Steamboat doctors offer tips on how to stay safe in extreme cold
January 11, 2011
Steamboat Springs — Routt County residents might be accustomed to hunkering down during severe cold snaps, but that doesn't make them immune to the potential dangers.
With overnight lows Monday night and tonight expected to dip to minus 15 degrees — and as low as minus 30 degrees with the wind chill factor — local doctors and veterinarians say preparation and common sense can go a long way toward preventing serious or life-threatening injuries.
Dr. David Wilkinson, who practices emergency medicine at Yampa Valley Medical Center, said proper clothing and food and liquid intake are essential in avoiding cold-weather injuries like frostbite.
Because cotton has virtually no insulating value — and can be downright dangerous when wet — folks should stick to clothing made from synthetic materials, he said. Wear boots that are waterproof and insulating and dress in layers that can be added or removed as appropriate. Layering is particularly important for parents dressing their young children for the severe cold. Wilkinson also said parents of young children should stay with them while waiting for the school bus.
"Time is critical," Wilkinson said. "When it's this cold, you don't have a lot of time to avoid injury if you're not bundled up."
All exposed skin is at risk of frostbite when temperatures sink below zero. Wind chill, particularly for skiers, snowboarders and snowmobilers, compounds the risk. Wilkinson advises people to cover all parts of their bodies including their faces.
Judgment is key to staying safe and warm in severe cold weather. Alcohol consumption can be dangerous in that it impairs judgment and causes the body to lose heat quicker, Wilkinson said.
But that doesn't mean food and liquid intake isn't an important element in the fight to stay warm. Because cold weather is dehydrating, Wilkinson said a person's fluid intake needs to increase as the temperatures drop. The same goes for caloric intake. A balanced diet enables the body to expend additional calories to keep a person warm. Because many residents and visitors enjoy active lifestyles, it's important to ramp up the number of calories consumed before, during and after recreating outdoors.
Everything that humans should do to stay safe in the extreme cold also should be done for animals, said Dr. Nate Daughenbaugh, of Steamboat Veterinary Hospital.
"We're all mammals, and we're all running on similar systems," he said.
House pets like dogs and cats are just as vulnerable to frostbite as their human owners. Exposed areas like paws and the tips of ears are particularly vulnerable, Daughenbaugh said. As a result, pet owners should reduce the amount of time their animals spend outside. Sweaters, vests and booties can help keep pets warm and dry during the time they do spent outdoors.
While large animals like horses are more adapted to the freezing temperatures, they're still at risk. Providing shelter — particularly a place to get out of the wind and elements — is important, Daughenbaugh said. He advised owners to make sure they are feeding their animals on a regular basis and providing open water sources.
Warmer weather is headed to Routt County on Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday's overnight low could be as high as 15 degrees.