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Be aware of hypothermia as winter approaches

J. Tyler Franklin

Every week WAVE 3 meteorologist Tawana Andrew breaks down what we know and what we don't about the climate and weather here in Louisville.

Bill Burton: It's time for us to take a look at the Science Behind the Forecast as I am joined by WAVE 3 meteorologist Tawana Andrew. Good morning, Tawana.

Tawana Andrew: Good morning. We're getting closer to winter, and that means temperatures are starting to drop even more across our area.

BB: And that's our topic today: something to keep an eye on when the temperature drops like this, and it's hypothermia. What do we need to know about it?

TA: Well, hypothermia of course becomes more of a concern as temperatures go down. And then in the winter, we tend to have that combination of strong wind, and low temperatures.

Now, you'll hear meteorologists all the time talking about the wind chill index. And this is not something that we just make up because we feel like it, there's actually some calculation. behind it. There's a little bit of science and actually a lot of math behind it as well.

The wind chill index helps to determine when a dangerous combination of wind and low temperatures can lead to hypothermia, and frostbite. Basically, wind chill with a lot of math accounts for a human body's heat loss to the surroundings during windy and cold weather. For example, let's say we have an air temperature of 15 degrees Fahrenheit, and the sustained wind around 20 miles per hour. That will lead to a wind chill of minus two degrees Fahrenheit. So that means your body at that 15 degrees with the 20 mile per hour wind will lose heat at the same rate it would if the temperature was minus two degrees with a calm wind.

So that is why wind chill is so important because it gives us that little extra insight into how our bodies are interacting with this wintry weather. Now hypothermia can occur when temperatures are even warmer, you can see between 30 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and it's even been documented in temperatures as warm as 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So you don't need sub freezing temperatures for hypothermia to occur.

Wet clothing will make hypothermia more likely, if you are submerged in cold water, if there's rain, or even if you are sweating a lot in cold temperatures. And Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. So at that point, your body is losing heat way faster than it can actually produce and warning signs to look out for maybe if you're out and about even just during the holiday seasons.

Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, drowsiness, slurred speech, memory loss and disorientation. And something that's super dangerous about hypothermia is that the person suffering from it may not even realize that they're dealing with it, which is why it's so important to keep an eye on our friends and loved ones that everyone around us.

Something I found really interesting: According to the CDC, they have a list of the people who are most at risk for hypothermia. People outdoors for extended period of time. That makes sense, right? That's one of the people on the list. But older adults and babies sleeping in cold rooms are also at risk for hypothermia. So that's why it's just so important to make sure you're watching out for those little kids, keeping an eye on our older adults and just being as safe and as warm as possible. As we head into the colder winter months.

BB: An excellent reminder that we need to stay vigilant so we can avoid hypothermia. And we know how to do it now and we know exactly what it is thanks to the latest edition of Science Behind the Forecast with WAVE 3 meteorologist Tawana Andrew. Thanks for the knowledge, Tawana.

TA: Of course.

This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

Bill Burton is the Morning Edition host for LPM. Email Bill at bburton@lpm.org.