Cold days ahead: Emergency officials offer tips for staying warm this winter

Jack Frost nipping at your nose? Just watch out he’s not leaving frostbite.

With temperatures tumbling down into the single digits this week, the Ridgefield Police Department and the town’s Office of Emergency Management have both put out winter weather advisories on how to stay safe (and warm) through cold winter days.

In heavy snow

The best way to stay safe during storms or very cold weather? Stay put in doors.

“Drive only if it is absolutely necessary,” said Emergency Management Director Dick Aarons.

“If you must drive: travel in the day; don’t travel alone; keep others informed of your schedule and your route; stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts.”

Police had similar advice for motorists driving in the snow.

“Leave plenty of room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you,” the department said in a post on their Facebook page. “Accelerate and decelerate slowly, [and] avoid sudden stops or maneuvers.” Keeping your gas tank full is also advised.

Traveling in a storm isn’t the only risk, however. Shoveling snow can also increase the risk of a heart attack, Aarons said, a major cause of death in the winter.

“Use caution, take breaks, push the snow instead of lifting it when possible, and lift lighter loads,” he added.

Falling temperatures

People should also be on the lookout for signs of hypothermia and frostbite, both caused by exposure to the elements.

“If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical attention,”  Aarons said. Those include:

  • A white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

In hypothermia, the body becomes abnormally cold, due to the its inability to replace the heat it loses to the elements.

“When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced,” Aarons explained. “Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.”

In adults, the symptoms are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness.

For kids, be on the lookout for bright red, cold skin, and very low energy.

The winter cold can also affect pets, the Ridgefield Police Department noted in a post on its Facebook page.

“Although your dog is likely to be having a great time outdoors, take frequent indoor breaks for water and warming and don’t ever stay out too long,” said the Dec. 20 post.

“If you’re walking or playing in unfamiliar areas, keep your dog close. It’s easy for him to venture onto unsafe surfaces such as frozen ponds or lakes. These may be covered in snow and not easily visible.”

Silent killer

One other wintertime killer Aarons said residents should watch out for is the threat of fire and smoke inhalation from gas furnaces and “alternative energy sources” — generators, grills, camp stoves, and any other devices which burn propane, natural gas, or charcoal. None of those should be used indoors, including in a basement or garage, Aarons said.

“Each year, an average of 430 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and there are more than 20,000 visits to the emergency room with more than 4,000 hospitalizations,” he added. “Carbon monoxide-related deaths are highest during colder months.”

Carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, and can be lethal to anyone, the Center for Disease Control’s website notes. The symptoms of CO poisoning are often described as “flu-like,” and include headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.

Aarons said he recommends installing carbon monoxide alarms on every level of a home in central locations, which can give some early warning if CO levels are increasing in a home.

“If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door,” he said.