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How to Weather the Polar Vortex Without Losing a Body Part

Travelers Today       By    Emily Eggleston

Updated: Jan 07, 2014 02:57 PM EST

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polar vortex, frostbite, hypothermia, winter weather, extreme cold, CDC, dangerous weather, freezing

More than 1,000 people die every year from hypothermia according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With the polar vortex currently dropping temperatures into what the National Weather Service labels "dangerously low," understanding wind chill and knowing how to avoid frostbite and hypothermia is more important than ever.

In order to come through this extreme winter weather with everything that you brought into it-finger, toes, skin-here are some survival tips.

1. Higher winds mean faster frostbite.

When air temperature is 0ºF, the frostbite risk remains low until the wind picks up. Once winds reach 20 mph winds, 0ºF air temperatures are more dangerous and frostbite may occur within 30 minutes of exposure. Bump that wind speed up to 60 mph, and you can be frostbitten within 10 minutes. See the CDC's chart below to check frostbite risk for different temperatures and wind speeds.

This table is shared by the CDC on their Winter Weather Outdoor Safety webpage.

2. Keep an eye on the very young, the very old, and drunk people.

These are the demographics at higher risk for hypothermia, abnormally low body temperatures due to cold weather exposure. Not only might drunk people make bad decisions, alcohol causes a body to loose heat more quickly according to the CDC. Infants with hypothermia will have bright red, cold skin and seem very lethargic. If a person of any age's temperature is below 95ºF, this is a medical emergency.

3. Take extra care with your fingers, toes, and face.

Fingers, toes, and faces are the parts that frostbite afflicts most often. On the face, nose, ears, cheeks, and chin are particularly vulnerable. The CDC says skin will turn white or yellowish-gray and upon touching it will feel firm and waxy. Frostbitten skin changes color and texture because bodily fluids have frozen into ice crystals. A person with frostbite should seek medical attention immediately.

4. If stranded while driving, stay in your vehicle.

As scary as it might be when your car quits working on a dangerously cold day, your broken down vehicle is still your best bet at safely weathering the mishap. If you have to spend an extended period waiting for help inside a vehicle, the CDC suggests wrapping your whole body, head included, in whatever you can, blankets, extra clothes, even newspapers. Don't fall asleep while you wait for help. Keep moving your arms and legs once in a while, and if your car can still turn on, the CDC recommends running it for 10 minutes each hour.

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