Those of us who call Edinboro our home, or our "home away from home," know that the myths about our winter weather conditions are probably much worse than the reality. It is the case, however, that the weather in our town, which is situated in an area known as "the snowbelt," can be severe at times -sometimes without much warning.
For this reason, it is always important to be prepared and to know how to protect yourself from and respond to winter weather medical and other emergencies.
Avoiding the Hazards of Severe Winter Weather
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can cause frostbite, hypothermia or even death. Infants, the elderly, and individuals with compromised health are most susceptible to danger in cold weather conditions. This can also be extended to individuals who are in good general health who are not properly prepared for the weather conditions. Risks are compounded by the use of alcohol and other drugs.
- Don't venture out alone during a winter storm and dress properly for weather conditions.
- Always let someone know where you are going and when you can be expected back.
- Use good judgment and common sense. Ask for help if you need it.
Winter Weather Attire
Dressing properly for winter weather conditions is a must, and one of the most important precautions you can take to ensure your safety and comfort.
- Wear loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing in several layers.
- Layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill.
- Denim and other cotton fabrics absorb water quickly and promote more rapid heat loss. Materials such as wool and newer fabrics, such as polar fleece, retain their insulating capabilities even when wet.
- Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.
- Wear a hat (half of body heat is lost through the top of the head).
- Cover the mouth with a scarf to protect lungs from cold air.
- Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
- Wear insulated boots - preferably with a heavy tread.
Frostbite is a tissue/nerve injury caused by cold exposure of the skin that may result in permanent damage to nerves in the skin. Areas that have been frostbitten are often more sensitive to the cold following the injury. Typical areas affected are fingers, toes, the nose, ear lobes, or any exposed skin. Metal conducts cold very efficiently, which means that earrings and other pierced facial ornaments exposed to cold air can contribute to earlier frostbite. ER personnel generally advise people to remove them if they're going to be out in sub-freezing weather or low wind chills for any length of time.
- loss of feeling
- white or pale appearance to the skin (white or pale patches on cheeks, for example)
- blistering in more severe incidents
If these symptoms are apparent, you should seek medical help immediately.
If medical help is not immediately available, slowly re-warm the affected areas. Re-warming can be done with warm, not hot, water or moistened towels. If no other injuries are apparent that would preclude moving an individual suffering from frostbite, get him or her indoors to a warm, sheltered location.
Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95° F.
- slow or slurred speech
- memory loss
- uncontrollable shivering
- repeated stumbling
- apparent exhaustion
If these symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately.
If medical help is not available:
- Get the victim indoors to a warm, sheltered location if no other injuries are apparent that would preclude moving him or her.
- Begin warming the person slowly.
- Always warm the body core/trunk first.
- Use blankets or your own body to warm the victim.
- Get the person into dry clothing.
- Do not give a person with signs of hypothermia any fluids or medicines that increase urination or that include caffeine. This includes alcohol, coffee, tea or certain herbs or drugs. Warm beverages including soups or water may be very helpful.
It is important to get medical help for a person suffering from hypothermia. If you cannot access a medical facility, you should attempt to contact someone by phone whereby advice and assistance can be provided for treatment.
Alcohol and Winter Weather: Don't Mix!
Many of us were weaned on cartoons and other fictional depictions of the "life-saving" Saint Bernard with a "trusty barrel of booze" around its neck who assisted people stranded in cold weather. This may be one contributor to the incorrect belief that alcohol helps to keep a body warm. Actually, alcohol causes surface blood vessels to dilate. This cools the blood and decreases body temperature. Although an alcoholic beverage may cause you to feel warm, it actually reduces body temperature. In cold weather conditions, then, alcohol can speed the process of frostbite or hypothermia.
If You Drive
If you own a car, there are some things you should always carry with you - particularly in the winter. Depending on where you are traveling in your car, you should consider the following travel tips and prepare a Winter Storm Survival Kit with contents appropriate for your travel tendencies.
- Plan your travel and check the latest weather reports on current and predicted weather conditions.
- Fully check and winterize your vehicle.
- Maintain at least a half tank of gas to prevent ice in the tank and fuel lines.
- Make sure tires have adequate tread.
- Try not to travel alone.
- Make sure your wheelchair is in good shape, the batteries charged, and good tread on the tires.
- Let someone know your primary and alternate routes and anticipated timetable.
Winter Storm Survival Kit
- blankets/sleeping bags
- high-calorie, non-perishable food
- flashlight with extra batteries
- first aid kit
- extra clothing to keep dry
- a large empty can and plastic cover with tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes
- a smaller can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking water
- sack of sand or cat litter
- windshield scraper and brush
- tool kit
- tow rope
- jumper cables
- water container
- road maps
- brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
Advice on Winter Driving:
- As always, please wear your seatbelt. Seatbelts are required by law in Pennsylvania.
- Clear snow and ice from windows, mirrors, lights and license plate(s). Always carry an ice scraper and snow brush in your car.
- Ensure that your windshield washer reservoir is filled with no-freeze windshield solvent.
- Monitor and restart your rear window defroster as necessary. Many electric rear window defrosters shut off after 10 minutes.
- Allow extra time to reach your destination.
- Avoid sudden starts and stops.
- Drive at a speed appropriate for conditions and a safe distance from the car in front of you.
- If your vehicle has anti-lock braking (ABS), when you need to stop, apply firm steady pressure to the brake pedal. (Re-read your owner's manual to learn more about the proper use of ABS.)
- If you don't have anti-lock brakes, pump, don't slam on your brakes.
- It may be helpful to put your car in neutral when skidding.
- Steer gradually around obstacles.
If Stranded in Your Automobile:
- Display a trouble sign by tying a brightly colored cloth to the radio antenna.
- Do not leave your vehicle to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards.
- Occasionally run the engine to keep warm. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
- Do minor exercises to keep up circulation.
If you are on campus and would prefer not to attempt to drive during a winter storm, you may stay in a residence hall room overnight. A minimal fee may be charged. During regular office hours, contact the Residence Life and Housing Office to arrange for a room (732-2818). After hours, such arrangements can be made by contacting the Campus Police (732-2921) who will contact an on-duty residence hall coordinator to assist you.
Lakes and ponds present potential winter hazards. Ice strength and thickness vary based on the kind of body of water, the surface air temperature, the sun, and other factors that include fluctuations in air temperature. On campus, there are several large orange ice crosses positioned around Mallory Lake (and around Edinboro Lake located off campus) for rescue purposes.
Although Mallory Lake is not approved for ice skating or other forms of winter recreation, if someone falls through the ice:
- Immediately alert Campus Police who will contact emergency medical personnel. If you have access to a phone, dial 732-2911 ? the on-campus emergency number. If you are off campus, dial 911.
- Extend an ice cross to the victim from the water?s edge.
- Take care not to endanger yourself.
Local Weather Information and Weather Terms
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania operates its own weather station. Many people in the region rely upon it for local weather updates and reports. It features local weather conditions and a Doppler Radar map of the United States that are updated regularly. You can access it at:
Edinboro is also fortunate to be served by four major television networks in nearby Erie and numerous radio stations - all of which provide regular weather updates from sources such as Accu-Weather and The National Weather Service as well as local weather tracking and predicting systems. In addition, The Weather Channel is among the offerings of our local cable system.
The following are some terms with which you may need to become familiar - especially if you're new to northwestern Pennsylvania.
Wind Chill: A calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. A strong wind combination with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature about 35° colder.
Lake Effect Snow: This is the source of Edinboro's designation as a snowbelt area. According to The Weather Channel, lake effect snows occur when a mass of sufficiently cold air moves over a body of warmer water, creating an unstable temperature profile in the atmosphere. As a result, clouds build over the lake, in our case Lake Erie, and eventually develop into snow showers and squalls as they move downwind. The most likely setting for this localized type of snowfall is when very cold Arctic air rushes over warmer water on the heels of a passing cold front, as often happens in the Great Lakes region during the winter. Areas, like Edinboro, of relatively high elevation downwind of the Great Lakes generally receive heavier amounts of lake effect snow than do other locations in this region. Once the lake is frozen, the threat of lake effect snow is diminished.
Winter Storm Watch: Severe winter weather, such as heavy snow or ice, is possible within the next day or two.
Winter Storm Warning: Severe winter weather conditions are occurring, imminent, or highly likely.
Heavy Snow Warning: Snowfall of six inches or more is predicted.
Ice Storm Warning: Heavy accumulations of ice will create extremely dangerous travel and damage trees and power lines.
Blizzard Warning: Snow and strong winds will combine to produce blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.
Winter Weather Advisory: Winter weather conditions will cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous - especially to motorists.
Snow Advisory: Snowfall of three to five inches is predicted.
Wind Chill Advisory: Dangerous wind chills of 35° below zero or colder are predicted.
School Closing Procedures
While we get some severe storms here in Edinboro, we are fortunate that the northwestern Pennsylvania road crews are well-prepared and experienced when it comes to snow and ice removal. It is very uncommon for there to be a storm that causes the University to close. However, we monitor weather and travel conditions very closely during the winter months, and have developed a system for communicating with the University and surrounding communities in the event that it is necessary to cancel classes or limit University operations due to poor weather conditions.
If weather conditions appear as though they may affect schedules, watch or listen to any of the stations listed for information about Edinboro University main campus, Edinboro University in Erie - The Porreco Center and the Meadville Access Center. If Edinboro University is not mentioned in the media announcements, it is "business as usual." You should report to class or work.
Media announcements are generally made during morning news breaks but, depending on the situation, may be made at any time stations broadcast weather-related conditions.
Radio and Television Stations Contacted by Edinboro University for Weather-Related Cancellations or Delays:
STAR 97-FM (WREO)
|Franklin, Oil City:||
The most current information regarding class cancellations, delays or school closings can also be found by calling the University's own weather/emergency hotline at 814-732-BORO.
Disaster Services: Winter Storms. The American Red Cross (http://www.redcross.org).
Douwens, R. A survey on inhalation rewarming. RES-Q Products, Inc. 1995.
Special Alert: Blizzard of ?99. Ice Pack (http://www.icepack.org).
Storm Encyclopedia. The Weather Channel (http://www.weather.com).
Tommasello, T., Tschirgi, T., Clinton, M., Wood, S. What effect does alcohol have on the circulatory system? Office of Substance Abuse Studies, 1995.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Cooperative Extension Service Disaster Resource. Winter storm preparedness series, 1995.
Winter Driving. Federal Emergency Management Agency Fact Sheet (http://www.fema.gov).