Winter Weather: Extreme cold can lead to frostbite or hypothermia

Quick Facts:

  • Protecting your ears, nose, toes and fingers are key to minimizing frostbite danger
  • Layers will help protect your core from the cold and the precipitation

We’ve all seen where the temperatures and wind can make things downright uncomfortable outside in the winter. Those uncomfortable conditions can lead to some dangerous medical things like hypothermia and frostbite. When temperatures are below freezing for prolonged periods and wind chills are down in the single digits frostbite and hypothermia become a concern.

Frostbite is an injury caused by the freezing of the skin and underlying tissues. Frostnip is a more mild form of frostbite that does not cause permanent skin damage.

These are the things you need to watch out for leading up to frostbite:

  • At first, cold skin and a prickling feeling
  • Numbness
  • Red, white, bluish-white or grayish-yellow skin
  • Hard or waxy-looking skin
  • Clumsiness due to joint and muscle stiffness
  • Blistering after rewarming, in severe cases
  • Areas that are more likely to see frostbite: fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks & chin

How long it takes to get frostbite depends on the wind chill outside.

Typically in Eastern Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas, we’ll be in the 30 minutes time bracket for how long it takes to get frostbite. That means when we have wind chills in the 5° to -5° range we would typically see about 30 minutes before you start showing symptoms.

But, when we start seeing wind chills in the 10-20 degrees below zero range (-10° to -20°) that’s when the time table to get frostbite drops from 30 minutes to 10 minutes.

You can use the chart below to determine how long it might take to develop frostbite. You’ll need to know the temperature outside (the top row of numbers) and the winds outside (the far left column) and find where those two intersect.

Dr. Adam Greer with St. John Clinic says that the prevention of hypothermia and frostbite is really important. He suggests wearing mittens rather than gloves and the proper layers for your core.

For the majority of your body (mostly your core/torso) think about wearing a wicking layer that will pull sweat away from your body. This should be the layer that is right against your skin.

Wear your long sleeve shirts/hoodies as the next layer. Sometimes the hoodies can also act as the third layer should be an insulating layer that will keep you warm.

The fourth layer should be a jacket that will protect you from the wind and any precip (whether rain or snow).

The same concept could be applied to your legs if you were going to be outside for extended periods. Having earmuffs/beanies to protect your head and ears will help along with thicker socks during the cold weather.