Outdoor workers bundle up in battle against bitter cold temperatures

January 22, 2013|By CALEB CALHOUN |

HAGERSTOWN — Richard Roberts of Clear Spring was outside Tuesday, selling Baltimore Ravens gear at the intersection of Dual Highway and Mount Aetna Road.

“It’s all right as long as the wind isn’t blowing,” said Roberts, 60. “I’ve got plenty of clothes on. If you want to eat you’ve got to work.”

Roberts and other area residents who had to be outside struggled to stay warm on a day when the temperature in Hagerstown hit a high of 22.5 degrees at midnight, and hit a low of 11.9 degrees at 7:23 a.m., according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer’s website at 

And that didn’t account for the wind chill, which was a minus 3 at 6 a.m. and never got out of single digits.

Roberts was wearing four layers of clothing on his upper body, a tactic mentioned by Meritus Medical Center Emergency Medicine Vice Chair Dr. Steven Bauer, who advised people braving the cold to wear layers of clothing, go inside periodically, and drink enough fluids to stay hydrated.

Jeff May of Martinsburg, W.Va., who was working at the Walgreens construction site for Roberts Welding at the intersection of Dual Highway and Edgewood Drive on Tuesday, admitted that he drinks coffee in the cold but added that layers of clothes — including insulated coveralls — were his main method of retaining heat.

With wind gusts reaching as high as 47 mph at one point Tuesday, May said it can still feel cold.

“It’s OK if it’s just cold, but that wind cuts right through you,” said May, 52. “If you’re working, it’s not that bad because it’ll keep your blood flowing, so we don’t want to just stand.”

The garage doors at Crenshaw’s Auto Repair on West Baltimore Street were closed Tuesday so workers could perform maintenance on vehicles in warmer conditions.

The shop’s owner, Howie Weeks, said that they had to go outside only to push vehicles inside.

“We try to stay out of the cold as much as possible,” he said. “The cold is taking a toll on batteries and starters, and we’re working on a lot of those. People should have them checked before it gets like this.”

Although no patients had gone to the emergency room at Meritus Medical Center early Tuesday due to exposure to the cold, Bauer said that anyone suspected of hypothermia and frostbite should be taken inside immediately and have EMS contacted.

“Frostbite can cause permanent damage and can result in loss of fingers or toes,” he said. “If you think you have frostbite, don’t put your fingers in really hot water because it’s going to hurt like crazy and can cause more damage if you increase the temperature too quickly.”

According to the AccuWeather forecast on the HMTV6 weather website, low nighttime temperatures Wednesday through Saturday will range from 15 degrees Thursday to 19 degrees Friday and Saturday. The high temperatures for the period will range from 22 degrees Wednesday to 27 degrees Friday and Saturday.

HMTV 6 meteorologist Brittany Beggs said in her blog that the coldest air mass in years has settled across a majority of the country. The system’s wind chill factor is causing “RealFeel” temperatures to dip into negative digits, Beggs said.

Tips for staying warm
Here is a list of tips from Meritus Medical Center Emergency Medicine Vice Chair Dr. Steven Bauer on how to handle cold temperatures:

• If outside for a period of time, wear a hat to cover your ears, a ski mask or a scarf, warm footwear, and gloves.

• If your skin feels hard or waxy and if there is paleness or a loss of sensation you could potentially have frostbite, in which case you should go to the emergency room.

• If you think you have frostbite, you can put your fingers in skin temperature water, but do not put it in hot water, rub your hands together, or rub them in snow.

• Drink fluids such as water and Gatorade to stay hydrated.

• Try to avoid caffeine, including coffee and tea, because it makes you urinate more, which could dehydrate you.

• Do not drink alcohol in the cold because it constricts your blood vessels and can dehydrate you.

• A person who seems drowsy or a little confused, as if they have been intoxicated, could have hypothermia and should be taken inside, have their body temperature checked out, and then have EMS contacted.

• If you are working hard outside and begin to feel hot and sweaty, keep your jacket and coat on, keep your fingers toes and ears covered, and keep yourself hydrated.

• If you are working outside for a long period of time, take a 10-minute break every hour or two and warm up inside.

• Make sure any stove or fireplace in your house is inspected, and have Carbon Monoxide detectors in your house if they are running.

• If you have a chronic medical condition, know how well your body can handle the cold.

• Be careful with elderly people and young children in the cold.

• Diabetics should be aware of the risk of frostbite due to the fact that they already may not be able to feel their fingers and toes very well.

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