South Texas in recent weeks has gotten a pretty good taste of cold winter weather, at least by our standards, but much of the world regularly sees much worse than we did with our hard freezes and icy roads. And I have seen some pretty cold winter weather in my lifetime.
When I was a little kid living in Chicago I assumed winter was the same everywhere, with cold temperatures, lots of snow and special winter clothing for going outside. But, of course, winter is not the same everywhere. Southern New Mexico, where I went to college, was a lot warmer. I found I could really like nice comparatively warm winters. (That is one reason I choose to live in South Texas.)
But, after I graduated from college the Air Force sent me on two assignments that had cold, snowy winters—one on Hokkaido in Northern Japan and one on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We had tons of snow in both places and in Michigan I experienced temperatures down to -40 Fahrenheit. Trust me, that’s pretty cold, but it taught me a lot.
In Texas, especially South Texas, we normally see milder winters, but Texas also gets so-called “blue northers,” which have been known to drop temperatures as much as 40 degrees in 15 minutes and 67 degrees in 10 hours, a world record set in 1911. More normally the temperature drop is 20-30 degrees, which is still pretty extreme if you aren’t ready for it.
Here are a few ideas to help make your winter a little less uncomfortable and safer:
Dress for the conditions. Humans have a normal body temperature of 98.6 F or 37 C. We can handle some external temperature variations since our bodies do have ways to compensate, but we do need to maintain our internal body temperature. Too hot or too cold is not healthy. In fact it can be downright deadly. Unless we are dressed for a cold day, we should limit our time outside. Hypothermia is a medical emergency that occurs when the body loses heat faster than it can produce it, causing a dangerously low body temperature. Hypothermia occurs as body temperature falls below 95 F (35 C). That’s less than four degrees Fahrenheit, but people die from hypothermia.
Important: Don’t eat snow!! We don’t see that much of it around here, but if we eat it and are already cold it will lower our body temperature. People have died as a result of this temperature drop. If we want water from the snow, we should melt it first and then drink it. That is a winter survival tip from the folks who live in places where survival can depend on little things.
Up north, smart people dress in layers and—if traveling away from towns—they keep some warm clothes in the car, including footwear, for all occupants. Also maybe even some blankets, as well as emergency food and water. A stalled car on a lonely road can quickly lead to a medical emergency if we aren’t prepared. Also, it’s always a good idea to let someone know where we’re going, so just in case we do stall or slide into a snow bank, rescuers will know where to start looking.
Speaking of stalled cars—preventative maintenance can make travel a lot safer. The cooling system should be able to handle whatever is coming—that means checking antifreeze and belts and hoses. What about the battery—is it up to cold weather? Brakes should be in good working order and we need good tires. We should adjust our driving style for the conditions, and if the weather is dangerous, we should always consider staying home.
Michigan, Chicago and other wintery places are prepared for winter storms and are equipped to clear roads. They are also are prepared to deal with cold weather rescues when needed. Year around, Texas also has excellent emergency resources and help can be on the way shortly when needed.
We don’t get a lot of bad weather, but our temperature variations in the Lone Star State are worthy of respect. Humans are very adaptable, however, and learning how to adapt is a key to staying healthy and safe during those extreme conditions.
Most of what it takes to get through winter weather is common sense. Severe winter weather is rare in this part of the country, but when it does come it can be dangerous to the unwary or unprepared. Being prepared can make all the difference in the world. Check forecasts, make preparations and enjoy the weather change.
WARREN DOMKE is a columnist for the Pleasanton Express.