Cold weather can be fun. A time to get cozy with warm clothes and hot drinks. But cold weather is scary at low temperatures, especially when you’re directly exposed to the elements. So when is cold weather dangerous?
One subjective rule says you should be fine when the temperature is 32°F or above. Then at temperatures between 13°F and 31°F, try taking 20 to 30 minutes breaks from the cold by finding warm shelter. However, when the temperature or wind chill falls below 13°F, you’re advised to always remain indoors.
Cold weather consists of ambient temperature and wind chill, which are not often the same. Still, wind chill is the most dangerous aspect of any cold weather. Wind speed and a low temperature often work together to displace the heat from exposed skin. For instance, when the ambient temperature is 21°F and the wind speed is a gusty 11 mph, the wind chill is a considerably colder 10°F.
And what’s worse than wind chill?
The answer is getting wet. When the weather is cold, we keep warm by insulating ourselves with warm clothing to trap body heat. Water becomes a problem when your protective clothes get soaked while wading through a puddle or a snowfall.
When your clothes get wet during cold weather, your body temperature drops rapidly, and you get colder faster. This is because water has a greater thermal conductivity than air; so water efficiently removes heat away from your body more than air. Wetness is enjoyable in summer but can cause hypothermia during winter.
For many people 32°F is the limit—anything below is dangerous. But there are some folks who are more susceptible to any cold weather. While most people can survive the cold if dressed properly, the elderly, infants and toddlers don’t have it that easy because they can’t easily regulate their body temperature. So when going out to the cold with an elderly person or a toddler, great care must be taken to reduce their exposure to the elements.
It’s not just cold weather you have to worry about. If you are ill or have medical issues like circulatory problems, peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and Raynaud’s disease, you’ll become more susceptible to cold injury. Also if you drink alcohol (which gives a false feeling of warmth) or get dehydrated, the cold is more likely to get you. Avoid strenuous activities in cold weather, too, as this could trigger a heart attack.
Another dangerous thing about cold weather is frostbite. In extremely cold weather, frostbite targets unprotected areas of your body. And the colder the wind chill, the faster frostbite appears. The process is gradual, subtle and dangerous. Frostnips and first-degree frostbites can easily advance to fourth-degree frostbite with freezing nerves, muscles and bones.
At below freezing temperature, the best option is staying indoors if you can help it. If you have to go out, dress properly for the cold. From jackets to hats to scarfs to gloves and warm shoes, protective clothing is vital. Three-layered clothes are important: the first layer keeps you dry, the second layer (fleece) insulates, and the third layer is water- and windproof.
See any signs of frostbite or mild hypothermia? Is your body attempting to compensate for the cold by shivering, making your heart beat faster, or getting short of breath? Find warm shelter immediately and don’t forget to pace yourself.