Winter / Cold Weather Safety

Wind Chill Index
The "Wind Chill" Index is a calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. The La Crosse National Weather Service issues Wind Chill Advisories when they reach -20° F, and Wind Chill Warnings when they drop to -35° F or lower. Exposure to cold, biting air for long periods of time is dangerous.

In late 2001 the NWS started using a new wind chill index. This new index was designed to calculate a more accurate reading of how the cold air feels on human skin. This new index was based on wind speeds at human face level, an updated heat transfer theory which factors in heat loss from the body to its surroundings during cold windy days, and a consistent standard for skin tissue resistance.
Windchill Chart
The main goal of the change was to use modern science in revising the index so that it more accurately represents the impact on humans.

Frostbite / Hypothermia
Watch for signs of frostbite or hypothermia when outdoors during extreme cold weather. Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can permanently damage its victims. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, or nose and ear lobes are symptoms of frostbite. In fact, research (P. Tikuisis, 2004) has shown that uncovered fingers can freeze up to 8 times faster than a human cheek, and the nose can freeze 3 times faster. This illustrates the importance of keeping fingers and parts of your face (ear lobes, nose) well covered in extreme cold weather.

Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 55° F. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

Fighting Hypothermia
If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical assistance. Warm the person's trunk first. Use your own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because stimulation of the limbs can drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure. Put the person in dry clothing and wrap their entire body in a blanket.

Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim something with caffeine in it (like coffee or tea) or alcohol. Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart to beat faster and hasten the effects the cold has on the body. Alcohol, a depressant, can slow the heart and also hasten the ill effects of cold body temperatures.

Winter Weather Preparedness
When Outdoors
  • Check temperatures and wind chill indicies first.
  • Dress warmly, with several layers. Dress for the worst just in case.
  • Use a warm coat, gloves or mittens, a hat, and water-resistant boots.
  • Cover exposed skin as much as possible.
  • Watch for frostbite on finger tips, ear lobes, the nose, or toes.
  • Avoid over-exertion. The cold already puts a strain on the body and heart.
At Home / Work
Make sure you have:
  • Extra flashlights and batteries
  • A battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio or AM/FM portable radio
  • Extra food and water (2-3 day supply)
  • Extra medicine and baby items
  • First Aid supplies
  • Emergency Heating source**
  • Carbon Monoxide Detector
** If you use an emergency heating source, be alert for deadly carbon monoxide gases and never place it near another object that may catch on fire. Many house fires during the winter are caused by incorrect use of a space heater. Keep the space heater at least 36 inches away from other objects and turn it off if you leave the room.

On the Farm
  • Move animals to a sheltered area.
  • Supply extra food for animals.
  • Have a fresh water supply (most animal deaths during the winter are from dehydration).
At School
  • Have an action plan.
  • Monitor weather conditions closely.
  • Use NOAA Weather Radio to get hourly wind chill values.
  • School days may need to be delayed, cancelled, or shortened.
When Traveling
  • Winterize your vehicle. Check the battery.
  • Check the forecast and road conditions ahead of time.
  • Consider adjusting your route to avoid poor driving conditions.
  • Carry a cellular phone for use during emergencies.
  • Keep the gas tank near full.
  • Coordinate with others your destination and times of travel.
  • Yield to snowplows. The snow cloud they produce can lower visibilities to near zero. Stay back - Stay Alive!
Have a survival kit in your car:
  • Extra blankets or sleeping bag
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First Aid kit with pocket knife
  • Booster cables
  • A rope
  • A small shovel
  • A bag of sand or cat litter for traction
  • Plastic bags (for sanitation)
  • Extra gloves, hat, and socks
  • Non-perishable food items and bottled water
  • Road maps (for alternative routes)
If you do get stuck:
  • Stay with your car. Do not try to walk to safety.
  • Start the car for about 10 minutes every hour for heat.
  • Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow.
  • Tie a bright colored (red or orange) cloth to the antenna.
  • Turn the dome light when running the engine.
  • If you must venture away from the car, use a life-line or rope.