Dodge County officials warn of cold dangers: Sub-zero temps pose threats to citizens’ safety

January 25, 2019

With below-zero temperatures predicted today and into next week, officials around the state are warning residents to be safe, and to take precautions to protect themselves from winter cold, both inside and out.

The National Weather Service is forecasting wind chill readings of 25 to 40 below zero will be possible over the weekend and below-zero wind chills are forecast for at least the next week.

“In the 2017-2018 winter season, 38 Wisconsin residents died from exposure to extreme cold,” Chuck Warzecha, the state Department of Health Services’ Deputy Administrator for Public Health, said in a press release issued Thursday afternoon. “We want people to take every precaution to protect themselves, and we also urge them to check on family, friends, and neighbors to make sure they’re safe too.”

Given those predictions, the Beaver Dam Community Services and Activities Department has canceled its annual Cabin Fever Fest, scheduled Saturday at Crystal Lake Beach. Many other activities are being canceled as well.

According to Dodge County Emergency Management Director Amy Nehls, taking a few minor precautions can make the difference between enjoying winter fun and facing injury or death due to exposure to extreme cold.

“In bitter temperatures, beware of hypothermia and frostbite,” Nehls said. “Frostbite can occur on exposed skin in less than 10 minutes. If you notice anyone exhibiting any of the symptoms of frostbite or hypothermia, seek medical care immediately.”

Frostbite symptoms include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ear tips and tip of the nose. More severe, signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness. In infants, symptoms can include bright red or cold skin and very low energy.

Nehls urges people to limit their time outside, and if they have to go outdoors to make sure to let someone know where they are going and when they expect to return. She also encourages citizens to check on home-bound or elderly family, friends and neighbors to be sure they are warm enough and are prepared with the supplies they need, so they don’t have to go outdoors in the frigid temperatures.

Travelers are advised to make sure they have winter emergency kits in their vehicles. Items to include a flashlight, pocket knife, snacks, a cellphone charger, a blanket and extra clothing.

“Also make sure to check your vehicle’s fuel tank and keep it at least half full,” Nehls said.

Doing so prevents moisture in gas and gas tanks from freezing, blocking gas lines and disabling vehicles in the process.

Dodge County Deputy Director of Emergency Management Joe Meagher warns that furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves and other home heating devices will be working overtime, and that can increase the risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector, as carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States,” he said. “Never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill (gas or charcoal) inside your home or an unventilated garage. Never run a car in an enclosed space. If a vehicle is running, you must have a door open to the outside. Generators should be run a safe distance from the home. Never run a generator in the home or garage, or right next to windows or doors.”

Meagher warns that any system that burns fuel will produce carbon monoxide. Breathing carbon monoxide displaces the oxygen in the blood and can cause death within minutes at high levels. Symptoms of overexposure to carbon monoxide are often mistaken for the flu and include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath/chest pain, nausea/vomiting and confusion.

“If you or someone you know experience any of these symptoms, or your carbon monoxide detector sounds an alarm, head outside immediately for fresh air and call 911,” Meagher said.

Pet safety is also important and pet owners are advised to keep house pets indoors if possible, and to closely monitor them and limit their time outdoors when allowing them outside for bathroom breaks. For outdoor animals, it is best to make sure they have a place to get out of the wind, even if it is just a windbreak or a three-sided shelter.

“Also provide dry bedding to protect them from frostbite,” Meagher said. “Animals also burn extra calories to keep warm in severe cold, so they need access to fresh water and extra nutrition.”

To help letter carriers deliver mail, the U.S. Postal Service is asking customers to clear snow and ice from sidewalks, stairs and mailboxes.

“Snow and ice make delivery dangerous and slow,” Beaver Dam Postmaster Beverly Ovalle said. “Maintaining a clear path to the mailbox — including steps, porches, walkways and street approach — will help letter carriers maintain consistent delivery service.”

Customers receiving door delivery should make sure their sidewalks, steps and porches are clear. Customers receiving curbside delivery should remove snow piles left by snow plows to keep access to their mailboxes clear for letter carriers.

According to Ovalle, delivery service may be delayed or curtailed whenever streets or walkways present hazardous conditions for letter carriers or when snow is plowed against mailboxes.

“The Postal Service curtails delivery only after careful consideration, and only as a last resort,” Ovalle said. “Any curtailed mail is attempted the next delivery day.”