Are you prepared for winter extremes?

By David J. Coehrs -

The mounds of snow and increased nip outside are evidence that the brunt of Old Man Winter doesn’t intend to leave just yet.

The recent shift toward more traditional seasonal weather means heeding the dangers of bitter temperatures and protecting pets from the elements, area officials say.

The National Weather Service’s Northern Indiana office, which covers Fulton County, predicts temperatures will drop into the teens through the weekend, with single digit temperatures at night. Colder weather is expected to continue into next week.

“It just looks like an unsettled period,” NWS Meteorologist Michael Lewis said. The cold blast is the result of Arctic air blowing through the Midwest out of Canada, causing the most bitter winter weather the region has experienced in the past two years.

“We’re in a La Nina (ocean) pattern now. It just sets up the stage for us to be in a colder pattern,” Lewis said. “It will continue to bring in that cold air from the north through the weekend and into at the least the early part of next week. This looks like it will appear to be here for an extended amount of time.”

And while bracing temperatures are typical for this time of year, they require some extra attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.

Hats, scarves or knit masks used as face coverings, layers of loose-fitting clothing, and water-resistant boots and coats are essential. Stay dry, and don’t ignore shivering, an important indication the body is losing heat and it’s time to go inside.

Frostbite can take hold quickly in low temperatures with a biting sub-zero wind chill. It affects the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes, among other body areas, and can cause permanent damage and even amputation. Signs include numbness and white or grayish-yellow skin that feels firm or waxy. Skin redness or pain can be the first sign of frostbite.

Bitter temperatures can also induce hypothermia, whose symptoms include shivering, tiredness to exhaustion, confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech, among others. In babies, hypothermia can result in bright, cold red skin and low energy.

“How long you can stay outdoors depends on the temperature, wind chill, and how you are dressed,” Fulton County Health Commissioner Kim Cupp said.

During an extended outdoor stay always cover vulnerable body areas such as the head, hands, face, and feet, and wear layers of clothing. Learn what safety precautions are necessary in cold weather conditions, and work slowly on outdoor tasks. Take along a cell phone, an emergency kit, and, if possible, another person.

Keep in touch with family members and neighbors during cold, hazardous weather.

Protection against the cold is also important for pets. While some people may regard dogs and cats as hardy enough to withstand long bouts of icy temperatures and snow, they suffer from the elements just as humans do, said Tracy Wanner, Fulton County Humane Society.

“Go out and sit with them,” she said. “It puts you in their position. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.”

Dogs should be left outside at most for 10 minutes, “but bring them in the sooner the better,” Wanner advised.

People don’t realize that ice and snow can become caked between the animals’ paw pads, and their ears and feet can suffer frostbite from extended exposure, she said. And though a dog’s breed and fur thickness can make a difference in some instances, dogs should never be left in cold weather for long periods, especially chained.

Cats should never be out in the cold, Wanner said. Like dogs, a cover of fur doesn’t protect them indefinitely from snow, ice, and prolonged bouts with freezing temperatures.

People who live among stray and feral cats can provide aid by leaving out food and constructing cheap shelters made from totes, Styrofoam, and straw. Never line shelters with blankets, which can become wet and freeze.

Wanner also warned residents to check under the hoods and in the wheel wells of their vehicles. She said cats will seek shelter against the cold in those spots, “wherever they can find to get out of the elements. You have to be really observant.”

By David J. Coehrs

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.

Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.