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Winter weather can bring frosty fingers, tingly toes


Irving, Texas. December 18, 2017

The calendar may say it’s winter but to those who have spent any time in North Texas, “winter” means a few days when a warm coat is needed and if it’s really bad, an icy day or two to ruin a good commute. But even though our area has relatively mild temperatures compared to our neighbors to the north, Parkland Health & Hospital System’s disaster management staff warns against becoming complacent when it comes to winter weather preparedness.
According to the National Climate Data Center, strong cold fronts occur about three times each month during winter and often are accompanied by sudden drops in temperature. Snowfall is seen on average three days annually and snow accumulation is seen on two days per year in the Dallas area. 

“Even though periods of extreme cold that occasionally occur are short-lived, the Metroplex still averages 36 days with temperatures below freezing each year,” said Chris Noah, Parkland’s Director of Disaster Management. “Therefore, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re ready in case a storm hits.”

Being prepared, Noah said, includes having an emergency car kit stocked with essential items in case you’re stranded on the highway or on a country road heading to grandma’s house. Minimize travel, but if it is necessary, keep the following in your vehicle:

• Cell phone, portable charger and extra batteries
• Battery-powered radio with extra batteries
• Flashlight with extra batteries
• Water
• Snack food
• Extra hats, coats and mittens
• Canned compressed air with sealant for emergency tire repair
• Booster cables
• Emergency flares
• Bright colored flag or help signs
• First aid kit with pocket knife
• Tow chain or rope
• Shovel
• Road salt, sand or kitty litter to help tires get traction

“It’s also important that you let your relatives or friends know when you’re traveling and which route you’re taking,” Noah said, adding that it’s always a good idea to pay attention to weather forecasts.

If you do find yourself stranded and exposed to cold temperatures, your body can begin to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, according to Alexander Eastman, MD, Medical Director and Chief of the Rees-Jones Trauma Center at Parkland and Professor of Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

“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,” Dr. Eastman said.

Hypothermia occurs most commonly at very cold environmental temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40 degrees Fahrenheit) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water. Those who are most at risk for hypothermia include elderly people with inadequate food, clothing or heating; babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; children left unattended; adults under the influence of alcohol; mentally ill individuals; and people who remain outdoors for long periods of time including the homeless, construction workers, first responders, hikers and hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the warning signs for hypothermia in adults include:

• Shivering/exhaustion
• Confusion and fumbling hands
• Memory loss and/or slurred speech
• Drowsiness

Signs of hypothermia in infants include bright red, cold skin and very low energy.

“If you notice signs of hypothermia, take the person’s temperature,” Dr. Eastman said. “If it is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the situation is an emergency. Call 911 and get medical attention immediately.”

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