I think we can all agree that a few weekends ago, the nights of February third and fourth, were the coldest we’ve ever felt on campus. Whether it was traveling to the dining hall, walking to class, or even opening the window for some fresh air, we all felt the biting cold.
It was strange. For two nights the thermometers were set in frigid temperatures, reaching record breaking lows, yet the very next day it felt like spring again, reaching a high of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s funny: the colder it seemed to get outside, the less cold I felt — well, apart from my hair freezing immediately after getting out of the shower. Everything just seemed so much colder than I had anticipated.
In Rhode Island, it was a record-breaking cold day as Time and Date illustrated, when it reached -4 and -9 degrees Fahrenheit. Massachusetts was just as “chilly” with -4 and -9 degrees. It got even colder as the day went by, reaching -8 and -9 degrees. Meanwhile, in many parts of Maine, the temperature fell to -40 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature alone was enough to hospitalize a few unlucky Maine residents, and the arctic winds created perilous temperatures in some parts of the Northeast. According to Reuters, in New Hampshire’s Mount Washington, temperatures reached far below freezing at a stunning -45 degrees, with wind chills reaching -105 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extreme cold weather like this can be dangerous for a couple of reasons. Frostbite can take under a half an hour to set in when the temperatures are below freezing, but in these extreme cold conditions, it can settle in just fifteen minutes, especially when the temperature has reached below 18 degrees Fahrenheit, Texas.gov reminds us. Frostbite, though advertised in movies as turning white, actually looks quite different. Frostbite usually makes the affected skin turn a variety of different colors: first a pinky red, then a purple, and then finally an unsettling ashen gray color. When developing frostbite, it generally feels tingly — as in the pins and needles feeling.
A friend of mine showed the first signs of frostbite while out on a walk during that cold, cold weekend. If this ever occurs to you, follow her example: get to a warm environment, and run a hot bath (anywhere between 98 degrees and 102 degrees Fahrenheit according to the NHS), and allow color to slowly return to the area. If you feel as though the color is not returning, are unsure what to do, or think you could be at serious risk, call 911 right away.
Frostbite can co-occur with hypothermia as well. Hypothermia occurs when the body drops below its standard 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and some symptoms include feverish shivering, slurred speech and memory loss, as well as sudden exhaustion according to the CDC. Hypothermia can occur in as little as a half an hour or under, when the temperature is below zero degrees Fahrenheit Everyday Health explains. Unlike frostbite, if you believe you or a friend has hypothermia, immediate medical attention is advised, as well as relocating to a warmer environment.
While frostbite and hypothermia are pretty well known, there’s another extreme cold condition that’s not as often considered: breathing in the cold air. A common myth is that breathing in extremely cold air can burst your lungs. However, while this is just a myth, there are some dangers that come with this activity. It’s called bronchospasm, and it occurs when the body’s airways become dry with the cold air. Bronchospasm does not mean your lungs are freezing, but is the cause of the burning sensation, shortness of breath, irritation and cough, as relayed by the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine.
To prevent this from happening, it’s advised to wear a scarf, balaclava or a mask over your mouth to filter this cold air. However, if you don’t own one of these, don’t fret. Our bodies are designed to deal with extremely cold temperatures and have a humidifying mechanism that will ensure your lungs’ safety, the Canadian Academy of Sport and Exercise Medicine reminds us. With that being said, if you begin to feel a burning sensation in your lungs, don’t panic. But, make sure to get somewhere warm. If the feeling of bronchospasm is extreme, or you feel you are at a risk, get medical attention.
While these record breaking cold temperatures are said to happen once every generation, we never know when this phenomenon will return. So, the next time we feel an arctic wave of this magnitude, make sure to not only follow President Whelan’s advice of closing windows and keeping the heat on, but become well educated and ready to face the bitter winds.