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Extreme Cold Weather FAQ

What is hypothermia?
When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature.

Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won't be able to do anything about it.

Hypothermia occurs most commonly at very cold environmental temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.

Who is most at risk for hypothermia? Victims of hypothermia are most often:

What are the warning signs for hypothermia?

What should I do if I see someone with warning signs of hypothermia? If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95°F (35°C), the situation is an emergency-get medical attention immediately. If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately.

Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

What is frostbite? Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation.

What are the warning signs of frostbite? At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:

Note: A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

What should I do if I see someone with warning signs of frostbite? If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance.

If (1) there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and (2) immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

Protect yourself when it is extremely cold

Stay safe while heating your home
Take precautions to avoid exposure to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

Generator Safety
Never run a generator in your home or indoor spaces, such as garages, basements, porches, crawlspaces or sheds, or in partly enclosed spaces such as carports or breezeways. Generators should only be operated outside, far away from (25 feet or more if possible) and downwind of buildings. Carbon monoxide in the generator's fumes can build up and cause carbon monoxide poisoning, which can lead to death. Do not exceed the rated capacity of your generator. Overloading your generator can damage it and any appliances connected to it. Fire may result. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions. Fuel spilled on a hot generator can cause an explosion. If your generator has a detachable fuel tank, remove it before refilling. If this is not possible, shut off the generator and let it cool before refilling.

Fire Safety
When adding fuel to a space heater, or wood to a wood stove or fireplace, wear non-flammable gloves. Never add fuel to a space heater when it is hot. The fuel can ignite, burning you and your home. Keep the heater away from objects that can burn, such as furniture, rugs or curtains. If you have a fire extinguisher, keep it nearby. Be careful with candles--never leave them burning if you leave the room. Keep children away from space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves to avoid accidental burns.

Physical activity

Cleaning up from a snowstorm is hard work. Before you pick up a snow shovel, consider your physical condition. If you have cardiac problems or high blood pressure, follow your doctor's orders about shoveling or performing any strenuous exercise outside.
Even otherwise-healthy adults should remember to dress appropriately and work slowly when doing heavy outdoor chores.

Check on your family or neighbors and find out how they're doing. Make sure they know what to do--and what not to do--to protect their health.

More information and precautions about cold weather can be found at: http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/emergency/weather/cold/cold_weather_tips.htm(External Link)