By JEFF BURBRINK
Extension Educator, Purdue Extension Elkhart County
The official start of winter this year is Sunday, Dec. 21, bringing along with it the potential for snow and cold weather. When the weather gets nasty, most people retreat to the warmth and safety of their home. Farmers and others who work outdoors cannot avoid the outdoors regardless of how severe the weather becomes. So it is important to follow safety precautions that can reduce your risk in cold weather.
First, always dress for the conditions. Wind affects the possibility of frostbite. At zero degrees F and a five mile per hour wind, the temperature is effectively negative five degrees, which is unpleasant, but manageable. However, if the wind blows at 25 miles per hour, the effectively temperature on your skin is -24 degrees. At that temperature, exposed skin can freeze in just 10 minutes.
Wearing layers of loose fitting clothes can help. These can be removed as physical activity increases. Fingers, toes, ears, and the nose are usually the first body parts to get cold, so protect them well. If practical, mittens can keep fingers warmer than gloves, but they can make it difficult to do work with smaller objects.
Be on the alert for frostbite. If you detect frostbite, return to a warm shelter immediately. Do not rub snow on the affected area! The best treatment for frostbite is rapid rewarming of the affected tissue. If parts of the body turn white or the victim shows other signs of exposure, such as uncontrolled shivering or unusual drowsiness, get to a doctor as soon as possible.
Pace yourself during extremely cold temperatures to prevent over-exertion. Cold weather by itself adds additional stress to your body, and in combination with heavy outdoor work, can aggravate existing heart conditions.
Livestock can also take a beating in cold weather. The most serious issue is frozen water supplies. Autopsies performed on cattle killed in winter storms have shown that death was usually caused by dehydration rather than cold. Animals cannot lick snow fast enough to satisfy their thirst even if snow is available.
The unpredictability of winter might also affect the amount of supplies you keep on hand. Several farmers told me last year’s severe weather left them temporarily short on some supplies, like medicine, calf feed or other essential items. Better to keep a little extra on hand than to make a run to town when the weather is awful.