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Windchill and cold weather


Frostbite can occur in as little as 10 minutes when the temperature drops (courtesy: Thomas Rollins)
Frostbite can occur in as little as 10 minutes when the temperature drops (courtesy: Thomas Rollins)

Staff writers

January 23, 2013 — Frigid temperatures have settled into parts of the country, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere -- for now.

Dress in layers to keep warm
Dress in layers to keep warm

After a relatively mild start to the season winter has arrived.

With a vengeance.

Two weeks ago, a westerly flow of Arctic air made it feel like a relatively balmy -50°C in parts of Labrador -- 13 degrees warmer than the -63°C (with windchill) that moved into Nunavut's Rankin Inlet.

Most of the country's major centres have been hit with cold weather, and while some refuse to let it slow them down, others are waving a white flag of surrender.

"What do I do when it gets cold? Stay indoors!" says Irene in Toronto, which is on day three of a city-wide extreme cold alert.

"The wind cuts right through you on days like today."

As temperatures dipped across southern Ontario, some schools opted to hold recess indoors while others limited the time they let students ouside.

"We monitor a variety of sources when determining if recess should be held outdoors," says Carla Pereira, Manager of Communications for the Peel District School Board in Mississauga, Ontario.

"Generally, if it's -19°C or warmer, it's okay to go outside. When it feels like -20°C to –24°C with the windchill, we reduce time outside and at -25°C or colder, we recommend keeping students and staff inside."

EXPLAINING WINDCHILL

"When the air is calm, our body heat creates a layer around us that helps insulate the skin," says Gina Ressler, a meteorologist at The Weather Network.

"But cold winds essentially 'wash away' this layer, leaving us more exposed to cold temperatures."

When ambient air is combined with cool winds, it creates a windchill factor.

A warm pair of mittens can help prevent frostbite (courtesy: Rob Buenaventura)
A warm pair of mittens can help prevent frostbite (courtesy: Rob Buenaventura)

COLD WEATHER HEALTH HAZARDS

According to Environment Canada, more than 80 people die from cold exposure each year, and many more suffer from injuries like frostbite and hypothermia.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature falls below 37°C. Symptoms include shivering, loss of muscle control and confusion.

Frostbite happens when exposed skin and tissue are frozen. The skin will take on a waxy look, accompanied by a feeling of numbness. Often, a person won't know they have frost bite until they're away from the cold.

This condition can occur in as little as 10 minutes when the temperature is between -28°C and -38°C.

Both injuries can be serious and require medical attention.

BEAT THE CHILL

When chilly weather sets in, Environment Canada recommends:

Staying dry. Keep a second set of clothes in your car, in case you get wet or start to sweat. Wet clothing can lower body temperature at an alarming rate. 

- Moving around. The physical activity will boost your body heat.

Planning ahead. Check your local forecast before heading outdoors and dress accordingly, preferably in layers.

Being mindful of the conditions. Try to limit your time outdoors on chilly days, and monitor exposed skin for signs of frostbite.

Visit the Alerts section of the website to keep on top of active weather across the country.

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