Deep Freeze

Published 10:09 am Tuesday, January 22, 2013

For the most part, Winter – 2013 has been relatively mild.

That’s all about to change.

An arctic blast of air is poised to send the Roanoke-Chowan area into a deep freeze over a 48-hour period. Today’s (Tuesday) high temperature will barely make it above freezing. When the sun drops later today below the western horizon, expect the temperature to plummet with an overnight low at 14 degrees – the coldest yet of this Winter season.

Wednesday’s forecast isn’t much better – a high of 35 and a low of 22.

Despite mostly sunny skies both days, an added culprit to the two-day deep freeze will be the wind. Roanoke-Chowan area residents can expect wind chill values to fall into the single digits early Tuesday and rise only into the upper teens to low 20’s during the daylight hours. Those values will drop again Tuesday night into Wednesday morning where it will feel like 0-to-10 degrees.

Thursday’s temps are expected to moderate slightly (45 and 33). Looking ahead from there, the National Weather Service office in Wakefield, VA is predicting a chance of a wintry mix (rain/snow) Friday night where the low is expected at 31 degrees.

The cold snap will put the elderly at risk. According to local officials with Offices on Aging, hypothermia can be called a “silent killer” in the sense that many of its victims are not aware of the threat. In the case of hypothermia, elderly persons may not be aware they are becoming cold as readily as younger people, and their bodies may not adjust to changes in temperature.

Hypothermia is a condition marked by an abnormally low internal body temperature. It develops when body heat is lost to a cool or cold environment faster than it can be replaced. Temperatures do not have to be below freezing for hypothermia to occur, especially in vulnerable individuals. Many older adults can develop a low body temperature after exposure to conditions of mild cold, which would only produce discomfort in younger people.

Although older adults are more vulnerable to hypothermia than younger members of the population, infants under one year are also particularly susceptible.

Among the elderly, those most likely to develop hypothermia are the sick, the frail, the very old, the poor who can’t afford enough heat, and those medically vulnerable individuals who do not know how to keep warm when exposed to the cold.

Those that take certain medications that prevent the body from regulating temperatures normally, such as anti-depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers, and cardiovascular drugs, are also at risk for hypothermia. Check with a doctor or pharmacist for information on other drugs that increase susceptibility to hypothermia.

Office of Aging officials urge the elderly, especially those living alone, to arrange for a daily check-in call with a friend, neighbor, relative, etc. Instead of tight clothing, wear several loose, warm layers. Wear a hat and scarf to avoid significant heat loss through your head and neck. Use extra blankets because hypothermia can develop during sleep. Eat nutritious foods and exercise moderately; proper diet and physical conditioning help protect you against abnormal heat and cold. Get proper rest; fatigue makes you more vulnerable to subnormal heat and cold. Drink adequate amounts of liquids, such as water. Limit your alcohol intake because alcohol speeds up body heat loss.

Some people die of hypothermia because they or those around them do not recognize the symptoms. Here are some signs to watch for:

The muscles are often unusually stiff, particularly in the neck, arms, and legs. This stiffness may be accompanied by a fine trembling, perhaps limited to only one side of the body or one arm or leg.

Shivering is a sign that the body is having trouble keeping warm. The shivering response is frequently diminished or absent in older adults, and the fact that an older person is not shivering in a cool or cold environment does not guarantee that the person is not cold.

The face is frequently puffy or swollen, and this can be an important sign, especially when found in combination with cold skin and signs of confusion.

The person often has difficulty walking and has problems with balance. Look for poor coordination and jerky movements.

Breathing and heart rate are slowed at low body temperatures, and may be very difficult to detect in severe hypothermia.

The skin is cool or cold. Pay special attention to the stomach, lower back, arms, legs, hands, and feet. The skin color is usually very pale, but it may also have large, irregular blue or pink spots.

Logical thinking becomes impossible and the person may become completely disoriented. Memory is affected and familiar things are often forgotten.

If you believe someone may be a victim of hypothermia, call an ambulance or rescue squad immediately. Insulate the victim with available covering such as blankets, towels, pillows, scarves or newspapers. Do not attempt to rewarm the victim at home. Hot baths, electric blankets, and hot water bottles can be dangerous. Do not give the victim any food or drink. If the victim is unconscious, do not raise the feet. This will cause blood from the legs to flow into the body “core” and further depress the body temperature.

PAWS of Hertford County encourages local citizens to protect their pets during the cold weather by either bringing them indoors or ensuring they have a warm place to sleep, off the floor and away from all drafts.

As for your vehicle, be sure to check the level of protection of the anti-freeze in the radiator as well as wiring, hoses and fan belts. If you are driving long distances during a period of cold weather be sure to take heavy woolen mittens, socks, a cap and blankets just in case you experience a mechanical failure along the way and have to wait for assistance. Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.  If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.

Extended periods of cold weather can also affect your home, especially water pipes. Pipes in attics, crawl spaces and outside walls are particularly vulnerable to extreme cold.

To keep water in your pipes from freezing:

Fit exposed pipes with insulation sleeves or wrapping to slow heat transfer;

Seal cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations near water pipes with caulking;

Keep cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate around pipes; and

Keep a slow trickle of water flowing through faucets connected to pipes that run through an unheated or unprotected space.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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