Staying safe, warm in the dangerously cold weather - ABC 12 – WJRT – Flint, MI

Staying safe, warm in the dangerously cold weather

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(01/06/14) - The heavy snow is a bit of a distraction from a very increasingly dangerous issue - the cold.

Temperatures are dropping below zero, and wind chills will be unbearable, especially Monday night and Tuesday.

Carriage Town Ministries in Flint is open 365 days a year, and their warming center doors are open right now. Other churches are also opening warming centers, including Catholic Charities.

While you might expect the shelters to be especially full, that is not necessarily so - mainly because people who need the shelter have trouble getting to it when the snow is stacked and the wind is howling the way it is now.

No matter who you are, though, or where you live, this kind of cold is very dangerous.

When it comes to frost bite, temperature is the first risk factor that comes to mind for most of us.

The wind is a critical factor - in fact, if you have the same actual wind chill temperatures in two areas, frost bite will set in faster at the area with the strongest wind.

If it is zero degrees, and the wind is only 10 miles per hour, it will take about 30 minutes for frost bite to set in. But at the same temperature, a 30 mile per hour wind will speed things up - only 10 minutes until your flesh freezes. In about 95 percent of us, skin begins to freeze when it gets down to about 18 degrees - wind speeds the process up, because it draws heat away from us faster.

There are three key tips to prevent frost bite and hypothermia that you may not have heard as many times as you have heard the others. First, as evidenced by the effect wind has on frostbite times, your outer layer needs to be not only water, but wind resistant. Cover as much flesh as possible at all times, but make sure you are layered up. If you start sweating, start taking layers off - sweating too much will actually lead to more body heat loss.

Frostbite will show up as white or grayish yellow skin. It may also be firm, Waxy or Numb. The key is to warm the affected skin slowly and try not to use frostbitten fingers and toes, because you can cause more damage.

For hypothermia, shivering, confusion and drowsiness are key symptoms. Babies will have bright red skin and seem low in energy. The key is obviously to get a person to a warm spot, get them out of wet clothes and warm the center of the body - head, chest and neck first.

When it's hot out, you always hear to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. That's also good advice in our extreme cold.

It might not seem like it at first, but you can loose a lot of fluids outside. The symptoms are the same as in the summer and can include dry mouth, weakness, and nausea. If you start feeling any of those symptoms, get inside and drink some water.

The dry air from that constantly running furnace can also dry out your skin. Drinking water will also help with that, along with running a humidifier. Also use an oil based moisturizer.

At the end of the day, the best way to avoid frost bite, hypothermia or any of the cold-related hazards is shelter.

Brenda Sasser, who works in the kitchen at Catholic Charities' center was determined to make it in Monday. She knew there were going to be cold, hungry people depending on her and the rest of the staff.

"It makes me feel good when I come in here and serve these people because I know they need some assistance. This place is called the Center for Hope," she said.

Hope is just what the shelters and warming centers are offering to so many people in need.

Monday, visitors to the men's side of Carriage Town shelter enjoyed "the Hobbit" while they kept warm. While the entertainment options may change daily, the need for shelter remains painfully constant.

Director Dallas Gatlin says the cold days may mean there are more faces in the warming center. On any given night, the beds in the dormitory upstairs are full.

"People come here for a lot of reasons, things have happened in their lives, sometimes mistakes they've made, sometimes just circumstances. Usually a combination of both. Folks who come here are God's projects just like you and I are. And we try to provide them a place to pull things together," he said.

A few blocks away, at Catholic Charities, the warming center is filled - and with many familiar faces, says Brenda, a worker here, who struggled to make it here in the snow.

"People still have to eat, so I am here. You know. Some of these people are my friends," she said.

Visitors here are grateful for people, like Brenda, who care.

It is hard to put a number on just how many people may need either the shelter, or simply a warm meal, but there is no doubt, based on the regular turnouts at both Catholic Charities and Carriage Town, that the need is tremendous - every day.

With little relief in site for at least a couple more days, other area churches are also opening warming centers.

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