Thursday, January 27, 2022

Fear the frostbite

by Randy MANN/Weather or Not
| January 3, 2022 1:07 AM

It certainly has felt like an “old-fashioned winter” lately.

For much of last week, temperatures dipped into the single digits and even the below zero mark as a big Arctic blast of frigid air moved into the region. Wind chills, or “feels like” temperatures, were down to minus 15 to minus 20 degrees.

On Dec. 29, morning lows dropped to below zero for the first time in nearly two years. At Cliff’s station, the low was a frigid minus 2 degrees. At the airport, the lowest reading was 2 degrees on Dec. 31. Despite the very cold temperatures, no records were broken in Coeur d’Alene.

Weather patterns have been very active across the West. In the Sierra Nevada Mountains, around 17 feet of snow was dumped on Lake Tahoe. Snowpacks are currently running over 150% of normal thanks to the series of storms. Across the summits, one station reported nearly 200 inches of snow for December. That beat the old record of 179 inches set back in 1970.

Last year, Nome, Alaska reported a record nine blizzards. This season, conditions are milder with less moisture as the active weather has been pushed to the south across the western U.S. The big storms moving into California were the result of a very strong polar jet stream. The southern end of the jet stream was the strongest in December, but conditions are expected to change a bit later this month.

Here in the Inland Northwest, we’ll have more cold weather with snow over the next several weeks, but there will be occasions with rain mixing into these systems as warmer air gets pushed northward. Cliff and I don’t believe that California will receive as much moisture for the second half of the winter as the southern portion of the jet stream weakens.

With the very cold weather pattern across the Inland Empire, I’ve had a few questions asking about frostbite. This is a medical condition where the skin and other tissues become damaged due to exposure to extreme cold.

When the temperature falls below 32 degrees, blood vessels close to the skin begin to narrow to preserve the body’s temperature. When one is exposed to cold weather for an extended period of time, blood flow in some areas of the body is usually reduced to dangerously low levels. The combination of cold and poor blood flow will usually cause severe tissue injury.

If one were to have frostbite, the hands become numb, ear lobes burn and there’s also numbness on one’s feet and face. There's constant shivering and speech becomes slurred and sometimes incoherent. One stumbles while walking, or possibly, can’t even get to their feet. One can seem totally exhausted and drowsy.

When an individual exhibits these signs, immediately get them to a warmer place. Give them something warm to drink, but nothing alcoholic like whiskey or rum. Elevate their legs so blood runs back toward the head. If this doesn’t work, see a doctor or go to the emergency room as soon as possible.

As far as frostbite is concerned, when one stops feeling the cold and wishes to sleep, one should seek immediate medical attention. Exposed body tissue, especially fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of one’s nose, may be frozen, especially if these areas appear white or pale.

Do not rub the areas affected by frostbite with snow. The frozen tissue should be slowly warmed. Often amputation can be avoided if the affected areas are thawed out gradually.

To avoid frostbite in these types of conditions, always dress warmly in loose layers of clothing during periods of extreme cold. I’ve seen a number of people in shorts and T-shirts in temperatures well below the freezing mark this winter. With this kind of weather, be very careful when venturing out with light clothing.

It’s also a good idea to cover one’s face and wear a hat. If socks get wet, they should be changed immediately, as wet clothing usually conducts the body’s heat away from the heart and head, a very dangerous situation indeed. Never take your gloves off except for brief periods. Fingertips can begin freezing in sub-zero weather in less than 15 minutes. Mittens are better than gloves as far as keeping one’s hands warm and toasty.

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