As the polar vortex tears through the Midwest, 77 percent of the continental U.S. population is being hit by an unusual cold snap. For many of us, these are the coldest temperatures we’ve ever experienced.
In Illinois, one man has already died in a weather-related accident. In Chicago, temperatures are expected to be even colder than Antarctica–plummeting to -27°F on Thursday. In O’Fallon, there is currently a wind chill advisory in effect–with wind chills as low as -25°F.
If you’re unaccustomed to the extreme cold, here are some tips to keep you safe over the next few days:
Risk of frostbite
When wind chills are below -20°F, frostbite can start in as little as 10 minutes. Frostbite occurs when your skin becomes so cold, it loses sensation and can no longer feel the cold air. Frostbite damages your nerve endings. It also constricts blood vessels, inhibiting the flow of blood to affected extremities–making you feel even colder.
How to treat frostbite
If you feel tingling on any extremity, get indoors as quickly as possible. However, it’s important not to warm up the affected area too quickly. Frostbite sufferers frequently make the mistake of running their hands under hot water or holding them up to a fire, radiator or other heat source.
Your constricted blood vessels and damaged nerve endings limit your ability to gauge excessive heat. Therefore, heating up frostbitten skin too quickly puts you at risk of burning or popping your blood vessels.
Instead, it’s important to slowly acclimate affected areas to warmer temperatures. Start by running cold water over your fingers, then gradually increase the water temperature.
If you have to venture outside during these extreme weather conditions, try to cover up your entire body as much as possible–leaving no skin exposed. Wear a hat that covers your ears, and use a scarf to cover your neck, nose and mouth. Ski goggles can also be helpful in protecting the area around your eyes.
If you must stand outdoors for an extended period (e.g., to wait for a bus), then it’s worthwhile to stand with your back facing the wind–so that any exposed skin on your face isn’t in direct contact with the wind.
Don’t let these extreme weather conditions lead to a tragic accident. Follow the above safety tips to help protect you and your family.