-40 degrees, feeling the freeze: How to protect yourself in dangerously low temperatures

Prince Albert saw temperatures as low as -40 C around 7 a.m. on Thursday, according to Environment Canada. (Herald file photo)

Did anyone else feel like Jack Dawson after the sinking of the Titanic after five minutes of being outside on Thursday morning? Frozen, frizzy hair, snowy eyelashes and endless shivers, dreaming of going home and sitting by the fire wrapped in a warm blanket?

Dang, it was cold.

Prince Albert dipped to -40 C without the wind chill during Environment Canada’s extreme cold warning on Thursday morning, which coated all of Saskatchewan.

Cold weather isn’t just annoying, it can be dangerous. While you’re shovelling your driveway, scraping your windshield or even driving past a bus stop, be cognizant of the safety of yourself and others in these frigid temperatures.

Lyle Karasiuk, safety advocate and director of public affairs for Parkland Ambulance, said his main tip is to dress appropriately. Otherwise you could wind up with frostbite or hypothermia.

You’ll want to dress in three layers, he said: something thin to wick away perspiration such as a T-shirt, a thick sweater or an insulating layer, and then the outer layer should be wind proof, water proof and insulating as well.

“We lose 60 per cent of heat through our head, so please don’t forget a scarf. When our wind chills have been and continue to be -40 C or colder, please don’t forget your face because frostbite can occur in as little as a couple of minutes,” said Karasiuk.

Frostbite—which is most common in the fingers, toes, nose, ears, cheeks and chin—is the result of freezing skin and its underlying tissues.

“We have to understand that most of our body tissue is actually made out of water,” he said.

Frostbite can first be detected, as Karasiuk explained, by redness on the skin. If you don’t warm that skin up, it will start to develop a white, waxy appearance. If you still don’t warm up, the skin will turn black as the tissue dies.

In first aid classes, Karasiuk says he uses the analogy of pulling a pot roast out of the freezer to thaw for supper, and then making plans to go out. If you then re-freeze the roast, it will become discoloured—the same thing happens to your skin.

Hypothermia, on the other hand, is when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. This causes a dangerously low body temperature.

“They’re going to start to get confused. They’ll act bizarre, they’ll say it’s really warm when it’s cold outside. They’ll say silly things,” said Karasiuk about the symptoms.

“If they are to the point already where they’re confused and acting bizarre, please dial 911 and get paramedics coming as quickly and as safely as possible.”

Karasiuk said Parkland paramedics haven’t responded to any significant calls caused by the cold weather.

Earlier in the week, however, he said a young woman was on her way to work when her car broke down. Not dressed appropriately, she had to walk a few blocks for help. She didn’t experience frostbite or hypothermia, but there have been a few calls for each this winter.

“It just illustrates that even in the city where you wouldn’t expect (it), I have a short, five minute commute or…the bus is running on time or the cab will be here right away, don’t underdress.”

Karasiuk added that it’s important to keep extra winter clothing and blankets in your car in case it breaks down. Make sure your cellphone is charged so you can phone for help.

“Staying with your vehicle cannot not be overemphasized,” he said.

If you notice anyone experiencing frostbite or hypothermia, warm the person up and call 911. Karasiuk said to keep your eyes open when driving by “inappropriate spaces.”

“By that I mean you see somebody standing in the lobby of an ATM and you know darn well the bank is closed or you see somebody standing at a bus shelter and we don’t have busses that run that late in our city.”

Emergency services such as paramedics and police have access to social services and can direct you to emergency shelters. Karasiuk also recommended going to the library or a shopping centre to keep warm.

Donna Brooks, executive director of YWCA Prince Albert, said Our House’s cold-weather shelter is at full capacity.

“When it’s this cold, it’s always full. We usually operate over capacity when it’s this cold. It’s vital. If someone doesn’t have access to shelter when it’s this cold, they’ll freeze. It’s essential that people have shelter when it’s -40 C,” said Brooks.

The 15 bed cot program in provided during the winter months on a first-come basis. It’s open from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Another safety concern when it comes to extremely cold weather, said Karasiuk, is carbon monoxide.

“If we’re dealing with a lot of these high energy furnaces, for example, keep those furnace vents clear because they exhaust not only gas, but that gas has water vapour,” he explained.

If it is blocked, “Right away you will have dangerous levels of carbon monoxide building up in the house that you don’t even know until it’s too late,” he said.

It’s crucial to keep the vents clear of snow and ice to protect yourself from the colourless, tasteless and odourless gas. If carbon monoxide is present in your home, you’ll notice flu-like symptoms such as dizziness, tiredness and headaches.

“Buy those carbon monoxide detectors now more than ever when it’s really, really cold.”

The Lakeland & District Fire Department also reminded residents to check their heating vents throughout the winter to protect yourself from carbon monoxide. (Lakeland & District Fire Department/Facebook)

SaskEnergy sees record in natural gas use

SaskEnergyreported that a new record for natural gas consumption was set from Wednesday to Thursday at 1.56 PJ (PetaJoules).

Daily gas consumption numbers are tracked over a 24-hour period from 9 a.m. to 9 a.m.

From Monday to Tuesday, SaskEnergy reported 1.53 PJ in natural gas usage. From Tuesday to Wednesday, it was 1.54 PJ.

The previous record from December of 2019 was 1.50 PJ, which was also tied in February of 2019.

A Petajoule is the equivalent to one million GigaJoules (GJ) of natural gas. SaskEnergy said the average Saskatchewan home uses 100 GJ in a year.

“The 1.56 PJ natural gas consumption record is due to high natural gas consumption from residential, business and industrial customers – including increasing natural gas use for power production in Saskatchewan,” said SaskEnergy in a news release.

“Record-setting natural gas usage days are happening more frequently due to customer growth.”

The release said SaskEnergy’s pipeline system is designed around this growth so that even on peak record days, the system can provide more natural gas than required.

with files from Peter Lozinski

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