There doesn’t have to be a Zombie apocalypse to find yourself confronted with a life threatening situation of possibly freezing to death. We are so accustomed to feeling a chill and turning the thermostat up for more heat, that the thought of that not being possible doesn’t cross our mind. A failing antiquated power grid structure is more prone to failure than the governments or power companies are willing to admit. Terrorists, hackers, natural disasters, etc, etc are realistic issues.
And it doesn’t have to only be at home. Stranded on a snow closed road, weather suddenly turning deadly while on a short hike for your health. The possibilities are endless, but the main issue is “How do you survive such a situation?” Let’s begin with learning methods on how to protect our families from the elements.
How do you die from just being cold? The physical effects on the human body from cold temperatures is known as Hypothermia, which is the lowering of the body’s core temperature. The first symptom begins with shivering, which we all have encountered, as the body begins to address the situation by producing heat. With no relief the body will continue to shiver, which also includes shivering of the teeth, to the point you will not be able to control it.
As the body’s temperature lowers the brain becomes affected, thought process becomes sluggish, then turns to irrational as it tells your body you feel warm. This is often the tipping point where people subconsciously decide they are warm and very, very tired falling into sleep and dying. Death comes at approximately 77 degrees Fahrenheit, 25 Celsius, core body temperature.
What does the enemy look like?
Cold temperatures are bad enough, but add wet conditions and you have a double whammy. Water is very efficient in exchanging heat, in other words, it saps the heat from your body very rapidly. That’s why it is imperative to never lay directly on the ground when sleeping. Even if there is no snow cover the ground holds frozen moisture which acts like a sponge absorbing body heat.
Windchill is another culprit. You may have heard weather people talk about wind chill in context of the temperature feels so & so. The windchill will always be below the actual temperature, the critical thing is your body reacts to the windchill condition. In other words you’ll be contending with the physical aspects of -10 degrees windchill, not 18 degrees temperature.
Let’s start with a few basic principles of cold weather survival.
It’s an undisputed fact that your head acts like a fireplace chimney, a direct outlet for your body to lose 40-45% of its heat. Therefore, it goes without saying “always keep your head covered.” The warmer the hat the better, but if nothing else, tie a cloth or handkerchief about your head.
Another point from the reverse angle. If a person is suffering heat exhaustion medical treatment is to rub ice on the neck, wrist and ankles, because blood flow is strong at these points. The same logic should be used for the cold, protect wrists, ankles and your neck.Four keep warm basics.
Keep clothing clean. Your clothing serves as insulation and any soil, such as damp dirt, or any other substance that compromises insulation value is not good.
Wear clothes that are loose and use layers instead of one heavy piece of clothing. There are reasons for this. Wearing layers provides the opportunity to shed or add clothing as the situation dictates. Additionally, there is air trapped between the layer of clothing and this adds insulation.
Do not wear clothes with tight cuffs. Hands and feet are the farthest extremities from the heart and are the last to receive blood flow during normal activity, and the first to be cutoff if the body perceives it must conserve energy and heat. The tight clothing will only compound the problem of restricted blood flow.
Avoid overheating and sweating. That sounds out of place when we’re discussing freezing to death, but …. remember shoveling snow and how sweaty you became despite it being below freezing. Just because you’re in frigid conditions doesn’t mean you can not overheat. How does the body try to cool down … sweating.
Sweating, activating the body’s air conditioning system, is bad enough, as a short term heat loss mechanism. But if your clothing becomes wet your insulation, instead of retaining heat, becomes a conductor which will draw the body’s heat for an extended time. Depending on how wet the clothing becomes, it could lead to your death.
Tip: Remember your head being a chimney for heat loss? If you are in a situation you cannot control and begin to sweat, uncover your head. This vent will help reduce sweating.
Keep clothing dry is kinda self explanatory, but also easier said than done in some conditions. Snow is a strange creature, it can be dry and powdery or wet and heavy depending on weather conditions. Obviously water repellent clothing is the best choice if possible, but depending on the circumstances, they may be hanging in your closet at home.
More than likely you will get wet to some degree. The key is to minimize the degree of moisture and that will require your use of logic, because there are a 100 different variables neither I nor anyone else can anticipate involved in your decisions.
For example, a damp overcoat. You don’t want the clothing to continue holding water, as more water equals less protection. Spread the coat over a tree or bush exposing it to the sun. The sun, although the temperature is frigid, will still dry the coat if its not too saturated. Removing the coat also eliminates it absorbing more sweat. A slight wind is a two edged sword. It’ll help dry the clothing, but is also a possible danger to you.
If you have a shelter hang the clothes inside near the ceiling as heat rises and will speed drying. If you have a shelter you may have a fire, which of course is your best method of drying clothing. There are a few precautions to adhere to in doing this. Resist the urge to hurry the drying process. Placing articles of clothing too close to the fire could result in them catching fire. Now you went from wet clothes to no clothes. Heard of a win-win situation? This is a lose-lose one.
Too Close To Campfire
Footwear is difficult to dry. Tennis shoes, God forbid wearing them, will have to be dried as clothing, but will take a long time to dry, and will be stiff and probably deformed to some degree. This bodes bad for developing blisters. Leather boots can also be saturated with moisture which will require a long drying process to draw all the water out. Trying to rush the process can result in the leather shrinking and distorting.
A sleeping bag, especially a good one, can be a life saver in a cold weather survival situation. However, if it gets wet or even really damp, it can quickly go from an asset to a liability, and drying it out is nearly impossible. Even if you do succeed in drying it, a lot of the insulating factor is reduced. Never place the sleeping bag in direct contact with the ground. Find some protective material, weeds, leaves, sticks, anything to avoid direct contact with the moist ground.
Personal hygiene can become a factor over an extended time period. You saying you want me to wash my naked body in the cold weather? Yep. The very conditions that help keep your body warm, preventing heat loss, can also cause the body harm, such as developing a rash. Washing away harmful bacteria will reduce the chances of developing rashes or other skin infections.
Additional issues to be aware of: Frostbite
We’ll delve a little deeper into this issue because it is so severe and common.
Frostbite is an injury caused by freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. First your skin becomes very cold and red, then numb, hard and pale. Frostbite is most common on the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin. Exposed skin in cold, windy weather is most vulnerable to frostbite. But frostbite can occur on skin covered by gloves or other clothing.
The first stage of frostbite, doesn’t cause permanent skin damage. You can treat very mild frostbite with first-aid measures, including rewarming your skin. All other frostbite requires medical attention because it can damage skin, tissues, muscle and bones. Possible complications of severe frostbite include infection and nerve damage.
Signs & symptoms of frostbite include:
Cold skin and a stinging or prickly feeling.
Numbness of the affected area
Red, white or bluish-white or yellow skin coloring
Hard skin, clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
Blistering of affected area after rewarming.
Frost nip is the first stage and does not result in permanent skin damage.
Superficial Frostbite is the second stage where the skin reddens then turns white. The skin may retain a soft feeling, but ice crystals are beginning to form in the tissue. Your skin may begin to feel warm, which is a red flag that serious skin damage is occurring. Rewarming the affected area at this stage will result in the skin appearing blue or purple and you’ll experience stinging, burning and swelling.
Severe frostbite affects all layers of the skin and the underlying tissue. You will experience numbness, then losing all feeling in the affected area. Joints and muscles will most likely not respond and large blisters will form 24-48 hours after rewarming. The area will turn black as the tissue dies and amputation is the only recourse.
I think you can see why I spent a little extra time on this subject.
Trench-foot is another dangerous skin condition. The name is derived from WWI when soldiers in the trenches developed the ailment due to prolonged standing in wet conditions. The skin will appear pruned or shriveled, like your fingers do when swimming for an extended time. If not corrected the skin will turn a bluish or blackish color, the feet will swell making walking very painful. Simple solution is keep feet dry. A soldier will choose an extra pair of socks over almost anything else.
Dehydration can be a sneaky adversary. Water consumption is the first thing you consider in the desert, but rarely think about in cold weather environments, but it’s just as crucial for survival. Always check the color of your urine. The darker the color, the more dehydrated you are even if you don’t feel it. You must stay hydrated, however, don’t pick up a handful of snow and eat it. The cold of the snow will drain body heat. Melt the snow to liquid form before consuming.
Lastly, let’s talk snow blindness, which is caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays reflecting off the snow. Talk to anyone who has welded a lot and they can tell you the effects of ultra-violet rays produced by the arc welding procedure. Same for ultra-violet rays from the sun. You will feel a sandy grittiness in the eyes causing pain and discomfort which increases with eye movement. The eyes will turn red with increased sensitivity to light and you may experience a severe headache.
The only treatment for snow blindness is resting the eyes from any light. Depending on the degree of burn, this may include bandages completely covering the eyes, or bandages with slight slits or holes to allow limited sight, but maximum protection. Unchecked this could result in permanent blindness so take take it lightly.
The intent of my articles is to arm people with the knowledge to help them survive. I hope you learned something new.