Cold Weather Ops Q&A: How Prepared Are You?

By MR. MATTHEW LIPTAK, Staff Writer

The thermometer has started to plunge, and there may be no end in sight until the warmer seasons arrive. It is time for cold weather operations once again. You may be experienced and well trained in cold weather ops, but how deep is your knowledge really? TMF dug up some numbers that even veteran cold-weather warriors might find surprising. Check out the answers below, and get ready to turn up the heat.

Q. If you are out on duty, it’s 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, and you don’t have any facial protection, how long before your exposed cheeks get frostbite?

A. With a wind speed of just 5 mph, your cheek will freeze in 17 minutes, but if the wind speed is up to 30 mph, those dimples of yours will freeze in just 6 minutes.

Q. If it is just 10 degrees Fahrenheit outside and the wind is whipping around you at 20 mph, what is the wind chill temperature?

A. Keep those gloves on. The temperature plus wind chill factor means that it feels like 9 degrees below zero.

Q. How does the cold affect your core body temperature?

A. Cold stress that does not cause a decrease in core body temperature of more than 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit or allow muscle temperatures to go below 97 degrees Fahrenheit does not alter most physiological performance. For every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit fall in core or muscle temperature, however, maximum endurance exercise is lowered by about 5 percent, exercise endurance time is lowered by 20 percent, and maximum strength and power output is lowered by 5 percent.

Q. How does your skin temperature affect your ability to get the job done?

A. Pain sensations increase when skin temperatures decrease to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, and manual dexterity declines after finger-skin temperatures decrease to 60 degrees Fahrenheit because of cooling of tissues and decreases in joint mobility. Tactile sensitivity is reduced as skin temperatures drop below 43 degrees Fahrenheit. Those changes occur due to decreased tissue temperatures, so an individual can have a normal body core temperature but still experience a significant decline in performance of gross and fine motor skills because the hands and fingers are cold.

Q. What is the effect of all this cold on your brain?

A. Cold strain can degrade mental performance on complex thinking tasks by 17 to 20 percent. Memory registration for newly presented information is impaired when core temperature falls between 94 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, and short-term memory declines up to 20 percent with significant peripheral cooling even with no change in core body temperature. A person’s ability to remain vigilant declines when the core body temperature is decreasing. Activities that require continuous, rapid, and accurate responses are impaired by 13 percent at low ambient temperatures that cause skin temperatures to fall.

So what’s the verdict? Cold weather operations can be very challenging, and the dangers need to be taken seriously. Safety is a prime objective, so pay special attention to your regs and SOPs during this often uncomfortable time of year. Observe your recommended work/rest cycles; increase surveillance with self and buddy checks; wear appropriate layers and wind protection; avoid sweating; and make sure warming facilities are provided. Follow proper procedures, and all your fingers and toes will be available to join you on duty in the summer.