Health Commissioner issues warning about severe cold, safety

Dec 15, 2016

On Wednesday the big weather incident was the lake effect snow. One day after, it's the severe cold that has arrived in the region. It is a bitter cold, warns Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, that may prove dangerous to one's health and safety in very short time if not properly covered.  

Frigid morning across the WNY region.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"Baby, it's cold outside..." A view of downtown Buffalo late Wednesday from the front walk of WNED-WBFO headquarters. Dangerously cold wind chills in Thursday's forecast increase the risk of frostbite and hypothermia.Credit Michael Mroziak, WBFOEdit | Remove

The wind chills included in Thursday's forecast bring with them an increased risk of frostbite and hypothermia. The most obvious advice is to be fully covered - wearing hats, gloves, boots and scarves - in order to protect the body from exposure.

"Listen to your body," Dr. Burstein said. "People who develop hypothermia are at risk of death. Someone who is shivering very heavily, who looks like they may be having a seizure or tremors, or somebody who has been exposed to the cold for a while, very fatigued or confused... that could be a sign of hypothermia."

If one has been exposed and needs to warm up fingers, toes or other body extremities, it is safest to use lukewarm water and warm the body gradually. Because nerves stop working properly after exposure to cold, Burstein explained, using hot water to warm appendages could actually cause additional harm.

Pets, children and senior citizens are especially at risk in severe cold. Although pets may have furry coats, they still face exposure at their paws and noses. 

Younger children are at greater risk than older children, Dr. Burstein said, because they do not necessarily know how to properly communicate that they've had too much exposure.

"They may not realize what it feels like to get cold and what the danger signs are," she said. "It's really important that you explain to the kids if their toes and their fingers, or their noses and ears, start to feel painful, that's a warning sign that they need to go inside and get warm again."

Following Wednesday's heavy lake effect snowfall, many will be outside clearing out driveways and sidewalks. It's important to stay dry, Dr. Burstein notes, because perspiration can create enough wetness to accelerate heat loss. If you do feel too warm, one should remove extra layers of clothing.

The Erie County Health Department has posted content, including how to download an app that provides critical information in the event of a local  emergency, on its official website.