Weathering January 2019's Freezing Finale

Weathering January 2019's Freezing Finale

January 29, 2019

January 29, 2019 - The coldest arctic outbreak in twenty years is spreading over the Midwest this week and bringing bitter, dangerously cold temperatures to the Northeast as well. With windchills predicted to be 30°F, 40°F, and even 50°F and 60°F below zero in parts of the Midwest, some major cities will be even colder than Antarctica, Mount Everest, and Siberia. Even without precipitation, these extreme conditions bring a host of direct and indirect public health hazards. As 75% of the US population prepares for sub-zero temperatures this week, it’s important to remember particular health hazards windchill brings, including hypothermia and frostbite.

  • Hypothermia: According to the National Weather Service, hypothermia is the most common winter weather killer. Hypothermia can be defined as a state in which your body is losing more heat than it can produce or clinically when your body temperature drops below 95°F (35°C). It usually comes about as a result of prolonged exposure to cold water or cold-weather conditions. If symptoms of severe hypothermia manifest, contact an emergency medical professional immediately. Also keep an eye out for people around you with risk factors including elderly, infants, and people using drugs, alcohol, or certain medications.


Source: Pennsylvania Department of Health 


  • Frostbite: Frostbite occurs when a part of the body freezes, damaging tissue. Frostbite most commonly occurs with exposure to cold weather conditions, although direct contact with ice, frozen metal, or very cold liquids could also bring on frostbite. If you suspect frostbite, try to avoid walking or applying pressure to the frostbitten area and avoid very hot sources of heat and rubbing when rewarming to prevent further damage. If reddened skin suddenly appears white or pale or especially bluish-gray, you should see a medical professional immediately to avoid severe complications such as gangrene, amputation, and other possible permanent damage.

Source: National Weather Service

Other important health and safety tips include:

  • Being mindful of where you store your medicine. Keep it away from extreme temperatures such as those that can occur near heaters, radiators, and windows.
  • When outdoors during cold precipitation events, dress in layers, including waterproof boots and jackets, to stay warm and dry. Protect your ears, nose, and extremities to avoid frostbite.
  • Always check on friends, neighbors, and relatives who may be particularly vulnerable doing cold weather. Vulnerable groups include the elderly, young children, disabled, and chronically ill.
  • For more detailed information to prepare for and manage harsh winter conditions, check the CDC and NWS comprehensive guides and checklists.
  • Find plans, tools, and templates for residents and health departments to prepare for extreme cold in this comprehensive list by ASPR TRACIE.

According to the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, known colloquially and perhaps more appropriately as the “Winter Misery Index,” the 2018-2019 winter already launched the coldest and snowiest starts to the winter season on record. This has been especially true in parts of the Northeast, Midwest, and Plains, with the Midwest experiencing some of the most “miserable” conditions since 2014.

As January comes to an end, and as we are roughly halfway through the winter season, we’re certainly not in the clear. With these kinds of polar vortexes, nor’easters, and “bomb cyclones” becoming an increasingly common component of news cycles, it’s important preparedness messages and activities stay at the forefront as well. For they can help ensure that this winter stays a “miserable” inconvenience rather than a dangerous or deadly one.

Courtney Romolt

Courtney Romolt is a Program Analyst at Healthcare Ready, where she provides research and communications support for a wide variety of programs and initiatives. Before joining Healthcare Ready, Courtney worked with the World Resources Institute’s Initiative 20x20 to promote the business case for landscape restoration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Prior to this, she researched the environmental effects, economic trends, and regulatory framework of enhanced oil recovery as a Graduate Consultant for the NGO Clean Water Action. Courtney holds a Masters of Arts in International Economics and Energy, Resources and the Environment from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, where she also earned a Graduate Certificate in Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, China. Courtney also holds undergraduate degrees in Integrative Biology and Global Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.