How to Survive the Super Cold Weather

Monday, January 06, 2014

New Yorkers bundled up as a polar vortex descended on the city creating frigid temperatures. New Yorkers bundled up as a polar vortex descended on the city creating frigid temperatures. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

It's downright frigid in New York today.

A large winter storm system is bringing air from the arctic circle down to the Northeast on Monday and through Tuesday. Temperatures will dip into the single digits creating some dangerous situations. Forecasts call for a low around 7 degrees, with wind gusts up to 50 mph.

The New York City Office of Emergency Management has tips for dealing with extreme winter weather. According to the OEM, exposure to cold can cause life-threatening health conditions. Here are some their tips:  

  • Wear a hat, hood, or scarf, as most heat is lost through the head.
  • Keep clothing dry; if a layer becomes wet, remove it.
  • If you lose heat, insulate your home as much as possible. Hang blankets over windows and doorways and stay in a well-insulated room while power is out.
  • Keep fingertips, earlobes, and noses covered if you go outside.
  • If your pipes freeze, open a faucet near the frozen point to release vapor from melting ice. You can also direct a hair dryer or heat lamp at the frozen section but never attempt to thaw a pipe with an open flame.

A complete list of the OEM's tips can be found here.

In this interview, Mark Wysocki, with Cornell University's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, offers these additional tips to stay warm:

  • Limit exposure outdoors to under three or four minutes to avoid frostbite on uncovered skin.
  • If you have to work outdoors, you may want to invest in fiber-fill or moisture-wicking fabric to keep yourself warm and dry.
  • Try to find a bus shelter if you have to wait outside to avoid wind gusts.

Finnish United Nations workers Tuomo Mero, 32, said he'd rather bike the 8 minutes to First Avenue than walk for 30. He says Tuesday's weather reminds him of home. "This is quite normal, the nice winter temperatures," he said. "If you just have a sufficient amount of layers and positive attitude, everything will work out." (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

 Commuters faced bracking winds as they emerged from Penn Station. A sign was blown off its hinges and long lines for taxis quickly grew down the block Tuesday morning. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Aziz Rahmat (center) from Kabul, Afghanistan runs a coffee kiosk at Penn Station. He was shocked by the cold on Tuesday and says business was down more than 50 percent because of the weather. He's staying warm with heaters and several cups of coffee. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Facing the bitter cold winds Tuesday morning at Penn Station with a smile. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Homeless New Yorkers ride the subway as frigid temperatures plunge the city into dangerously low temperatures. The Office of Emergency Management warns the cold can exacerbate chronic heart and lung conditions and warns seniors and infants are most at risk. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC


Gisele Regatao


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Comments [9]

Ruth K from Queens

The first photo is actually irresponsible: it suggests that this individual is well covered for extreme cold. He isn't. Most of the body heat we lose goes right out the top of our heads; not wearing a warm hat (as well as covering exposed skin) is both ignorant and dangerous.

Jan. 08 2014 08:50 PM
Marilyn Stern from Manhattan

IMPORTANT CORRECTION: Brian Lehrer's guest today, Health Commissioner Farley, was very misleading when he said frostbite could set in "after an hour or so" of exposure. As your own website states, exposure of bare skin in this frigid weather should be limited to 3-4 minutes. According to the Chicago Tributne "people can start developing the beginning symptoms of frostbite — known as frostnip — in 5 to 10 minutes." Here's a Frostbite Time chart from the National Weather Service: It says the frostbite time is 30 min. at the current wind chill temperature in NYC (-14 degrees F). Perhaps Mr. Farley meant 3rd-degree frostbite which requires amputation?

Jan. 07 2014 11:31 AM
Turth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Another tip for staying safe in the cold: Use a heavy moisturizer like Nivea cream (NOT lotion) on exposed parts of skin - face, hands - to help prevent windburn and frostbite. If you have problem skin on your face, first wash with antibacterial soap, dry gently, use Sea Breeze or another type of astringent on your face, air dry, THEN apply moisturizer.

If you can do this each time you have to go out, like before going to work and before leaving the office, it will really help.

Jan. 07 2014 10:49 AM

To wick sweat away from your body: Polypropylene, Thermax, polyester, silk, or wool underwear next to your skin.
Polyester fleece clothes will continue the wicking away and keep you dry.
Wool, Polypropylene, Thermax, polyester, silk, all insulate when wet.
Cotton is cold and clammy when wet.
Cotton doesn't warm as effectively as the above.

Jan. 07 2014 10:28 AM
Mary from Montclair, NJ

Any tips on getting your teenager to recognzie and dress like it is a Polar Vortex out there? Our HS principal must have been so frustrated this morning, the following email was sent out around 9 am. He even was welcoming coats being dropped off at school. Concerns about emergency evacuations, etc.

"Due to dangerously low temperatures today (Tuesday January 7th) and continuing into tomorrow, we are urging parents and guardians to have students wear appropriate clothing including coats, hats, and gloves to prevent frostbite and other cold weather health complications. In the event of an emergency evacuation it will be necessary for students to be outdoors until we can relocate to alternate locations. Parents are urged to drop off coats in the main offices of both buildings for children who came to school without them this morning. James Earle, Principal. "

Jan. 07 2014 10:23 AM
Angie from Bronx

In 2004 I had no heat, electricity or water in my Bronx apartment building from January through April. DAILY calls to 311 did NOTHING-NOTHING-NOTHING to restore services. It's easy to say don't use a gas stovetop/oven for heat but when it's all you got for survival you have no choice.

Jan. 07 2014 10:12 AM
SG from Brooklyn

Most important clothing rule: never wear cotton as a base layer. Wool or synthetic will keep you much warmer.

Jan. 07 2014 09:26 AM


It's called "WINTER"!!

I thought this sort of hyperbole was the purview of Korporate® media!

Jan. 07 2014 08:51 AM
ceolaf from New Haven

Your first point is based upon a false premise, one that has repeatedly been debunked.

All Things Considered ran a story mentioning this 5 years ago.

Jan. 06 2014 03:21 PM

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