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The information presented on this page was originally released on January 8, 2010. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Use caution during extremely cold temps
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippians have experience coping with extreme heat, but the opposite end of the thermometer is unfamiliar and equally dangerous territory for them.
Jane Clary, health specialist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, said health and safety concerns increase when weather conditions go to extremes. The first step in coping with the conditions is to prepare for them.
“Pay attention to weather reports and use the forecasts to guide your decisions,” Clary said. “Southerners are good to get milk and bread when snow and ice are predicted, but there are many other staples they should have on hand.”
Prepare for power outages by stocking up on batteries, flashlights and foods that do not need refrigeration or cooking. Store water in clean containers. Check medical supplies, including prescriptions, and be sure the first-aid kit is fully stocked. Have a battery-operated radio. Make sure cell phones are fully charged and handy when traveling.
“Don’t neglect your nutrition during cold weather. Well-balanced meals actually help the body stay warmer. On the other hand, alcohol and caffeinated drinks cause the body to lose heat,” Clary said. “Drink plenty of liquids to stay hydrated.
“There are several conditions that make people more susceptible to hypothermia or frostbite,” she said. “Infants and the elderly are at greater risk. People who consume alcohol or suffer from serious health conditions need to be more careful.”
Clary said some of the signs of hypothermia include slurred speech, shallow or slow breathing, extreme shivering, confusion, sluggishness, and cold or stiff muscles. If hypothermia is suspected, call 911 immediately.
Frostbite symptoms include glossy, pale skin or flushed skin that changes to white or grayish-yellow. Blisters may develop. Body parts affected may become numb or extremely painful.
“Cold weather is a time to wear hats and gloves, layer clothing and stay dry outside,” she said. “Check on neighbors and family members when the temperatures fall well below freezing.”
Extension risk management specialist Ted Gordon said vehicles should be in good working order before venturing out, especially during harsh weather conditions. Check tire pressure since cold temperatures tend to make them lose air. Make sure others know travel plans, including the intended route and arrival times.
“Call and check conditions if it’s possible there will be ice on the roads,” he said. “Keep a safety kit in the car with essentials such as jumper cables, a flashlight and batteries, windshield washer fluid, warm clothing, a blanket and bottles of water.”
Alert driving is essential. Avoid driving when visibility is poor or before windows are completely clear of frost or fog.
“Drivers also need to avoid distractions, especially cell phones, electronics or loose items in the car,” Gordon said. “Be aware that
other people, children or pets can be distractions.”
Safety concerns are not limited to the highways. Space heaters, generators and chain saws are frequent causes of trips to emergency rooms or worse.
“Protect young children and pets from the dangers of space heaters. Careful supervision is very important,” Gordon said. “As always, make sure smoke detectors are present and working properly.”
Follow equipment instructions closely when using chain saws and generators.