I live in northern California now, but I grew up in the Midwest and fondly remember snowball fights in our neighborhood. The ideal snowball somehow required that your gloves were removed and the snowball was formed with bare hands. And then of course I remember the pain to endure when rewarming those frozen fingers under warm water back home. It seems this winter is colder than last year with much of the country enduring extremely cold weather as I write this post. Whether you’re in a snowball fight with your friends, playing hockey outdoors, skiing, or just doing something fun in blinding white snow, the cold weather requires some special precautions.
The most dangerous cold weather is between 14?F and 50?F
Temperature ranges from 14?F to 50?F are very common in the winter, and this range between freezing and melting temperature makes it difficult to dress appropriately. If you’re in melting snow or cold rain staying dry is a major challenge. Be especially careful while exercising or playing sports outdoors in this type of weather.
It’s easy to become dehydrated in cold weather
We usually think of dehydration as a warm weather problem but dehydration happens in cold weather too. Some sports such as cross country skiing use huge amounts of calories, produce large amounts of sweat for the athlete, and can result in dehydration. There’s also some evidence that our feeling of being “thirsty” is less in cold weather, so you can become dehydrated and have less desire to drink fluids. Avoid this problem by staying properly hydrated ahead of your activity. I like 12-20 ounces of a non-caffeinated sports drink up to about a half hour before your activity.
The most important cold weather injury prevention tip is to stay dry
Dehydration will probably lower your sport performance in cold weather but wet clothing is really a problem. Moisture will reduce the insulating properties of almost any fabric, which in turn can really lower body temperature. Most experts in cold weather activity recommend several layers of lighter clothing rather than one heavy layer. Layers can be removed if the air temperature outside rises, and several layers are better at insulating the body from cold air temperature than one layer. Do whatever you can to stay dry on the inside and follow some simple steps for your clothing layers:
- Synthetic thermal underwear bottom layer
- Light shirt
- Sweater, sweatshirt, or light jacket
- Outer layer of breathable waterproof fabric with appropriate temperature rating for your environment
- Socks should be wool or synthetic material (these are generally better than cotton for cold weather socks)
- Use insulted insoles or a boot liner
- Waterproof boots
- Hat or other head covering (the top of the head loses a lot of heat)
- Sunglasses or goggles if you’re in bright white snow
- Properly insulated waterproof gloves or mittens
And if you do happen to get cold frozen fingers…
- Get indoors to a warm area and remove any wet clothing
- Use warm water (not hot water) to re-warm your hands
If you see blisters this could be a sign of frostbite, which is a serious medical condition. Don’t rub the blisters; warm your hands as above and get in to see a physician or emergency department immediately for proper care.