With an arctic air mass combined with strong winds headed toward Colorado, temperatures are expected to sink well below zero Fahrenheit for the rest of the week. Residents are advised to take special precautions to protect themselves, their pets and livestock, and to minimize impact on the energy infrastructure.
A large swath of Colorado is under a wind chill warning from 8 p.m. Wednesday to 11 a.m. Friday, as well as a winter weather advisory from 4 p.m. Wednesday to 9 a.m. Thursday.
“The combination of wind and cold temperatures will create dangerously low wind chill values,” the National Weather Service warns.
The forecast calls for a low Wednesday night of 19 below 0, and wind chills as low as -45. Thursday’s high is expected to top out at just -5.
The simplest protections from the bitter cold are simply to stay indoors and turn down – yes, down – the thermostat. Barring that, there are things people must do to stay safe in cold weather.
As most Coloradans already know, dress in layers. The Centers for Disease Control advise several layers of loose-fitting clothing underneath a tightly-woven fabric shell to resist wind. Also, mittens are warmer than gloves, hats should cover ears and forehead, and cotton clothing doesn’t hold body heat as well as wool, silk or polypropylene inner layers.
Be careful when using alcohol to de-ice or fuel vehicles; either of those spilled on skin reduce skin temperature rapidly, causing the danger of frostbite.
The CDC’s guidelines also warn people to pay attention to shivering; that’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to get inside and warm up.
The two greatest dangers for people out in the cold weather are hypothermia and frost bite. Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. It can kill. For those who survive, there are likely to be lasting kidney, liver and pancreas problems. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. Anyone showing those symptoms needs medical care immediately.
Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of -20° Fahrenheit will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. As with hypothermia, symptoms of frost bite require medical attention.
Indoor safety is just as important. The CDC advises to never use charcoal or gas grills indoors; they’re not properly ventilated, and can be deadly.
Use space heaters according to directions that come with them or are printed on them. If your home has a wood-burning stove or fireplace, make sure you are experienced in its use. Now is not the time to figure out how to safely build a fire.
Xcel Energy’s media relations office advises that lowering the thermostat to around 68 degrees can save on electricity and natural gas. Programmable thermostats should be set to automatically lower the temperature to around 65 when the family is in bed. Open drapes and curtains to allow direct sunlight to help warm the home, then close them when it turns dark. Tun ceiling fans at a low speed to push warm air downward. And while it’s good to close off rooms that aren’t in use, keep other interior doors open to circulate warm air more freely through the home. Also, conserve heat by limiting the opening and closing of outer doors, and seal off pet doors to the outside, especially when the wind is blowing.
Dress warmly indoors, too, to compensate for the lower thermostat settings.
For more detailed information, check out Xcel’s energy saving tips page https://my.xcelenergy.com/s/residential/tips and CDC’s Guide to Extreme Cold https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/pdf/extreme-cold-guide.pdf.
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