Police, doctors and more brace for impact of freezing temps

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published December 27, 2017

 A neighborhood street in St. Clair Shores is covered in snow during a past winter.

A neighborhood street in St. Clair Shores is covered in snow during a past winter.

File photo by Nick Mordowanec

Don’t let that bright sunshine deceive you: It’s darn cold outside.

According to the National Weather Service’s Detroit/Pontiac branch, an arctic air mass has blown into southeast Michigan, bringing daily high temperatures with wind chills into just the teens and overnight lows near zero. Meteorologists at the NWS expect the cold stretch to keep residents shivering until at least the new year.

Just like any other bout of inclement weather, first responders and law enforcement personnel have been at the ready to deal with potential emergency situations the cold might bring.

“These arctic blasts can create hazardous situations,” Capt. Chris Kelenske, deputy state director of emergency management and homeland security and commander of the Michigan State Police, said in a press release. “Residents are encouraged to monitor local weather reports and follow the appropriate steps to stay safe during these extremely cold and potentially life-threatening temperatures.”

One of the most prominent dangers to emerge with icy weather is, well, ice. The MSP warn drivers to check ahead for major road closures before they head out, as collisions are on the rise with slippery spots and limited visibility during snow events.

If you do get stranded during the winter months, stay in your vehicle while you wait for help, MSP officers warn. And before you get on the road, make sure to prepare yourself for the worst with a full tank of gas, extra layers of warm clothing and blankets, and even a charger for your cellphone.

Extra layers — along with gloves, scarves and hats — are key to getting through the arctic blast with extremities intact, according to Dr. James Ziadeh, chief of emergency services at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. That, and knowing when enough is enough and retreating back inside.

“When we get extremely cold weather, as we’ve experienced the past 24 hours, we usually see some frostbite and hypothermia patients who have been out in the cold temperatures too long,” Ziadeh said. 

Young children and older adults are most susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia, though everyone is at risk when they’re exposed to air as cold as what we’ve seen this week. Frostbite starts with a tingling sensation, followed by numbness, which occurs when skin tissues, fluids and blood vessels are damaged or frozen by the elements. Another symptom of frostbite can be a change of skin color, usually turning pale or white.

Hypothermia is another danger, according to Ziadeh, which can start with simple symptoms like shivering. A dangerous drop in body temperature, usually below 95 degrees, can also cause confusion, sleepiness, muscle stiffness, slurred speech, memory loss, pale skin and irrational behavior. Of course, finding a place to warm up before those effects set in is advised.

The same goes for the non-human members of our family. Just like people, cats, dogs and other pets can suffer from frostbite and hypothermia, even through their fluffy fur coats. It’s imperative that pet owners provide adequate shelter for their animals, with the best shelters being insulated, weather-resident dog houses with food and water that’s not frozen.

Of course, the very best place for four-legged loved ones is inside the warm house with the rest of the family.

“Weather this cold can be fatal, even for dogs inside good dog houses, so we urge all owners to bring their pets indoors,” Anna Chrisman, communications manager for the Michigan Humane Society, said in an email. “If you see an animal in distress, please contact your local animal control agency.”

Warning signs of hypothermia in animals can include shivering, being cold to the touch, having red ears or tail — especially at the tips, digging into the snow as if to create a bed and laying curled up in a ball.

Michigan law demands pet owners provide minimum standards for dog houses, as outlined by MCL 750.50, or face up to 93 days in prison or $1,000 and upwards in fines if more than one dog is harmed or killed by their living conditions.

If you suspect a person or an animal is in danger of succumbing to freezing conditions, contact your local law enforcement agency immediately for intervention.