How to Stay Safe from Future Brutally-Cold Winter Temperatures
Learn how to avoid, spot, and treat frostbite and hypothermia
The recent polar vortex left temperatures in the sub-zeros and even lower when taking wind chill into account. In some parts of the upper Midwest and northern Plains, it was expected to be colder than the surface of Mars. With the polar vortex claiming at least 8 lives, it’s obvious that we need to be prepared for such harsh weathers in the future.  
Spending even a very short time in these conditions can do very unpleasant things to your body, and the longer you stay out in those martian temperatures, the more you put yourself at risk of developing frostbite and hypothermia.
But no matter how cold it gets, life goes on. Your kids may get a few days off from school, but you’ll probably still have to go to work, go to the grocery store, etc. If you are in an area with these conditions, don’t go outdoors unless you absolutely have to. But if venturing out into the icy terrain is unavoidable, here is how to stay safe, though we can’t promise you’ll be comfortable.
Avoiding, Spotting, and Treating Frostbite (and Hypothermia)
Frostbite is quite a foe because parts of your body go numb as it sets in. If the condition progresses to hypothermia, a person’s judgment can become seriously impaired. This puts them at risk of losing limbs, ears, lips, and even their nose.
Frostbite can make skin look blistered and discolored. The skin may feel unusually firm or waxy. If you don’t take care of it right away, you run the risk of amputations or – gross – pieces of your body turning black and falling off. 
Preventing frostbite is simple: Keep your skin covered. All of it. You need more than the mittens your grandmother made you for Christmas. Use thermal socks or wear 2 pairs of regular socks with waterproof boots. You might not be thinking much about the tips of your ears, but those can develop frostbite, too, so wear a hat or earmuffs. And keep your mouth and nose covered with a scarf, too.  
If you think you have frostbite, skip the heating pad and don’t immediately turn to hot water. If your skin is numb it can be easy to burn yourself. Immerse the area in a dry, warm area, change into warm, dry clothes, and use blankets and body heat until you can seek medical attention. Putting your hands in your armpits is a good example of using your own body heat. 
*Do not use snow on injured areas or massage them, as this can cause more damage. 
Hypothermia: A Potentially Deadly Condition
When the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, this can cause hypothermia. Even if you’re in fairly warm conditions, wet conditions can still be dangerous. 
If the body’s core temperature dips too low, major organs can stop working properly. It goes without saying that this can result in death. Seniors and people with poor circulation are particularly susceptible to hypothermia.
The beginning stages of hypothermia often include drowsiness and disorientation. Fumbling and slurred speech are telltale signs of the condition. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says hypothermia is especially dangerous “because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.”
If you notice that someone has signs of hypothermia, you should take the person’s temperature immediately. A temperature of below 95 degrees Fahrenheit is considered an emergency requiring immediate attention.
Until you can get medical assistance, get the person inside, remove wet clothing, and gently warm the body. Warm beverages can help, but avoid alcohol, as it causes the body to lose heat more rapidly.
If the person slips into unconsciousness, call 911 and start CPR. Many times, people with hypothermia may seem not to have a pulse, or to be breathing, but can often be resuscitated.
The best advice, if you can swing it, is to stay inside and curl up with a good movie or book. If you don’t have to go outdoors, don’t.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.