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Smith County, City of Tyler release 2021-22 cold weather response plan

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 210 people in Texas died as a result of Winter Storm Uri that occurred from Feb. 13-17, 2021.

TYLER, Texas — Following the historic winter storm in Feb., Smith County officials have released their 2021-22 cold weather response plan.

The Tyler Fire Department and the Smith County Fire Marshal’s Office are the lead agencies for the Cold Weather Response Plan. 

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, 210 people in Texas died as a result of Winter Storm Uri that occurred from Feb. 13-17, 2021.

SHELTERS

Overnight shelters in Smith County include:

  • The Salvation Army - 633 N. Broadway Ave. in Tyler
  • American Red Cross - 320 E. Rieck Rd. in Tyler

Daytime locations include:

  • The Salvation Army - 633 N. Broadway Ave. in Tyler
  • Hiway 80 Rescue Mission - 601 E. Valentine St. in Tyler
  • Broadway Square Mall - 4601 S. Broadway Ave. in Tyler
  • Churches - Check with individual facilities regarding activities and accommodations 
  • Fire Stations - Check with individual facilities regarding activities and accommodations 
  • Medical Facilities - Hospitals clinics, stand-alone emergency rooms
  • Movie Theaters - Check with individual facilities regarding activities and accommodations 
  • Schools - Depending on a declared emergency and whether school is in session
  • City of Tyler facilities serving as shelters include:
  • Tyler Fire Department - Check with individual facilities regarding activities and accommodations 
  • Glass Recreation Center - 501 W. 32nd St. in Tyler
  • Tyler Public Library - 201 S. College Ave. in Tyler
  • Senior Citizens Activity Center - 1915 Garden Valley Rd. in Tyler
  • Rose Garden Center - 420 Rose Park Dr. in Tyler

HYPOTHERMIA AND FROSTBITE

When extreme cold temperatures settle in around the East Texas region, it also ushers in some dangerous consequences.

Hypothermia (abnormally low body temperature) and frostbite are both dangerous conditions that can happen when a person is exposed to extremely cold temperatures.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is helping people stay safe by learning more about hypothermia and frostbite, including who is most at risk, signs and symptoms, and what to do if someone develops hypothermia or frostbite.

HYPOTHERMIA

Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it’s produced. Lengthy exposures will eventually use up your body’s stored energy, which leads to lower body temperature.

Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia especially dangerous, because a person may not know that it’s happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.

While hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.

Victims of hypothermia are often:

  • Older adults with inadequate food, clothing, or heating
  • Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
  • People who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
  • People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.

The following are warnings signs of hypothermia in adults:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

The following are warnings signs of hypothermia in babies: 

  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy

Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If you notice any of the above signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95° F, get medical attention immediately!

If you are not able to get medical help right away, try to warm the person up:

  • Get the person into a warm room or shelter.
  • Remove any wet clothing the person is wearing.
  • Warm the center of the person’s body—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. You can also use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
  • Warm drinks can help increase body temperature, but do not give alcoholic drinks. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrap their body, including their head and neck, in a warm blanket.
  • Get the person proper medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the person gently, and get emergency assistance immediately.

Perform CPR, even if the person appears dead. CPR should continue until the person responds or medical aid becomes available. Keep warming the person while performing CPR. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.

FROSTBITE

Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. It leads to a loss of feeling and color in the areas it affects, usually extremities such as the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation (removing the affected body part).

You may have a greater chance of developing frostbite if you:

  • Have poor blood circulation
  • Are not properly dressed for extremely cold temperatures

If you notice redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may point to frostbite:

  • A white or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

A person who has frostbite may not know they have it until someone else points it out because the frozen parts of their body are numb.

If you notice signs of frostbite on yourself or someone else, seek medical care. Check to see if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia is a more serious condition and requires emergency medical care.

If a person shows signs of frostbite, but no signs of hypothermia and immediate medical care is not available, do the following:

  • Get the person into a warm room as soon as possible.
  • Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on feet or toes that show signs of frostbite—this increases the damage.
  • Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
  • Put the areas affected by frostbite in warm—not hot—water (the temperature should be comfortable to the touch for unaffected parts of the body).
  • If warm water is not available, warm the affected area using body heat. For example, you can use the heat of an armpit to warm frostbitten fingers.
  • Do not use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can easily burn.

Don’t substitute these steps for proper medical care. Frostbite should be checked by a health care provider. And remember, Hypothermia is a medical emergency and immediate medical care is necessary.

Taking a first aid or emergency resuscitation (CPR) course is a good way to prepare for health problems related to cold weather. Knowing what to do is an important part of protecting your health and the health of others.

Being prepared is your best defense against having to deal with extremely cold weather. By preparing your home and car ahead of winter storms or other winter emergencies, and by taking safety precautions during extremely cold weather, you can reduce your risk of developing health problems related to cold weather.

HOW TO DRESS: CHILLY VS. COLD VS. EXTREME COLD

Credit: National Weather Service

It's important to know how to dress with the different levels of cold that could impact the area.

The National Weather Service and CBS19 have compiled a list of freezing fashion ahead of the harsh winter weather.

WHEN IT'S CHILLY OUTSIDE:

  • Upper-body clothing - Top and jacket/coat (2 layers)
  • Lower-body clothing - Pants
  • Shoes - Warm and waterproof

WHEN IT'S COLD OUTSIDE:

  • Upper-body clothing - 2 tops and jacket/coat (3 layers)
  • Lower-body clothing - Pants or 2 pairs of pants (1-2 layers)
  • Head - Warm hat
  • Hands - Gloves
  • Shoes - Waterproof boots

WHEN IT'S EXTREMELY COLD OUTSIDE:

  • Upper-body clothing - 2-3 tops (insulating) and a heavy coat (3+ layers)
  • Lower-body clothing - More than two pairs of pants (2+ layers)
  • Head - Warm hat
  • Face - Facemask
  • Hands - Gloves
  • Shoes - Waterproof boots

The best thing to do in the extreme cold is to limit your outside exposure as much as possible to avoid the dangerously low temperatures.

Credit: National Weather Service

WATCHES, ADVISORIES AND WARNINGS

Watch: Issued in the 24 to 72 hour forecast time frame when the risk of a hazardous winter weather event has increased (50 to 80% certainty that warning thresholds will be met). It is intended to provide enough lead time so those who need to set their plans in motion can do so. 

Wind Chill Watch: Conditions are favorable for wind chill temperatures to meet or exceed local wind chill warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours. Wind chill temperatures may reach or exceed -25°F.

Winter Storm Watch: Conditions are favorable for a winter storm event (heavy sleet, ice storm, heavy snow and blowing snow or a combination of events) to meet or exceed local winter storm warning criteria in the next 24 to 72 hours. Criteria for snow is 7” more in 12 hours or less, or 9” or more in 24 hours covering at least 50% of the zone or encompassing most of the population. Criteria for ice is ½” or more over at least 50% of the zone or encompassing most of the population. 

Advisory: Issued when a hazardous winter weather event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurrence (generally greater than 80%). An advisory is for less serious conditions that cause significant inconvenience and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to situations that may threaten life and/or property.

Winter Weather Advisory: A winter storm event (sleet, freezing rain, snow and blowing snow, or a combination of events) is expected to meet or exceed local winter weather advisory criteria in the next 12 to 36 hours but stay below warning criteria. Criteria for snow is 4" or more in 12 hours covering at least 50% of the zone or encompassing most of the population.

Freezing Rain Advisory: Any accumulation of freezing rain is expected in the next 12 to 36 hours (but will remain below ½”) for at least 50 percent of the zone or encompassing most of the population.

Wind Chill Advisory: Wind chill temperatures are expected to meet or exceed local wind chill advisory criteria in the next 12 to 36 hours. Wind chill temperatures may reach or exceed -15°F.

Warning: Issued when a hazardous winter weather event is occurring, is imminent, or has a very high probability of occurrence (generally greater than 80%). A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property. 

Ice Storm Warning: An ice storm event is expected to meet or exceed local ice storm warning criteria in the next 12 to 36 hours. Criteria for ice is ½” or more over at least 50 percent of the zone or encompassing most of the population.

Wind Chill Warning: Wind chill temperatures are expected to meet or exceed local wind chill warning criteria in the next 12 to 36 hours. Wind chill temperatures may reach or exceed -25°F.

Winter Storm Warning: A winter storm (heavy sleet, ice storm, snow or blowing snow, or a combination of events) is expected to meet or exceed local winter storm warning criteria in the next 12 to 36 hours. Criteria for snow is 7" or more in 12 hours or less, or 9” or more in 24 hours covering at least 50% of the zone or encompassing most of the population.  

Agencies or citizens needing information or administrative assistance should call the City of Tyler Fire Department at (903) 535-0005. After hours, or to report hazardous but non-emergency conditions, call either the Tyler Police Department at (903) 531-1000 or the Smith County Sheriff’s Office at (903) 566-6600. For public affairs information call the Northeast Texas Public Health District at (903) 535-0020. Call 211 as an additional resource.