also advises patients to classify their peak flow meter readings and their symptoms into three zones - and use them as a guide to determine how well your asthma is under control.

The three zones are:

  • Green Zone: Peak flow reading of 80%-100% of your usual "personal best" peak flow reading. The green zone indicates good asthma control.
    • Yellow Zone: Peak flow reading of 50%-80% of your usual peak flow reading. This indicates that your asthma control is not optimal. You may or may not notice symptoms such as cough or wheezing. Your asthma needs to be addressed according to the asthma action plan set up by you and your doctor.
    • Red Zone: Peak flow reading of less than 50% of your usual reading. This indicates poor asthma control needing rescue medications. Make sure to follow your asthma plan regarding use of rescue drugs and seeking medical attention.

    Particularly during cold and flu season, the American Lung Association recommends that you strive to remain in the green zone and contact your doctor as soon as you begin dropping into the yellow zone.

    Here are some tips to play it safe during the winter storm:

    Spinning tires?
    AAA says many people will spin or skid in snowy condition.

    "Turn into the spin and let go of the gas immediately," says Michael Spielberger, AAA. "And try not to brake too hard because it is only going to make you spin and skid harder."

    For breakdowns during the storm?
    Lee Douglas from Firestone says if you break down on the road during the storm, think of your safety and that of your passengers.

    "Put yourself in a position where it's safe, and you don't get hit. Make sure you have a cell phone, and if you have AAA, call someone," said Douglas. And he says keep a shovel, flares or safety triangles in your car.

    And if you get stuck?
    "The old kitty litter trick obviously works. If you get stuck somewhere, you can drop that out or even mix rock salt with the kitty litter to help melt the snow around the tires," Douglas said.

    Clearing car windows
    Douglas says top off your window washer fluid. Many people forget and don't have any when they need it most.

    Car battery trouble
    Experts warn that the frigid temperatures can take a toll on your car battery.

    "Have your battery checked," said Douglas. "If there is corrosion built up around it, clean the corrosion off and make sure you have a clean connection on your battery terminals."

    Gas Stoves/Appliances
    The New Jersey Propane Gas Association has issued a warning for people tempted to use their stoves or ovens to heat their homes – don't do it!

    "If you have outdoor appliances inside or you try to use your stove for heat, you are putting your family at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning," says Crystal Smith, New Jersey Propane Gas Association.

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