Much of the Northeast is facing blizzard conditions. In the North Country, the main concern is dangerous sub-zero temperatures.
Thursday began with the temperatures below zero, and the mercury is not expected to climb above that mark until Saturday in northern Vermont and the far north country of New York. In the sector covered by the National Weather Service office in Burlington, Meteorologist Conor Lahiff says most temperatures are expected to reach the -20 range. “The nighttime lows everywhere will be below zero. Parts of the Adirondacks of New York and the St. Lawrence Valley they’ll be in the teens below zero. Friday night will be even colder. We take off another five to ten degrees off of that. And some places minus twenty-five to minus thirty.”
Lahiff adds that wind chill is the biggest concern with these extremely low temperatures. “Any little bit of wind is gonna drive the wind chills down. For example today, we only have from 5 to 10 mph wind, which isn’t a lot for normal day. But with the temperatures 5 to 10 degrees below zero, wind chills are running in the twenty to thirty below range.”
That translates to a frostbite danger for people who venture outside, and conditions are dire for the homeless. Fletcher Allen Health Care Chief Medical Officer Stephen Leffler is also an emergency physician. “You can get frostbite within minutes. The tips of your nose, your ears, exposed hands can get frostbite just running from your car across a parking lot into the mall. Any exposed skin is at high risk, even for brief periods of time. You really have to be prepared to go outside, even for brief periods of time. I can't stress enough that having a hat, putting up your hood, wearing gloves keeping your ears and nose covered is crucial.”
If frostbite is suspected, Dr. Leffler recommends gentle re-warming. “Get in out of the cold and warm the area back up. Many times people can't feel it, because as the area’s becoming frostbitten it loses sensation. So if an area is starting to get a white or pale, waxy appearance. If you touch it it’ll feel hard. As soon as you notice that on yourself, or on someone that your with, it’s time to get inside. If you can’t get inside immediately, get something covering that area. But you really at that point are in a time sensitive situation to start getting the area warmed up before it causes more significant and potentially permanent damage.”
It’s not just humans who are susceptible to the dangers of severe cold. The Vermont Veterinary Medical Association’s M. Kathleen Shaw notes that pets can also suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. “A lot of our dogs just weren’t bred to be out in this cold weather for very long and they can get hypothermic and get frostbite, particularly on the tips of their ears and the ends of their tails.”
Shaw recommends pounding the hood of your car before starting it in case any animal has sought shelter under its hood. Antifreeze is poisonous to household pets, and Shaw cautions that home heating systems should be pet-proofed. “At this time of year a lot of people are doing candles, and I’ve seen animals get burned by, not only catching their coats on fire, but burning wax has fallen on them. Dogs and cats can knock heaters over or knock things over onto your wood stove and that can be a fire hazard.”
Layering is important because it traps air, which is good insulation. Start with a layer that wicks moisture away from the skin. Then create an insulation layer using items like a wool sweater or down vest. End with an outer layer that repels the elements.