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Somerset County Health Officials Offer Tips for Staying Safe During Winter Storm

From preparing for cold temperatures to treating hypothermia, here's how to be ready.

Extreme weather conditions are forecasted today and Friday. 

The Somerset County Public Health and Safety Department wants residents to prepare for predicted severe weather conditions to ensure that they, their families and their neighbors are safe during this upcoming frigid-weather event.  Residents can visit http://www.co.somerset.nj.us/ExtremeCold.html  for information on how to prepare and how to respond to the frigid temperatures that are predicted.

The Somerset County Department of Health wants to share the following information to ensure that residents take necessary precautions and know how to identify cold-weather health issues:

First and foremost:  Stay Warm: As temperatures drop and wind speeds increase, heat can leave your body more rapidly.  If unprepared, exposure to cold temperatures can cause serious health problems, especially for young children and the elderly.  Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold, both indoors and outdoors. The most common cold-related problem is hypothermia.

When exposed to cold temperatures, the body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold eventually uses up the body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making a person unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and is unable to do anything about it.

People susceptible to hypothermia often are (1) elderly, with inadequate food, clothing or heating; (2) babies sleeping in cold bedrooms; (3) outdoors for long periods of time and (4) alcohol drinkers or users of illicit drugs.

Staying warm inside:  Keep an eye on elderly or ill neighbors and relatives to ensure they are keeping their house warm during cold weather.   Keeping windows and internal doors closed can help trap heat.   Layer your clothing and socks and consider using a blanket for extra warmth, even outside of bed. 

A healthy diet with plenty of fluids, warm drinks and regular meals can help provide energy so your body can generate heat. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine and smoking also can help as they increase the rate at which the body loses heat.

If you're ill, visit your local pharmacy or health care provider to ensure you're treated promptly and effectively.  If you're taking regular medication, ask whether it affects your body's ability to regulate temperature.

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. It’s important to only use appliances for their intended purposes.  Follow the manufacturer's instructions and remember these safety tips:

  • Store a multipurpose, dry chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
  • Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation by opening an interior door or slightly opening a window if you must use a kerosene heater.
  • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use - don't substitute.
  • Do not use a heater that has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks.
  • Use fireplaces, wood stoves and other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside, and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
  • Make sure chimneys and flues are cleaned periodically.
  • Do not place a space heater near things that may catch fire, such as drapes, furniture or bedding.

Staying warm outside: 

  • Make sure you are prepared for cold weather by checking the forecast and weather warnings.
  • Wear appropriate warm clothing and make sure your children are well wrapped up when outdoors. A significant amount of body heat can be lost through the head, even if the rest of the body is covered up, so wearing a warm hat is recommended.
  • Layer clothing - Multiple thin layers of clothing trap air, which keeps you warm more effectively than one thick layer. Waterproof and windproof clothing gives the best protection outdoors in cold and windy weather.
  • Eat and drink regularly (not alcohol and caffeine). Warm drinks also can help keep you warm when outdoors. 
  • Keep active when it's cold, but not to the point of sweating. If you exercise outdoors during the winter and you sweat after exercising, make sure you dry off and put on warm clothes immediately afterwards. Wet clothes lose around 90 percent of their insulating power. 
  • Be sure to care for your pets, too.  If possible, bring pets indoors. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure that they have access to unfrozen water.

Warnings signs of hypothermia:  For adults the warning signs are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and/or drowsiness.  For infants the warning signs are bright red, cold skin and very low energy.

If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature.  If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency and you should seek medical attention immediately.  If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove any wet clothingWarm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket on a low setting, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels or sheets.
  • Provide warm beverages, which can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages.  Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • Once body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

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