As a deep freeze descends on Lawrence for the long holiday weekend, health professionals are urging residents to take special care of themselves.
Though winter has already settled in, the next three days are expected to be unusually — and dangerously — cold, with highs around 10 and lows around minus 10, according to the National Weather Service. Wind chills are expected to make the already extreme temperatures feel as much as 10 to 20 degrees colder.
On Tuesday, temperatures are expected to creep back up into the low 20s.
“We are very concerned about the three-day stretch of extremely cold weather, especially because it falls during New Year’s Eve. We encourage everyone to be mindful of the cold weather and to use extra precautions if traveling,” said Karrey Britt, communications coordinator for the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department.
The department offers the following tips to avoid cold-weather calamities:
• Dress properly and stay dry: Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton.
Stay dry, because wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.
• Understand wind chill: The wind chill index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. When temperatures fall below freezing, frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, which causes skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.
• Avoid hypothermia: When exposed to cold temperatures, your body will 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.
Warnings signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. In infants: bright red, cold skin and very low energy. If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency.
• Avoid 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. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect exposed skin — frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite: a white or grayish–yellow skin area, numbness and skin that feels unusually firm or waxy.
A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.
• Alcohol and cold are a hazardous combination: “As people get prepared to celebrate on New Year’s Eve, we hope they keep in mind that drinking alcohol and cold weather can be a dangerous mix,” said registered nurse Kim Ens, director of clinic services at the health department.
Drinking may help you feel warmer as blood vessels on the skin’s surface open, but it actually causes your body’s core temperature to decrease, Ens said. Alcohol may also reduce the body’s ability to shiver, which is another method your body uses to help keep warm when it is cold.
A special warning about overindulging: Binge drinking — four drinks for women and five drinks for men within two hours — is extremely dangerous in any condition, but even more so when temperatures are below freezing because it can cause dizziness, loss of coordination, lack of judgment or even passing out, Ens said. It can also lead to accidental injuries such as vehicle crashes and falls, which could put people at a much higher risk of hypothermia and frostbite.
• Check on family friend and neighbors.
• Keep your pets inside.
If you’re traveling:
If you’re hitting the road during the holiday weekend, be aware of weather conditions. Avoid traveling when the weather service has issued advisories. When traveling, inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival.
AAA recommends the following winter driving tips:
• Avoid driving while you’re fatigued.
• Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
• Make certain your tires are properly inflated.
• Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
• Pack a cellphone car charger, plus blankets, gloves, hats, food, water, shovel, ice scraper, flashlight and any needed medication in your vehicle.
• Use your seat belt every time you get into your vehicle.