Knowing how to get around safely in frigid conditions is a necessary skill as a Canadian on the Prairies. With the wind chill factored in, temperatures in Saskatchewan this week have dipped past -45 Celsius. What are the best ways to protect ourselves against extreme cold?
Layer your clothing
It’s important to wear several layers of warm clothing rather than just one. Although it can feel bulky and time-consuming to put on a base, middle, and outer layer, it is worth the effort when temperatures are dangerous.
Why layers? In the intense cold, staying dry is almost the same as staying warm. When water evaporates, it chills. Being able to “manually” adjust body temperature to keep from sweating through clothing will keep both skin and clothing dry throughout the day. A heavy parka that becomes damp from perspiration will start to function as an air conditioner.
The first layer should be a wicking material that is relatively snug to the skin – it can’t wick moisture away if it is not touching. Wool or polyester is a good choice.
The second layer is the warmest one. Insulation is a combination of material and thickness. A poofy jacket with synthetic, quick-drying fill is usually the best choice for a Canadian winter. However, full coverage is often forgotten: legs deserve protection along with the torso.
The outer layer provides almost the same protection as the base layer. The base layer keeps sweat from soaking our insulation from the inside – the outer layer keeps snow or sleet from doing the same from the outside. Choose a material that is waterproof and breathable. Waterproof also means windproof.
Make sure clothing covers cartilage and extremities: fingers, toes, ears, and nose are prone to frostbite.
Maintain vehicles for winter conditions
Being able to see is kind of essential for safe driving. Make sure windows are completely cleared of snow and ice before starting out. Another consideration is that if a piece of ice or a heavy chunk of snow flies off the top of a vehicle and injures a person or damages property, it can result in a fine or lawsuit.
Winter tires are different in more ways than their tread. They are made from different materials that stay sticky in the cold. The rubber that all-season or summer tires are made from hardens in the cold, turning them into hockey pucks and decreasing their lifespan.
Have a battery check performed before temperatures plummet. Everything slows down in the cold, including the chemical reactions inside car batteries. A typical car battery can lose over half its power below -20C.
Be ready for emergencies
No one plans to have an emergency. It is not an event we calendar into our schedule. Once an emergency has happened, it is too late to get ready for it.
Having a car battery fail from the cold and being unable to start a vehicle can be an emergency. On long trips in rural Saskatchewan, help can be hours away.
The CAA website has an emergency kit checklist that could be life-saving. Emergency kits can also be found at stores such as Canadian Tire.