Winter safety

Written by on February 6, 2023

Dangerous cold weather is moving across New York and New England this week, with wind chills dropping to 50 degrees below zero in some areas.  

A wind chill warning is in effect into Sunday in parts of the region. And in northern Maine, a blizzard warning is also in effect into Saturday.  

In the southern Adirondacks and Lake George Saratoga region in New York and Vermont, wind chills are expected to reach as low as 30 to 50 degrees below zero. In parts of Maine, wind chills could reach 60 degrees below zero.  

The National Weather Service warned that the frigid temperatures can cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as five or 10 minutes and urged that people wear appropriate winter gear outside, including a hat and gloves.  

But what is frostbite? How can you prevent it? Here’s what you need to know.  

Friday updates:‘Dangerously cold’ Arctic blast coming for Northeast; wind chills as low as 40 below zero

Forecast:Dangerously cold weather looms for the Northeast

What is frostbite? What does it feel like?  

Frostbite is an injury that is caused by the “freezing of the skin and underlying tissues,” according to the Mayo Clinic.  

Frostbite happens in stages, which include:  

  • Frostnip: A mild kind of frostbite where exposure to cold can lead to numbness. As the skin warms, a person may feel pain or tingling.  
  • Superficial frostbite: This type of frostbite can cause changes in skin color. If a person tries to rewarm their skin, they may feel stinging, burning and swelling. Blisters may appear 12 to 36 hours after trying to rewarm the skin.  
  • Deep (severe) frostbite: This stage affects all layers of the skin and tissues below the skin. A person’s skin may turn white or blue-gray initially as they lose sensation in the area. The person’s tissue will turn hard and black as it dies.  

Untreated extreme frostbite can potentially cause damage to tendons, muscles, nerves and bones, IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network, reported. People can lose fingers, limbs and other parts of the body.  

Does frostbite go away? How do you treat it? 

Individuals experiencing frostnip won’t experience permanent damage to their skin, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may treat frostnip by rewarming skin, but harsher forms of frostbite require medical attention.

In serious cases, limbs or other parts of the body can fall off on their own, or you may require surgical amputation, according to Cleveland Clinic. 

If a person is experiencing frostbite, they can try getting into a warm room and removing any wet clothing, covering themselves in warm blankets or not walking on frostbitten feet or toes. They can also immerse affected areas in warm water until their normal skin color returns, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.  

Do not massage the area or use heating pads or other items that are too hot. This can cause additional damage.  

What are the symptoms of frostbite?  

According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of frostbite can include:  

  • Cold skin and a prickling feeling  
  • Numbness  
  • Skin that looks red, white, blue-white, gray-yellow, purple, brown or ashen 
  • Skin that looks hard or waxy 
  • Clumsiness caused by joint or muscle stiffness  
  • Blistering 

The most commonly affected body parts are the nose, ears, fingers, toes, cheeks and chin, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.  

How quick can you get frostbite?  

Risk for frostbite increases when air temperature falls below 5 degrees, according to Mayo Clinic, even without high wind speeds.

In wind chills of 16.6 degrees below zero, frostbite can set in on exposed skin in under 30 minutes.  

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How can you prevent frostbite? 

There are steps you can take to potentially help prevent frostbite, according to Cleveland Clinic: 

  • Avoid going outside in treacherous temperatures 
  • If you have to go outside, limit trips to 10 to 15 minutes. Then, stay inside for a few hours. 
  • It is possible to get frostbite through clothing, but dressing in several layers of warm clothing and ensuring that your ears are protected can help prevent frostbite. 
  • Wear waterproof clothing to keep wet material off your skin.
  • Don’t wear clothing or shoes that are too tight – you don’t want to restrict blood flow in the body. 

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