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Hunker down if you can

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Superior Telegram

The year 2013 is going out with an arctic blast. Bitter cold temperatures covered the state on Sunday and Monday, and are expected to remain chilly through 2013, with high temperatures below zero today and wind chills forecast to dip as low as 30 below zero tonight, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth.

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Added on top of the local snow accumulation and recent freezing rain, the cold weather poses safety hazards of many types, from frostbite and back pain to carbon monoxide poisoning. The top threat isn’t the cold, but the accumulation.

“Every day we’re seeing falls due to slipping on ice or slushy snow,” said Kate Kensrud, a physician assistant at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s. Speaking from the emergency room Monday, Kensrud said she hasn’t seen any cases of hypothermia or frostbite come in on her shifts.

“I’m thinking most people are staying in,” she said.

That’s what Kensrud recommended.

“If you don’t have to go somewhere, don’t,” she said.

But if people do go out, they should dress for the weather — a warm jacket, hat, mittens or gloves and footwear with good tread.

Drivers should have a winter emergency kit in their vehicle, according to Wisconsin Emergency Management. The kit should include candles, matches, a flashlight, pocketknife, snacks, a cell phone adaptor, a blanket and extra clothing.

Frostbite can happen in less than 30 minutes of exposure in these conditions. Symptoms include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ear tips and the tip of the nose. Warning signs of hypothermia, a condition that occurs when the body temperature drops below 95 degrees, include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, slurred speech and drowsiness.

The furnaces and fireplaces that keep the cold at bay can also cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

“Be aware of the risk,” Kensrud said. “Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in the home.”

In addition, residents should never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill inside the home or an unventilated garage, according to Wisconsin Emergency Management. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, feeling tired and dizziness. If you have those symptoms, Kensrud said, you should seek medical attention.

Clearing out from the winter accumulation can also present hazards in the form of falls and back pain.

“Keep a lookout for your neighbors, especially the elderly,” Kensrud said.

Pets might seem to have built-in, warm winter coats, but they are also sensitive to the elements. Dogs and cats can get frost bitten ears, nose and feet if left outside during bitter cold weather. It is recommended people bring them indoors during this bitter weather. Chemicals used to melt snow and ice can also irritate pets’ paws. Be sure to keep anti-freeze, salt and other poisons away from pets.

For more safety tips, visit http://ReadyWisconsin.wi.gov.

You can also check out Midwest road conditions and airport delays on the website.

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