Checking the forecast daily may be redundant for Miami residents, but in Indianapolis, viewing the weather report could prevent you from wearing a t-shirt in a blizzard. Indiana weather is notoriously unpredictable. To keep yourself safe in sudden winter storms, be on the lookout for freezing temperatures.
Having warm clothes ready when the temperature plummets can help prevent frostbite, which can set in within minutes if it’s cold enough. Frostbite not only harms the skin, but also the tissue underneath. According to the Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center at Eskenazi Health, frostbite can even harm tendons, muscles, nerves and bones. Frostbite injuries resemble those you get from burns and can be very painful.
With our previously mild temperatures finally plummeting and snow back in the forecast, it is time to ensure we’re ready for the bitter conditions that cause frostbite. Shoveling your front step, walking down the block or waiting too long in an unheated car can be dangerous when the temperature dips below zero.
Warm layers may add a minute or two to your morning routine, but they also keep you comfortable and safe. Mittens, scarves, hats and warm socks and boots cover the extremities that are so vulnerable to frostbite, including your nose, ears, fingers and toes. A waterproof layer enables you to avoid the body heat loss that accelerates when your clothes are wet.
A car safety kit can help you stay warm if your car breaks down in severe weather. You can find a useful list at the National Weather Service. Make sure at the least you have a flashlight, extra layers, a blanket, a great snow scraper and a cell phone charger. If you have ever called a tow truck when the wind chill falls below zero, you know that the wait will be long, so keep your gas tank full until spring begins. If you don’t have access to warm clothing or safety supplies, seek assistance from your local community center, shelter or religious organization.
If you do expose your skin when the temperature approaches zero, watch for signs you need medical attention. The Richard M. Fairbanks Burn Center describes the early stage of frostbite as a tingling sensation, followed by numbness. The affected skin then becomes hard, pale, cold and numb. In more extreme cases, it may even become white or blistered. According to the American Burn Association, going to a verified burn center within 12 hours of exposure helps you avoid the most severe effects of frostbite, including amputation of frostbitten limbs. If you must wait for medical help, avoid walking on the harmed area, doing anything about the blisters or using sources of heat that could burn your desensitized skin. Wrap dry, sterile bandages or cloths around the affected area instead.
Planning for sudden chills is part of living in Indiana. Do what you can to stay warm and safe.
Broderick Rhyant, M.D., chief physician executive with Eskenazi Health Center Forest Manor