With potential blizzard conditions forecast this week and frigid temperatures likely, the Harford County Health Department urges residents to take all necessary precautions to avoid serious health and safety concerns.
"Taking extra measures to prevent exposure to colder temperatures makes a difference between enjoyment of winter activities and serious injury or even death," Harford Health Officer Susan Kelly said in a statement. "Prolonged exposure to the cold can drain your strength and rob you of the ability to make sound judgments regarding your health and safety. Preparedness is crucial but does not need to be expensive."
Even with warmer temperatures earlier this winter, the state's first hypothermia deaths already have been reported, Kelly's department noted.
Cold temperatures can cause a person's body to lose heat faster than it is produced, causing hypothermia, or a dangerously low body temperature. Symptoms include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. The danger increases when individuals become wet. Babies with hypothermia have bright red, cold skin and very low energy.
Frostbite, another cold-weather concern, refers to damage caused when body tissue becomes frozen. This can occur any time skin temperature gets much below 32 degrees. Areas of the body most likely to freeze are toes, fingers, ears, cheeks and the tip of the nose.
Health officials say the people at greatest risk for both conditions are those with impaired circulation - the elderly, the very young and anyone who remains in cold conditions for prolonged periods, whether outside or indoors. Individuals experiencing any of these symptoms should seek prompt medical attention.
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures in the mid- to upper 20s are expected during this weekend's snowstorm.
The Health Department recommends the following for dressing to stay warm and to remain safe:
Dress In Layers:
• Wear a base layer of "wicking" fabric that keeps your skin dry and prevents a clammy feeling.
• Wear an insulating layer such as a vest or shirt made of fleece or wool.
• When outdoors, add an outer layer that is windproof and water-resistant.
• Wear briefs made of synthetic fabric, preferably nylon or polyester since cotton-blended fabrics hold moisture and do not dry quickly.
• Wear tights, winter-weight hose or long thermals made of silk or polypropylene when temperatures are below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or when windy.
Keep Hands and Feet Warm
• Wear thermal mittens or gloves.
• Wear boots or shoes that are waterproof, have a flexible sole and that do not pinch your feet.
• Consider wearing a hiking sock offering a wicking polypropylene liner underneath a wool over-sock and be careful not to wear sox so padded and bulky that they crowd your toes in your shoes, cutting off circulation.
Protect head, eyes, lips, skin
• Wear hats, hoods and scarfs that can be used to cover your mouth and nose to prevent warmth leaving the body from the head.
• Wear sunglasses that will protect eyes from wind and sun glare.
• Use lip balm, skin lotion and sunscreen to protect your skin from chapping and sun damage.
The Health Department also urges families to review emergency preparedness and communications plans and to have emergency supply kits in their homes and vehicles.
Each family member should know what to do and how to contact others should an emergency arise.
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Home emergency supply kits should include unexpired food items, bottled drinking water, medical supplies and batteries. Vehicles should contain items such as heavy blankets, water, nonperishable food, a flashlight and a snow shovel. More information on emergency preparedness is available at http://preparedness.dhmh.maryland.gov.