Snow is one thing, but this bitter cold snap that Southwest Michigan has been experiencing chills me to the bone. Just because we Michiganders are used to dealing with cold snowy winters doesn't mean we have to like it!

Weather forecasters throughout the area say we can expect these below-freezing temperatures to persist across Southwest Michigan for at least the next 7 days. The warmest day we'll see is Thursday's high of 30°.

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When weather like this settles in it can create a multitude of issues from freezing pipes to dicey travel conditions to frostbite. If you absolutely must be outdoors in these conditions here are some tips to keep your tips and avoid frostbite.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is the freezing of skin and tissue as a result of exposure to extreme cold. Injury often occurs over an extended period of exposure, but in some extreme cases, frostbite can happen in a matter of minutes.

The precursor to frostbite, frostnip, is not quite as serious and can be treated by re-warming, but with frostbite, permanent damage can occur and in severe cases may require amputation.

Symptoms of Frostbite

Sometimes it can be hard to know whether you're suffering from frostbite or not because your extremities are so numb! Here are the physical signs of frostbite to look out for according to John Hopkins Medicine:

  • Redness or pain in a skin area, in extreme cases fluid or blood-filled blisters
  • White or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Even worse, black gangrene tissue
  • Firm or waxy-looking skin
  • Fever

Those actively suffering from frostbite may feel numbness or tingling in their extremities. It may also be difficult to control your fine motor skills a.k.a. "clumsiness" due to joint and muscle stiffness.

Photo by iuliu illes on Unsplash
Photo by iuliu illes on Unsplash

How to Treat Frostbite

Depending on the severity of the frostbite medical attention may be required. In order to prevent further damage it's important that the tissue doesn't re-freeze after thawing, so don't treat frostbite until you're in a safe, warm space where re-freezing isn't possible.

If help isn't immediately available here are some ways to treat frostbite in the meantime:

  • Remove wet clothing and find warmth ASAP
  • Cover the person in blankets
  • Soak the affected area in warm, not hot, water. But do not soak longer than 30 minutes
  • Wash the affected area, dry, and wrap with sterile gauze to prevent infection
  • Do not rub the frostbitten tissue
  • Do not use anything hot like a heating pad to warm the area as it may burn due to numbness

If frostbite is treated quickly and effectively you can heal in a matter of weeks or months. In severe cases surgery may be required to remove dead tissue or amputation may be necessary.

They call Michigan the Winter-Water Wonderland for a reason. We love to enjoy the great outdoors no matter the season! However, if you plan to hit the trails on the snowmobile, go snow-shoeing, hit the slopes, go ice fishing, or plan to be outside for any period of time-- bundle up!

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