How to recognize and prevent hypothermia and how to outfit your car for safe driving in cold and snow

Frigid temps across the country have created unsafe conditions. AFS has some professional advice from its health and safety expert, Juliette Garesché.

  1. During the current bout of severe cold weather, frostbite and hypothermia are serious problems. Tips follow for working in the cold:
  • Stay dry and out of the wind.
  • Dress in layers with wicking fabrics closest to your skin. Clothing should not be so tight as to restrict movement or blood flow.
  • Eat warm food and drink warm beverages. Hearty food and carbohydrates help to fuel your body. Stay hydrated.
  • Keep moving to keep blood flowing.
  • Do not drink caffeine or alcohol as they dilate the blood vessels causing loss of body heat.
  • Keep the head and other extremities covered.

Signs of frostbite include cold skin, a prickled sensation, the numbness, redness, followed by bluish, white, hard and waxy, blistering, and eventually grayish-yellow skin color.

Signs of hypothermia include intense shivering, confusion, lack of coordination or slurred speech problems followed by drowsiness. Severe hypothermia can lead to failure of the heart, nerves, and respiratory system and lead to eventual death. It is important to get chilled people into a warm place and to slowly warm them up. For frostbite or hypothermia, seek medical attention promptly.

  1. Driving in snowy, icy winter weather requires the use of extra precautions. In addition to using your safety seat belt, implement the following tips for safe winter driving:
  • Ensure your car is in good working order and keep the gas tank ½ full. This prevents gas line freeze-up and ensures you won’t run out of gas and become stranded.
  • Ensure your tires have adequate traction and are suitable for driving in snow. (Don’t mix radial tires with other types.) 
  • Do not use cruise control and reduce speed for the conditions. Also reduce speed before turns.
  • Increase your following distance behind the vehicle in front of you.
  • If your vehicle starts to skid, look and steer in the direction you want to go.
  • Know if you should pump the brakes or if the car has anti-lock brakes and you should apply steady brake pressure (the car pumps the brakes for you).
  • Stock your car with: cell phone and backup battery; an ice scraper and snow brush; windshield cleaner; jumper cables; a bag of salt or kitty litter for traction; a properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and jack; a small shovel; boots and extra mittens, socks, hat and blanket; reflective triangles or flares; a bright cloth to tie to your antennae; nonperishable high energy food to hold you until assistance arrives (ex. canned nuts and dried fruits).

During sever snow storms it’s best to stay off the roads if you can. Making trips after the snow plows have completed their work is much safer for you and your family.