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Winter is upon us. Here are some tips to stay safe in the cold and wet this year

Winter is upon us. Here are some tips to stay safe in the cold and wet this year

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2019 was a record-setting year in many ways, including the cold.

At points in January, it was minus 33 degrees. And with winter upon us again — there was already snow on Halloween — it's set to get cold again. 

Here are some tips to stay cold in the cold and wet of winter, both at home and on the go:

Be prepared when you're away from home

"When you're away from home, it's best to have a plan at all times. So you need to know what the forecast is going to be, you don't want to be caught unprepared," said Rock Island Department of Public Health Chief Operating Officer Janet Hill.

When going outside, dress in layers and dress for the weather, even when you think you won't be out that long, Hill says. Wear loose-fitting and lightweight clothing to trap air between the layers and insulate you. Ready.gov also suggests not wearing cotton as a base layer because if you're sweating, it takes longer to dry out.

While you're out and about, having a winter survival kit can be essential if things go wrong. "That would include jumper cables, a flashlight, first aid kit, some nonperishable food," Hill said. Food like protein bars, nuts and dry cereal is best, and make sure to bring along food and diapers for infants as well. 

Other helpful tools include a shovel to dig out a car, an ice scraper to get ice off the windows and either sand or cat litter to help improve tire traction. Keep blankets and a winter coat as well in case you need to overnight. A charged cell phone is also key for emergencies.

Another tip Hill has is from her dad. "You don't go below half a tank of gas in the wintertime, because you'll need to have your car on if you get stranded someplace." 

While driving with young children, it's important not to put a child in a car seat with a heavy coat on. The car seat straps must be close to the body to prevent the child from slipping out in the case of a crash. Instead, Hill recommends putting the child in the car seat and then put a coat or blanket over them.

Home safety

Just like on the road, it's all about being prepared. Make sure your insulation, caulking and weather stripping are up to date to prevent your pipes from freezing. 

If you live in an apartment, control what you can, Hill said. You may not have complete control over insulation or caulking, but you can ensure the batteries to your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detectors are changed and fresh. 

Checking on those important to you or members of the community around you is also important. "With almost any extreme weather condition or disease, it's the very young and the very old that are more at risk," Hill said. "So it's really important to check on people who are older and people who have very young children."

How to identify frostbite or hypothermia

Both frostbite and hypothermia are especially dangerous in the wintertime. If someone becomes numb and the skin becomes waxy, white or grayish-yellow, those are signs of frostbite. Get the person into a warm room and soak them in warm water.

Signs of hypothermia include unusually low body temperature, shivering, exhaustion or confusion, shaking hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Those suffering hypothermia must be gotten to a warm room, have the center of their body warmed — chest, neck, head and groin — and wrapped in warm blankets. 

Other tips for cold weather

UnityPoint Health-Trinity Family Care Partners Clinic Dr. Anita Abuja has some tips for cold weather as well:

  • While shoveling, make sure to lift with your legs rather than your back to reduce stress. Listen to what your body is telling you — if you're not usually physically active, going too hard on your body while shoveling can lead to cardiac stress. 
  • When you're out walking, avoid areas that look wet or may have black ice. Wear shoes with good grip to get better traction on the ground, and use handrails when available. Keep up on snow and ice removal, and stay inside as much as possible to minimize risk.
  • Out in the car? Drive slowly and leave space between other cars to make sure you have room to stop if you have to. 
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