Safety Gram: Proceed with caution while driving, playing, working in wintery weather conditions

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
Published Jan. 28, 2021

While decorating the exterior of our home this past Christmas season, my husband quickly stopped me from stepping on an ice formation, which I didn’t see.  

The water from our gutters had drained and frozen on our blacktop driveway near the edge of our home. Whew! Talk about a close call from having an ice-slipping disaster.

Freezing temperatures, coupled with rain and snow, cause ice patches to form on bridges, roads, driveways and steps. These ice formations may be invisible to the eye. Therefore, it is important for individuals to pay attention and exercise caution when working, playing, driving and moving about in outside cold weather. 

The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center encourages individuals to:
- Walk slowly and carefully in appropriate footwear.
- Use special care when getting in and out of vehicles.
- Avoid walking with your hands in your pockets or carrying items in your hands. Try a backpack.
- Check potentially slick areas by tapping them with your foot.
- Walk as flat-footed as possible on very icy areas.
- Avoid uneven surfaces, like steps or curbs.
- Report any untreated public areas.
- Remember: “Ice and snow mean take it slow.”
- Watch out for black ice.

According to the National Weather Service, black ice is patchy ice on roadways or other transportation surfaces that cannot easily be seen. It is often transparent with the black road surface visible underneath. It is most prevalent during the early morning hours, especially after snow melts on roads and has a chance to refreeze over night when the temperature drops below freezing. Black ice can also form when roadways are slick from rain and temperatures drop below freezing overnight.

While we may be familiar with various areas and routes, don’t allow familiarity over safe driving habits to cause an accident or injury. 

With low temperatures still looming, along with the groundhog seeing his shadow and possible rain and snow in the forecast, this could be a formula for hazardous driving conditions and cold weather injuries. Some common cold weather injuries include hypothermia and frostbite.

The Army Public Health Center defines hypothermia as a body core temperature below 95 F. Hypothermia occurs when heat loss is greater than heat production. It can happen suddenly, over hours or days. Hypothermia may occur at temperatures above freezing, especially when a person’s skin or clothing is wet. 

Symptoms include:
- Vigorous shivering
- Grumbles, mumbles, stumbles and fumbles that increase as cold affects muscle and nerve function
- Confusion, sleepiness, slurred speech, shallow breathing, weak pulse, low blood pressure, change in behavior and/or poor control over body movements – slow reactions  

Frostbite accounts for the largest number of cold weather injuries each year and occurs when tissue temperature falls below 28-30 F. It is most common in exposed skin, such as hands, nose, ears and cheeks. 

Symptoms include:
- Numbness in affected area
- Tingling, blistered, swollen or tender areas
- Pale, yellowish, grayish, waxy-looking skin
- Frozen tissue that feels wooden to the touch
- Significant pain after rewarming

While sunny skies and birds may be appearing, spring does not begin until March 20, and there are still cold days ahead. 

Cold weather injury prevention is key. When out and about, make sure to dress for the weather by wearing clean, loose and dry clothing, avoid overheating, wear gloves, keep face and ears covered and dry, maintain clean and dry socks, and dress in layers.

Just because it’s sunny and a beautiful day out, still be mindful of cold weather hazards. Like my 5-year-old son found out a few a days ago while playing outside. He was running, having a grand ole time, and not paying attention when he slipped on ice on the blacktop and scraped his face. Fortunately, he only suffered scratches on his face with no crying or major injuries. 

Stay healthy, safe and be smart when out and about.