May 26th, 2020

Arctic freeze can bring dangers


By Mabell, Dave on January 14, 2020.

A walker bundles up in their warmest winter apparel to get outside for some physical activity, as temperatures begin to drop to near -30 C. Herald photo by Greg Bobinec @GBobinecHerald

Dave Mabell

Lethbridge Herald

dmabell@lethbridgeherald.com

Hold on, spring is on the way. But while they’re waiting, southern Albertans may face serious risks during this week’s cold snap.

At these temperatures, a physician warns, pedestrians without suitable protection can become numb and disoriented as hypothermia sets in.

“It happens quickly,” says Dr. Shobhit Maruti, a medical officer of health with Alberta Health Services.

Environment Canada has issued an extreme cold warning for Lethbridge – and all of Alberta and Saskatchewan. It’s telling everyone, walking or driving, to be aware of symptoms of hypothermia. They include shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain and weakness, numbness and colour change in fingers and toes.

“Extreme wind-chill values near -40 C” are expected today, forecasters say. And the frigid temperatures are predicted to persist over Alberta through the week.

Daytime highs above zero are heading to Lethbridge next week, the Weather Channel says. But for now an Arctic freeze has settled right across Western Canada – even the Lions Gate Bridge in Vancouver was closed for snow plowing.

Southern Albertans can always hope for a chinook, but anyone travelling north or east may continue to face some of the worst that winter can bring. Maruti says it’s vital to keep aware of conditions, and use common sense.

For some, he suggests that could include staying home. Isn’t it something that could wait until next week?

Seniors (and infants) are the most vulnerable in extreme weather, he says. Some of the “insulation” of the skin layers is lost to the aging process.

If they’re living alone, some seniors may face additional dangers. While walking to the mailbox or the corner store, they could slip, or start suffering from hypothermia. Maruti suggests calling a neighbour or friend before stepping out.

“Simply tell someone,” so they’ll know to check on your safety.

“We have to be connected as a community to help each other out,” he says.

Signs of hypothermia, says Maruti, can include drowsiness and slurred speech as well as disorientation and confusion. Next, there’s the danger of frostbite.

“It happens quickly,” Maruti says. “Our bodies are not made for these kinds of temperatures.”

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