Pratt County has so far not experienced the snow and ice that have caused problems elsewhere in the Midwest, but temperatures have plummeted, which is also risky for residents.

The best advice is to check on neighbors and family, especially the elderly, reminds Tim Branscom, county emergency manager.

People should also be prepared for the possibility of power outages, by keeping necessary supplies on hand, along with flashlights and extra batteries, which are the safest source of alternative lighting.

Dressing in layers offers the best thermal protection, better than a single heavy layer. Anyone who must work outside can take off layers as they warm up, and they need to remember to stay hydrated, Branscom cautioned. A person may not experience thirst when it's cold, but hydration is still an issue, like when shoveling snow, for example.

"Kansas winter weather can be extremely dangerous," said Robert Moser, MD, Kansas Department of Health and Environment secretary and state health officer. "Serious health problems can result from prolonged exposure to the cold. The most common cold weather-related problems are frostbite and hypothermia. If you experience symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite you need to seek medical care."

Planning ahead and thinking about how each day's forecasted weather conditions will impact you, your family and your neighbors is key to staying safe this winter.

Avoid frostbite and hypothermia:

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body will lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Warnings signs of hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. Seek medical attention quickly. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won't do anything about it.

Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extreme cold.

At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin — frostbite may be beginning. A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care.

If there is frostbite, no sign of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:

1. Get into a warm room as soon as possible.

2. Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes —this increases the damage.

3. Immerse the affected area in warm — not hot — water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).

4. Or, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.

5. Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.

6. Don't use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.

Dress properly:

Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body-heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton. Stay dry — wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.

Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body. Do not ignore shivering. It's an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

Understand Wind Chill:

The Wind Chill Index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. When temperatures fall below freezing frostbite can occur in a matter of minutes. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.

Be a good neighbor and check on others especially the elderly:

When winter weather puts us in the deep freeze make certain that you take time to check on family, friends and neighbors who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards: young children, older adults and the chronically ill. Also if you have pets, bring them inside so they can stay warm too.

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