Around here, it almost seems as if Mother Nature has gotten a bit confused. I’m not sure how else you can explain it considering the way our weather has run lately.
Just this past week, we had a day with temperatures in the low 60s, followed by several inches of snow that melted quickly because the mercury ran right back up again.
I heard quite a few people state that this was exactly the kind of snow that they like because, though it was beautiful as it fell, it disappeared just about as quickly as it arrived.
The problem is that when we have weather that jumps around the thermometer so much, even within the span of a single day, folks tend to be more susceptible to running into some serious problems because they’re simply not prepared.
Most of us are forced to venture out every day and don’t give any real thought to what we’re wearing or whether or not our choice of attire might actually be life threatening.
We all know that hypothermia is a killer. We’ve even heard the stories of how mountain climbers have started an ascent, never to be seen again. But, those are extreme elements. Surely that kind of danger isn’t present in our environment, right? Think again.
Believe it or not, most cases of hypothermia take place in temperatures that fall between 30 and 50 degrees. Did you catch that? Read it again — between 30 and 50 degrees!
Despite the fact that these temperatures are not incredibly low, the onset of hypothermia begins because these people weren’t properly prepared to deal with the temperatures that even fall in this range.
Hypothermia is, in fact, the number one killer of outdoors enthusiasts. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that there are even more related deaths that are attributed to other causes but wouldn’t have happened at all had the person been in complete control of their faculties.
For a better understanding of that, read on.
As your core temperature drops, the body’s natural defenses take over in the form of shivering. This uncontrollable movement is the body’s way of trying to create more heat to bring that core temperature back to a safe level.
Though we’ve all experienced shivering, this is the very start of hypothermia. If you remain in that cold environment, the shivering will grow worse until it has reached a point that you are unable to perform even small physical tasks. This can be followed by slow or slurred speech, incoherence, stumbling, exhaustion, drowsiness and, ultimately, death.
Let’s say you’re a deer hunter sitting in your tree stand and find yourself starting to shiver uncontrollably. You know the dangers of hypothermia and, after a little while, decide you’ve had enough and want to head home.
As you stand to begin your climb down the tree, you find that your body just doesn’t want to work properly. Your hands don’t grasp well and your legs are slow to move. Before you know it, a foot slips and you’re unable to catch yourself. The ground rushes up and you land with a thud.
Well, there are thousands of instances within our everyday, non-hunting lives where we need to be in 100 percent control of ourselves or they could be dangerous as well. Things like driving are obvious but even the simple task of walking down the sidewalk can be a killer if you’re impaired.
So, how do we make sure that we’re prepared for everything Old Man Winter throws at us? Follow these easy steps and you’ll be assured of returning home safely.
• Layer your clothing. This allows pockets of warm air to be trapped between the layers, keeping you warmer. Today, many companies, such as Under Armour manufacture various layers that are designed to be worn together as a cold weather “system.”
• When buying clothes for cold weather, look for products that have wicking properties. These will pull perspiration away from the skin and allow this moisture to dissipate. Most natural fibers retain moisture, making you that much colder.
• Stay dry. Avoid perspiration as much as possible and stay away from rain and other wet conditions.
• Proper footwear is a must. Wear insulated, waterproof boots that are designed for extreme weather activity. Regular, uninsulated boots, hiking boots and athletic shoes are worthless in this environment.
• Breathable rain gear is worth it. The standard rain gear will repel water but it also holds moisture (perspiration) in. Breathable models are more expensive but you’ll be glad you spent the extra money.
• Layers work well for your feet, too! Thin sock liners under heavy wool or insulated socks are best.
• Mittens outperform gloves. Gloves inside of mittens are even better.
• Wear headwear that covers your ears and neck. Most heat escapes the body through your head. A “ski mask” is perfect.
• Use a scarf to cover the neck. Most headwear doesn’t extend far enough down to adequately cover the neck area.
If you find that, in an emergency, you still don’t have enough on, remember that paper, grass, leaves and pine needles are all good insulators. Try placing them between your layers to provide more insulation.
Now, I know that this is an outdoors column, but hypothermia doesn’t discriminate. Households with elderly people and infants need to keep the thermostat set at no less than 68 degrees, and 70 is even better.
The problem here is that older persons and babies are more susceptible to this. What feels bearable or even fine to a middle-aged person can result in accidental hypothermia for these folks.
If you know of an elderly person or persons who live alone, try checking on them daily to make sure that their heating needs are sufficient and the thermostat is properly set.
Brad Harvey is a freelance writer in Clover. Visit his web site at www.bradharveyoutdoors.com or follow on Twitter @BHarveyOutdoors