Winter Weather Safety

Winter Landscape

Biting cold temperatures, snowy streets, icy sidewalks, winter power outages…some may say it’s just another winter day in the Midwest! While it may be just another winter day extreme weather can be dangerous.

Staying warm, safe, and healthy in the winter months can sometimes be a challenge. Scott County Health Department wants to remind you that to keep yourself and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold related health problems and what to do if a cold-weather health emergency arises. The following, explanations, links, and tips should help you prepare.

Extreme Cold

How cold is extreme cold? Well, that depends on where you live in the United States and what the average temperatures are there. Extreme cold happens when temperatures drop below normal as wind speed increases. When this happens, heat can leave your body more quickly. This kind of weather can cause health emergencies especially for older people, young children, people without shelter or who are stranded, or people without proper heat or insulation in their home.

Cold Weather Health Emergencies

  • Hypothermia
    In cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Being in the cold for a long time will eventually use up your body's stored energy. When this happens you could get hypothermia. Hypothermia is low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain making it hard to speak clearly or move.
  • Frostbite
    Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes, causing loss of feeling and color. Frostbite is serious and can cause permanent damage, even amputation. People who do not have good blood circulation or who are not dressed for extremely cold temperatures are at more risk for frostbite.

Protect yourself…here’s how.

  • Don’t go outside if you don’t have to when it is extremely cold.
  • If you do go out, dress warmly and stay dry. Wear a hat and a scarf to cover your face and mouth and mittens instead of gloves because they keep your hands warmer.
  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing.
  • If traveling, let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive.
  • Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car, including additional warm clothing and a blanket.
  • If you become stranded while traveling, stay in your car, stay awake, and use blankets and extra clothing for warmth.
  • Avoid exertion because cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart.

Injury from Falls

With extreme winter weather come the hazards of slippery streets, sidewalks, and parking lots. Injuries from falls can range from minor bruises to broken bones or brain concussions. In Iowa, between 2003 and 2005, falls by people of all ages accounted for 41 percent of Emergency Department visits and 48 percent of hospitalizations. Falls are especially serious for older adults.

We should all prepare ourselves for slippery conditions by knowing what to do to avoid a fall and what to watch for if a fall does happen.

Symptoms of a brain concussion include:

  • confusion
  • headache
  • blurred vision
  • nausea

If you fall and hit your head and you experience these symptoms it is best to call your healthcare provider, or if necessary call 911.

The best protection against falls is prevention. If you must go out on slippery surfaces be prepared:

  • Wear treaded, rubber-soled boots
  • Walk on the grass when the sidewalks are slippery
  • Sprinkle ice-melt products or cat litter on slippery steps
  • Take your time and slow down

Also, check periodically on elderly neighbors or those who live alone to ensure they have not fallen outside their homes and need assistance.

For more information about extreme cold and staying safe and healthy during winter weather disasters visit: