Winter Fun Guide

Winter Weather Safety Tips: Avoiding Frostbite and Hypothermia

The Westchester County Department of Health shares its safety tips for Valleyites hoping to stay warm during chilly weather


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Marie Maerz/Shutterstock

With Hudson Valley Weather’s five-day forecast predicting temperatures ranging from highs of around 30 degrees to below-zero lows (don’t forget the wind chill), winter is finally hitting the region.

But before you brave the weather to trudge to the nearest Metro-North station for the daily commute, you should take note of the Westchester County Department of Health’s winter advisories.

“Low temperatures can be life threatening, especially for seniors, infants, and people who are at increased risk for hypothermia,” says Westchester County Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler, a medical doctor. “To avoid frostbite and hypothermia, be sure to wear a hat and gloves, and lots of layers when heading outdoors.”

The Health Department has offered these tips to residents on how to prevent cold-related health conditions.

  • Dress warmly, prioritizing windproof clothing
  • Go indoors when you begin to feel cold
  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing to trap body heat
  • Wear wool or fleece instead of cotton, which dries more slowly when wet (ever heard the phrase “cotton kills?”)
  • Match warm socks with a thermal sock liner; only wear closed-toe shoes; and wear a weatherproof, hooded top layer for extra protection
  • Don’t forget gloves, scarves, and a hat that covers your ears

The department also stresses the importance of recognizing when a person is suffering from a cold-related health condition, because such conditions can occur with little warning and rapidly advance.

If a person is suffering from frostbite, according to the department, numbness can occur “so quickly that the individual, unaware of being frostbitten, may remain outside, increasing the change of permanent damage.”

Additionally, older persons, particularly those with diabetes, are more vulnerable to frostbite due to impaired circulation. Warning signs of hypothermia include shivering, memory less, confusion, drowsiness, exhaustion, and slurred speech. If any of these symptoms become apparent, seek medical attention immediately or call 911.

Even if you stay inside, it’s equally important to keep your home adequately heated: The Health Department advises a steady household temperature of at least 68 degrees. And if you’re planning to use alternative heating sources, make sure you know how to operate them correctly and safely.

  • Always follow manufacturer instructions when using alternative heating sources such as space heaters and wood-burning stoves
  • Use fireplaces, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak any fumes into the living space; here’s how to choose the best fireplace for your home
  • Do not place a space heater within three feet of anything that may catch on fire — such as drapes, furniture, or bedding — and never cover your space heater
  • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water
  • Never leave children or pets unattended near a space heater, fireplace, or wood-burning stove

Finally, be a good neighbor and remain aware of the elderly or disabled in your area.

“It’s a good idea to check on your older or homebound neighbors who live alone when the weather is cold,” says County Executive Rob Astorino. “Just being neighborly and asking if they need anything helps keep people safe.”

To learn more about cold weather safety, contact the Westchester County Department of Health at 914-813-5000 or visit their Web site at www.westchestergov.com/health.

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