Skip to main content

Your first freeze? 5 ways to survive it

By Charles Bryant
updated 11:03 AM EST, Tue January 7, 2014
Snow and ice blanket downtown St. Louis and the Mississippi River on Wednesday, January 8. Snow and ice blanket downtown St. Louis and the Mississippi River on Wednesday, January 8.
HIDE CAPTION
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
Winter weather grips U.S.
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Charles Bryant: If you're not used to polar vortex-type weather, here are some tips
  • He says respect wind chill; exposed skin can lead to frostbite or worse
  • He says if symptoms of hypothermia, get warmed up, stay calm, share body heat
  • Bryant: Wear hat, hydrate (no alcohol), and if you lose power build fire (think safely)

Editor's note: Charles W. (Chuck) Bryant is the co-host, with Josh Clark, of Discovery Channel's 'Stuff You Should Know.' The pair has released nearly 600 episodes of their award-winning show since 2008.

(CNN) -- If you're from, say, the Midwest or Northeast or Alaska, dealing with the cold is not only a way of life, but also a point of pride: You can take care of yourself, and you're not shy about pointing it out. But, as evidenced by this week's "polar vortex," cold weather can barrel through many parts of the country — Georgia, Florida, Arkansas — where people aren't used to sub-freezing temperatures.

There are some true life-threatening scenarios, like a car breaking down on a rural stretch of wintery road (always pack a blanket), but it can be dangerous even in your own home if you're caught without the necessities you need to keep warm, and this is especially true for the elderly.

If you're in a part of the United States new to this kind of severe weather, here are some suggestions to help you help yourself.

Chuck Bryant
Chuck Bryant

1: Wind chill can kill

Wind chill is the effect of moving air on exposed skin, a term coined by Antarctic explorer Paul Siple in the late 1930s to help describe how wind figures into heat loss. He experimented with wind chill's effect by timing how long it took to freeze water in varying degrees of wind strength. If you're not used to bitter wind chill, realize that you need to take it seriously when preparing for any outdoor activities. Skin exposed for five minutes in below-zero wind chill conditions can get frostbite. Longer can do worse.

Two University of California at Berkeley economists found that deaths related to cold reduced the average life expectancy of Americans by a decade, if not more. In countries where people were exposed to 10 or fewer days a year, the death rate was substantially higher than in countries with at least 90 cold days a year.

Additionally, cold weather can leave us without our thinking caps, willing to do whatever it takes to warm up. This can indirectly lead to unexpected fatalities because of accidents relating to carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires.

2: Hypothermia and layering

Hypothermia -- when your body temperature falls to 95 degrees F -- is a grim possibility if you're facing the cold without power, and layering your clothing is your best first defense against it. If you're experiencing slurred speech, stiff joints, a loss of coordination, uncontrollable shivering, loss of bladder control, puffy face or mental confusion, you could be suffering from hypothermia, which can be fatal. To combat this, get yourself into a warmer environment as soon as you can. Cover yourself with any items you can find -- blankets, sleeping bags, pillows. Just as you layer your upper body clothing, you should also layer what you have on your feet. Try a thin pair of nylon, silk or wool socks for starters -- then layer with additional wool socks. If you think a loved one is suffering from hypothermia, you should handle that person with great care, as the condition could make it easy for him or her to go into cardiac arrest.

Keep them horizontal and calm, and reassure them that they're going to be fine. Use each other's body heat to warm up by getting into a sleeping bag together or simply hugging each other tight to create warmth. And, of course, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

3: Wear a hat, despite the myth

Winter weather trumps travel
Florida farmers fear crop freeze
Workers brave bitter cold

You've probably heard the popular myth that you lose most of your body heat through your head. This myth was perpetuated by an outdated U.S. Army survival training manual that stated that 40% to 50% of our body heat is lost through the head. The truth is, you lose the same amount of heat through your head as you would any part of your body that is exposed to the elements However, you're way more likely to go out into the cold without a warm hat, than say, a shirt or a pair of shoes. But just because you don't lose more heat through your head doesn't mean you should leave your winter hat on the rack. Wearing a touque is a great way to assist your heavy coat, gloves, boots and snow pants in keeping all of you warm. Think of it as capping off your winter clothing plan.

4: Keep Hydrated

Hydration isn't just a warm weather worry. Many people forget that you need water in the freezing cold just as much as you do in hot weather. If your pipes are frozen, eating some snow or ice may seem like a great idea, but it will lower your core temperature and actually bring on dehydration. You can melt the snow or ice, but remember that while it can be safe to ingest in more remote locations, drinking water from melted "city snow" is a risk. You'll also want to avoid drinking only coffee or alcohol as a warming technique. I know this one is tough to resist since it may give you a short-term warm up, but it'll dehydrate you much more quickly. If you must indulge, remember to also drink plenty of water along with your coffee or toddy.

5: Light Your Fire

A fire is the best way to fight a winter chill if you're stuck in your home without power. And this means only fireplaces. You should never use your gas oven or stove to warm up under any circumstances as it could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. But if you have a fireplace or a kerosene heater you're in luck. Use your fireplace as your main heat source, and if you can, sleep in the room with it — just not too close and with a protective fire screen. The last thing you want to do is wake up to find that fire has moved from the fireplace to your living room carpet.

If this vortex leaves you worried that winters could be severe in your part of the country from now on, before the next one, make sure you have a nice stockpile of wood, as it will be tougher to find once a storm hits, and outages can last days or weeks depending on how severe the weather is and how competent our utility company is in restoring power.

And here's a new summer task to consider: Make sure your chimney is clear and clean before the chimney sweeps are all booked up — and the next vortex swoops down from the north.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Charles Bryant

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:18 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
updated 2:33 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT