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How to remain safe during cold weather, tips on how to prepare

Cold weather can be dangerous for anyone who spends time outdoors for either work or pleasure. Be mindful of the risks.

Excessive exposure to low temperatures, wind or moisture can cause two dangerous conditions: frostbite and hypothermia.

Before venturing outside in winter, be sure to:

• Check the temperature and limit your time outdoors if it’s very cold, wet or windy.

• Bundle up in several layers of loose clothing

• Wear mittens rather than gloves

• Cover your head and ears with a warm hat

• Wear socks that will keep your feet warm and dry

Even skin that is protected can be subject to frostbite. It’s the most common injury resulting from exposure to severe cold, and it usually occurs on fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. If caught early, it is possible to prevent permanent damage. If not, frostbite can cause tissue death and lead to amputation.

Superficial frostbite affects the skin surface while the underlying tissue remains soft. The skin appears white, waxy or grayish-yellow and is cold and numb.

If the condition progresses to deep frostbite, all layers of the skin are affected and the outcome likely will be more serious. The skin will become completely numb, blisters may form and eventually the skin tissue dies and turns black.

If you suspect frostbite:

• Move the victim out of the cold and into a warm place

• Remove wet clothing and constricting items

• Protect between fingers and toes with dry gauze

• Seek medical attention as soon as possible

• Warm the frostbitten area in lukewarm water (99 to 104 degrees) for 20 to 30 minutes only if medical care will be delayed and if there is no danger of the skin refreezing

• Do not use chemical warmers directly on frostbitten tissue

• Protect and elevate the frostbitten area

Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees. Hypothermia is most associated with exposure to extreme cold, but it can also occur at higher temperatures if a person becomes chilled from being soaked with rain or submerged in water.

Severe shivering, one of the first signs of hypothermia, is beneficial in keeping the body warm. But as hypothermia progresses, shivering gives way to drowsiness or exhaustion, confusion, shallow breathing, irregular heartbeat, slurred speech, loss of coordination and, eventually, unconsciousness and death.

Paradoxical undressing is an extremely rare symptom of hypothermia. The victim undresses instead of bundling up. Researchers believe that in the final throes of hypothermia, victims may feel like they are overheating due to a rush of warm blood to the extremities.

If you encounter someone suffering from hypothermia:

• Check responsiveness and breathing, and call 911; except in mild cases, the victim needs immediate medical care

• Provide CPR if unresponsive and not breathing normally

• Quickly move the victim out of the cold

• Remove wet clothing.

• Warm the victim with blankets or warm clothing

• Only if the victim is far from medical care, use active rewarming by putting the victim near a heat source and putting warm (but not hot) water in containers against the skin

• Do not rub or massage the victim’s skin

• Be very gentle when handling the victim

• Give warm (not hot) drinks to an alert victim who can easily swallow, but do not give alcohol or caffeine

These steps are not a substitute for proper medical care. Be sure to seek medical attention for frostbite and hypothermia as soon as possible.

In addition to annual maintenance, here are some tips to winterize your car:

• Test your battery; battery power drops as the temperature drops

• Make sure the cooling system is in good working order

• Have winter tires with a deeper, more flexible tread put on your car

• If using all-season tires, check the tread on your tires and replace if less than 2/32 of an inch

• Check the tire pressure; tire pressure drops as the temperature drops

• Check your wiper blades and replace if needed

• Add wiper fluid rated for -30 degrees

• Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze

• Remember to keep your car’s emergency preparedness kit fully stocked, too.

• Clean your car’s external camera lenses and side view mirrors so you’ll be able to see what’s around you

• Remove dirt, ice and snow from sensors to allow the assistive-driving features like automatic emergency braking to work

• In frigid weather, you may want to warm up the car before you drive it

• To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never leave a vehicle running in your garage – even with the garage door up

• If the forecast looks iffy, wait out the storm if possible; if you must travel, share your travel plans and route with someone before you leave

AAA offers the following driving tips:

• Avoid using cruise control in wintry conditions

• Steer in the direction of a skid, so when your wheels regain traction, you don’t have to overcorrect to stay in your lane

• Accelerate and decelerate slowly

• Increase following distance to 8 to 10 seconds

• If possible, don’t stop when going uphill

If visibility is severely limited due to a whiteout, pull off the road to a safe place and do not drive until conditions improve. Avoid pulling off onto the shoulder unless it is an absolute emergency. Limited visibility means other vehicles can’t see yours on the shoulder.

My Car Does What? is a national campaign to help educate drivers about the safety features built into vehicles. Search for your car and find out what safety features are already built in.

Traction control is now standard on most new vehicles. This function helps your vehicle gain traction on snowy, icy or wet surfaces, particularly when accelerating from a stopped or slowed position, or when trying to make it up a slippery hill.

Anti-lock braking system (ABS) helps you steer in emergencies by restoring traction to your tires and is standard on most new vehicles as well. ABS may vibrate or pulse when engaged. This is normal. Continue to press and hold pressure to the brake pedal.

Remember, you are your car’s best safety feature. Take precautions to ensure you arrive safely at your destination. If you become stranded in an unfamiliar area, do not leave your car. Light flares in front and behind the car and make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, mud or objects.

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