As temperatures fall below freezing, it’s important to remember to be prepared for the extreme cold. Preparedness is more than remembering to bundle up outdoors…there are 4 basic things to keep in mind when old man winter comes a calling – People, Pets, Pipes and Plants.
One of the biggest dangers of cold weather to humans and animals is hypothermia, which occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below a critical level. According to Dr. Melissa Campbell of Meridian’s Rush Internal Medicine, a person’s average body temperature is near 98 degrees Fahrenheit, but a hypothermic person’s body temperature would likely fall to levels below 95 degrees – enough to slow down normal body functions enough to be fatal.
Frostbite is also a common problem when the mercury plunges into the teens and twenties. It usually affects the extremities such as the fingers, toes, ears, and nose, but it is not typically as life-threatening as hypothermia, but does require quick medical treatment.
“Most of your body heat is lost through the head,” said Campbell, “I recommend a cap, a hat, anything to cover your head. And you need proper shoes, thick socks, and gloves to protect your extremities.”
Protecting your pets is important as well. If possible, bring them indoors on cold nights, but if that is not an option, leave them with a bed of cloth or hay to help them stay warm.
Extreme cold also presents problems in and around the home. Pipes in poorly insulated homes may freeze and possibly even burst causing big disruptions. You can prevent this by leaving the cabinet doors open under sinks to allow heat to reach the pipes, leaving the water trickling at one or more faucets in the house, using pipe wrap to keep the pipes warmer, and wrapping outdoor water fixtures to insulate them.
Ryan Cox, the manager of the Lowe’s store in Meridian explains that pipes burst because of water left in them that freezes, and then expands. “When it expands enough,” Cox said, “the pipes, even galvanized pipes, will burst.”
Insulation is also needed for outdoor plants that may be vulnerable to a hard freeze. Covering them with a sheet or bag may be enough to keep the damage to a minimum, but there are other ways to provide a shield from the cold.
“You can use a sheet of plastic, cheese cloth, or anything that will cover the plants,” explained Cox. “Also, a heating lamp or light bulb can be useful, but you want to make sure you use the correct wattage bulb for the socket and do not let the bulb touch anything flammable.”
Finally, keep check on elderly family members and neighbors during the cold spell. Fifty percent of deaths due to exposure are people over 60 years old.
For more information on cold weather safety, visit the National Weather Service Website!