Hard freeze coming to Union Parish this week

Staff Report

A unusually large polar vortex will bring below freezing temperatures to Union Parish on multiple days during the coming week, including a forecasted low of around 10 degrees on Monday.

The polar vortex is a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles. During winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream. How cold and how far south that cold air penetrates varies from year to year, according to the National Weather Service.

In Union Parish, a hard freeze warrants a review of precautions citizens should take to protect themselves and their property. 

Protecting seniors

When the temperature drops below freezing, older adults run a higher risk of health problems and injuries, including hypothermia, frostbite, and falls on icy surfaces.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when a body’s temperature drops to a dangerous level. Older adults are at an increased risk of hypothermia due to changes that happen to their bodies with aging. Shivering, for example, is not a reliable warning sign because older people tend to shiver less or not at all when their body temperature drops.

With older people, check for cold skin that is pale and accompanied by confusion, a strong desire to sleep, problems walking and slowed breathing or heart rate. 

The best way to prevent hypothermia is to simply stay inside during very cold weather. If that is not possible, limit exposure by only engaging in outdoor tasks that are absolutely necessary. 

Frostbite

Older adults are more susceptible to frostbite due to their often less robust circulation systems. 

Frostbite occurs when a a person’s flesh becomes frozen or very nearly so, and even mild cases can do permanent damage to the affected body part. 

Frostbite is most likely to occur on body parts farthest away from the heart, such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. In severe cases, frostbite can result in loss of limbs. Symtoms includethe skin turning a dark red or yellow color. 

Preventing frostbite is actually not difficult; it simply requires keeping all vulnerable body parts dry and covered with gloves, warm caps that cover the ears and cold weather footwear.

Falls

It is easy for even healthy people with good balance to slip and fall on icy surfaces. Senior citizens often have less good balance and are far more likely to slip and fall. Coupled with bones weakened with age, these falls can result in serious injuries. 

To minimize the risk of falls during cold weather, make sure steps and walkways are clear of ice before before allowing a senior to walk on them. Do not trust your eyes to recognize an icy surface; a thin layer of ice may not be visible. Physically check walking surfaces for ice. 

A light sprinkling of salt on a walkway can reduce the chance of ice accumulation. 

Footwear with non-skid soles is helpful. For people who use canes, be sure the tip is covered with a non-slip rubber cap. 

Preventing frozen pipes

Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. Pipes that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines are  most likely to freeze.

Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets are also vulnerable, as are pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation.

To prevent pipes from freezing, Claire Crutti, an extension associate with the LSU AgCenter and LaHouse Research and Education Center, says the first thing to do when cold weather is on the radar is to locate the main shut-off water valve to ensure it’s not buried or stuck, because you may need to access it quickly if a pipe bursts.

The second thing Crutti says to do to prepare for freezing temperatures is to insulate all vulnerable pipes and faucets with weather-resistant material, including insulating foam tubing, electric heat tape for an extended deep freeze, rags, paper, trash bags or plastic foam.

Finally, before temperatures drop below freezing, open the faucet furthest from the main valve slightly so a thin stream of water is flowing. It is not necessary to open multiple faucets.

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