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 POLAR HUSKY A TO Z

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 WINDCHILL & FROSTBITE

With nothing to stop them, winds blow strong above the treeline in the polar regions. If you have spent much time in cold weather, the stronger the wind, the greater the cooling effect and the colder your body feels.

When air touches your skin, it "removes" enough heat from your body to be warmed to the same temperature as your skin.

Even a mild breeze greatly increases heat loss because the layer of warm air next to the skin is constantly being replaced with cooler air. A strong wind can remove tremendous amounts of heat. The increased heat loss that happens when the wind is blowing is called "wind-chill".

Click here to calcualte the windchill RIGHT NOW where ever you are.

For instance, if you are standing in a bus shelter at 15 F (~ minus 10 C) you are just fine – but if you were standing outside in a wind of twenty to twenty-five miles per hour (~ 30 to 40 km per hour) it could be life threatening.

As you may have figured by now, our team members dread wind much more than actual cold temperatures. It is much more difficult to protect yourselves against frostbites caused by the wind, since it happens so easily. A really difficult place to protect is their faces. That’s why they have those big ruffs on their jackets extending out from the face. This way an air pocket is created right in front of their face which is kept "warm" by their breath! They constantly have to be checking each others faces though – since frost-bite can be a very severe medical problem.

Let's take a closer look at what a frostbite is.

Have you ever tried to go outside in below freezing temperatures without a hat on? Once you came back inside, you felt a slight pain on top of your ears followed by itching the next day! If so, you experienced the mildest form of a frostbite. Your ear was frost nipped.

What happens when you start getting kind of cool is that your body goes AHA! RED ALERT. What keeps our body parts warm is blood flow. The body will make whatever adjustments needed in order to keep our vital organs – such as heart, brain, lungs, kidney and liver – warm enough that they function effectively. If the body detects a general cooling of the body, especially the head, it reduces circulation to the extremities of your body such as your hand and feet by constricting blood vessels. In other words wear a hat! If not, you will have cold hands and feet.

Frostbite happens when actual tissue is frozen!

As blood flow reduces, cooling turns into freezing. As you know, all of our tissue is made of cells and inside each cell is water. Once this has been frozen and thawed, the cell is not only dehydrated, it most often "bursts" and breaks.

We talk about 4 degrees of frostbite:

  • A frost nip only the outer layer of the skin is frozen.
  • 1st degree superficial frostbite: layers of tissue below the surface have been damaged. Looks white, molded and sometimes even grayish.
  • 2nd degree superficial frostbite: same just deeper.
  • 3rd degree deep frostbite: the tissue is frozen from the skin into the muscles and is dead. The frozen area feels hard. After rewarming, it often does not blister. Most often it turns black. If the area gets infected, amputation might be necessary.

Note most people think they are doing good as long as they don’t feel pain. THAT IS WRONG. Once you feel pain, you already have frost bite. What is painful is actually when the blood starts returning to the area. Until then, all you feel is numbness. That is what you want to look out for!

The best way to prevent frostbites is:

  1. Eat and drink a lot – it is the fuel your body uses to produce heat
  2. Wear good gear, like mukluks on your feet.
  3. Move around so that you are constantly making the blood flow around in your body.

DON’T EVER:

  • Rub the frozen part with snow
  • Hit the area to restore circulation
  • Expose to an open flame

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