Cold Weather Survival|
© 2006 RogueTurtle.com
November. What a wonderful month. The leaves have fallen off of the trees (mostly) and the nights are brisk and cold. A few weather systems may race in from Canada with stiff winds and snow, but for the most part, November is a fun month. Way up north, the lakes and ponds begin to start freezing, making ice-skating and ice fishing more and more inviting. Even in Florida, the days are warm but the nights are "cold" by Florida standards. No wonder our "Snow Birds" flock to Florida. - BUT -|
Winter can be DANGEROUS.
Forty-eight percent of the northern hemisphere's total landmass can be classified as a cold region in the winter. Many factors can influence just exactly how cold it will get. Among these are elevation, wind strength, wet or dry conditions, and your own physical condition.
When I was in the Air Force, we learned that the "Standard Temperature Lapse Rate" is -2 degrees Celsius for every 1,000 feet of elevation. That means that as you climb higher and higher, and nothing else changes (such as wind or rain), the temperature gets lower by 2 degrees Celsius for every 1,000 feet you climb.
Temperature conversion for Turtles: |
(Formerly known as Temperature conversion for Dummies)
Freezing = 32 degrees Fahrenheit = 0 degrees Celsius
-2 degrees Celsius = 28 degrees Fahrenheit
-4 degrees Celsius = 25 degrees Fahrenheit
For example: All other things being equal, if you started to climb a 2,000 foot mountain and the temperature at the base is 32 degrees F. (freezing), as you climb it will get colder. Half way up, at the 1,000 foot mark, the temperature will be 28 degrees F. At the top, it will be 25 degrees F.
If your mountain is 10,000 feet high in the same conditions (no wind or rain) then the temperature at the top will be -20 degrees C., or -4 degrees F.
This little piece of information is handy when you are trying to decide where to go for bug-out or camping purposes. It may be more scenic to camp in the higher elevations of "snow-capped mountains" but, you run the risk of facing a far colder environment in which to survive.
We've all been fooled by Mother Nature when we leave our homes on a "balmy" winter's day when we only have on a light wind-breaker jacket to keep warm. Then, for some reason, we can't get home during the daylight hours. As night falls, so does the temperature. Yours Truly was a BIG victim of this practical joke since I hate to wear heavy winter clothing. I got caught in New York City after dark and almost froze to death in the windy streets of South Manhattan.
Consider leaving your home with the family for a "quick run to Grandma's house," only to be forced to stay away from your home for several days or weeks with only the clothing on your back. Fire, earthquake, landslide, natural disaster or terrorist attacks in the winter present you with many life-threatening conditions.
WET OR DRY CONDITIONS
I think everyone will agree that being wet AND cold is the worst condition to be in. Dry weather conditions are cold but when you are wet in addition to being cold, your life is in serious danger. Wet weather means that even when it's cold, the snow can quickly turn into slush or mud. Wet weather means you have to concentrate on protecting yourself from the wet ground and from freezing rain or wet snow. Wet snow is not a good insulator. Dry snow has trapped air pockets that make good insulation.
Dry cold conditions are usually colder than wet cold conditions, temperature-wise. But, you don't have to constantly fight the freeze-thaw conditions that turn a scenic hillside into a mud slide. In dry cold conditions you need more layers of inner clothing, but at least you don't have to contend with wet clothing.
Wind has a MAJOR effect on the human body in cold weather conditions. The faster the wind blows the quicker the human body feels the effects of the cold. Weathermen like to call this the "feels-like" temperature. The older term was the "Wind-Chill" effect.
Wind-Chill increases the hazards in cold regions. Even here in Florida, you will feel ten to fifteen degrees colder (particularly on the water at night) in a strong wind. Earlier this year, I published a Wind-Chill chart to tell you EXACTLY the effect the wind has on the body. If you don't have that article handy, get it here.
Remember, even when there is no wind, you will create an equivalent wind by skiing, running, being towed on skis behind a vehicle, riding on motorcycles or snowmobiles, or working around aircraft that produce wind blasts.
COLD WEATHER SURVIVAL PRINCIPLES
C - O - L - D
Remember these rules by the acronym "C-O-L-D": Clean - Overheating - Loose Layers - Dry
Keep Clothing CLEAN. In the winter, clothing that is matted with dirt, grease and grime will lose much of their insulation value because the small air spaces in the material are clogged with dirt. It's the air that provides the insulation, and when these spaces fill up, cold is transferred directly to the skin. Heat escapes from the body for the same reason. There are no tiny insulating air spaces left in the material you are wearing.
Avoid OVERHEATING. This happens all too quickly in cold weather, particularly when you are working hard on a project or trekking in the woods. Your body's sweat gets your inner garments wet and now you have a problem. The dampness acts just like the dirty clothing, transferring the cold directly to the skin, and allowing the body's heat to escape directly to the outside air. The dampness decreases the insulating quality of all your other clothing. As sweat evaporates, it cools the body. In the summer, this evaporation maintains you body's "cool"... In the winter it can kill you. Pay attention when working outdoors in cold weather. Adjust your outer clothing by opening up jackets and/or shirts, or even removing layers of clothing to prevent sweating. Change to a lighter headgear and remove gloves. The head and hands act as efficient heat radiators, cooling the blood that will cool the entire body. Over time, readjust your clothing to maintain dry skin conditions. Under clothing that is TOO wet from sweat should be removed, dried, and put back on as soon as possible. Embarrassing, but necessary.
Wear clothing LOOSE and in LAYERS. Tight clothing will restrict blood circulation necessary to maintain body temperature. Tight clothing will not have a correct volume of air trapped in the layers of clothing to provide significant insulation. It is much better to wear several layers of lightweight clothing rather than one extra-heavy garment that will not allow for temperature adjustments. The layered clothing has many levels of trapped air, both in the clothing itself, and between the clothing layers. It is easy to remove one or two lightweight shirts to maintain a proper (dry) body temperature.
Keep clothing DRY. This is extremely important. If you get your clothing soaked all the way to the skin, you are in REAL danger of frostbite or worse. Wet snow, rain, splashing from tires, or just falling down in slushy conditions can soak you to the bone. If there is dry clothing available, you must get out of the wet clothing as soon as possible. If no clothing is available, you need to stop and dry the clothing around a fire built around a makeshift shelter. Delaying this drying process will only lead to a gradual lowering of the body's core temperature until it is too late to recover. You MUST stay warm while the clothing is being dried. Use blankets, sleeping bags, or shared body heat to keep warm. Stay out of the wind. Wind chill on exposed skin can be deadly. Use the sun (or what little there is of it) as much as possible. Leather shoes should be dried slowly to prevent damage to the leather. In extreme freezing conditions, the frozen water can actually be "knocked" out of the clothing, speeding up the drying process. Keep moving until you can get a dry layer of clothing on. If you are underneath an open shelter, hang the clothing as high up under the roof as possible. Heat rises and is trapped under the roof.
Whatever you do during the winter season, make sure that you have a means to build a fire with you AT ALL TIMES. I don't care if it's just a "Bic" lighter, a flint & steel kit, or a blowtorch. You MUST be able to keep warm in the winter. Unless you are at home, this means building a fire outdoors. Review all the steps needed to build a fire, and practice building one if you haven't done it lately.
In today's society, having a personal survival kit, including fire making tools, may be misconstrued by some as either weapons or incendiary devices. Don't try to take them into court houses, airplanes, or schools. I know, I'd rather have my kids prepared, but with the rash of school incidents, and the subsequent reactions to these situations, the possession of such items will probably get them expelled. Such is the state of life in the USA today. But, nothing says they can't have them on their person at the mall.
VEHICLE KITS FOR WINTER
In the winter, when the bottom drops out of the thermometer, your MOST PROBABLE survival situation will involve the family jalopy. A few items of survival, stuffed into a fairly small bag, can mean the difference between life and death. Just assemble the items, put them in a bag, and leave them in the car.
These items should include:
- One wool blanket per passenger. An alternative would be a "space blanket" but they are not nearly as warm as wool. Having both is even better.
- Heavy knife and/or hatchet.
- Fire making supplies. Matches, tinder, fire starters, flint and steel kit, etc.
- Compass and maps.
- Tarp to build a shelter and rope to build it.
- Flashlight with replacement batteries.
- Signaling devices such as mirrors, flares, whistles, etc.
- Energy bars for food.
- Dry set of clothing for each passenger.
Families with infant children or small children will have special needs that need to be added as your family situation dictates. Elderly people may also have special needs and/or equipment and these should be addressed also. Do not try to abandon your vehicle until daylight. Wandering off in the dark will most likely get you into more trouble than you are already in.
While I would like to tell you to pack water into your car's cold weather gear, it's impractical. Cars left outdoors for a long period of time are merely mobile refrigerators. The water in your vehicle will freeze and probably expand to break whatever container it is in. Now the leaking water soaks all your stored and dry clothing and blankets, making them totally useless until they are dried.
If you have the time and energy, spend it on building a shelter and keeping warm. If water is readily accessible, by all means gather it up for drinking purposes. But, don't spend a lot of time and energy searching for water when your real danger is freezing to death. It is better to be thirsty than frozen. In a snow storm, there is a real danger of "wandering away" from your party and not returning until your body is found in the spring. Stay put until the weather clears up enough to get out of your emergency predicament.
How you get out of your situation depends entirely on what caused it to begin with. Since you were probably on a road somewhere and got stuck, return to the road and seek assistance from passing drivers. If you had to walk a great distance to get shelter, plan your return trip to include numerous rest stops. Spending the night, or several days, inside a shelter will leave you physically exhausted. You burn body fat for energy just to stay warm. Children should get most of the food since they usually don't have the body fat reserves that most adults carry around. After 24 hours, the search for water becomes much more important since dehydration can cause physical problems in addition to the cold weather problems.
Many parties in such winter survival situations have sent out the "healthiest and strongest"member to go get help. Only you and your party can decide if this is a good idea for your particular situation. It may be that you will need this person's strength and endurance to get your party to safety as a group. Only you can decide. It is merely one option, not a rule.
NOTE: If you are forced to abandon your vehicle to seek shelter elsewhere, make sure you leave a note inside the car telling rescuers which direction you will be going, the number of adults and children in your party, and your intentions. If you have a cellular phone that still works, include your phone number so they can call you if and when they arrive to discover your abandoned vehicle. If you have special medical problems, include this information.
RogueTurtle's ideal winter survival kit includes beaches and palm trees.
If you have had a similar experience in the winter, please share it with us. Drop us a line. I'll try to include it in the next RogueTurtle article. Please include what went "right", as well as what went "wrong". We can all learn from our mistakes. If you don't want your name included, that's OK, I don't want my name in it either. RT.