Polar Vortex: A how to survive primer.


So what I do when I’m caught in a polar vortex of arctic cold?  Would I call the Police Department, Fire Department or a Canadian?  Given a choice I would call the Canadian. But let’s hope it never get’s to that.

Note the location of Winnipeg in this graphic. Source: BBC.com

Note the location of Winnipeg in this graphic.
Source: BBC.com

Hi Glad to meet you my name is Bob, I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba one of the coldest city’s on planet earth.  For example this week Winnipeg was colder than the planet Mars.  If I can do it you can do it. Don’t freak out I’ll show you how.

Source: AccuWeather.com

Source: AccuWeather.com

Question: My Car won’t start in the cold. 

Answer: Plug it in.

Have you ever been driving in the Canada and noticed that almost every car has an electric plug sticking out the grill or from under the hood? It’s not that we have electric cars, we have just developed a simple remedy to keep our cars running in the coldest of temperatures

The easy fix for most of you will be to buy and install a block heater

. It very simply is a heating element that fits into the engine block of your car.  It can be installed by any licensed mechanic and will plug into a household extension cord that has a ground.

Question: How do I go outside if I don’t have winter gear.

Answer: Layers.
We Canadians have learned many tricks from the Inuit (Eskimo) and one of them is dressing in layers.  Even if you don’t have thick clothing, dressing in many layers of loose breathable fabrics will help.  Try to avoid wet layers or layers that absorb moisture.  One fact in winter is that moisture freezes, if you can stay insulated while letting moisture escape you’ll be well along your way.

A simple graphic describing winter layering techniques. Source: clothing to wear.com

A simple graphic describing winter layering techniques.
Source: clothing to wear.com

Fact: Dryness Kills.

The opposing force to staying dry in the extreme cold is staying hydrated.  Every breath you take wicks moisture from your body.  In normal conditions is a good and natural thing. But in Desert and Arctic conditions where the humidity is very low body hydration is crucial.  Just because you are cold does not mean that your body is not working.  So drink lots of liquid water.  Do NOT eat snow. Only eat snow as an ABSOLUTE LAST RESORT.  Yes snow is water but it takes the human body energy to melt and convert that snow to liquid water.   Use fire or other sources of heat to melt the snow to liquid form.

Question: I’m stuck in the snow on the highway and it’s not very cold but I can see lights in the distance should I walk for help?

Answer: No

For a couple of good reasons, your vehicle is shelter, if you go outside of it in the snow you leave that protection.  One fact many people fail to realize is that cold is only one factor.  Canadians have built into our temperature scale a reading of WIND CHILL.  The temperature may read one degree but the way our bodies perceive it is completely different.

The wind can wick away heat from anything warm.  Our bodies, a tent, a building.  The stronger the wind the lower the perceived temperature can go.  DO NOT MESS WITH WINDCHILL!

windchill

Question: My house is freezing what can I do?

Answer: Insulate

Like the above post on how to go outside, your house IS outside.  If you don’t keep the walls warm how do you expect to keep warm?  Now this does not to have to be expensive in the short-term.  First thing I would to is to cut drafts.  If you can put towels under drafty doorways, to keep the wind out.

Silicone or other caulking methods could work around windows frames that may have leaks in them to the outside.  In extreme situations early settlers used “Wattle and Daub” or mud and Straw to plug leaks.  In harsh extreme conditions, paper or cardboard could be mashed with water to fill cracks where combustion is not an issue.

Even covering up leaking windows with a blanket will help keep cold out. But remember on sunny days to keep southern exposures clear to let the sunlight in and warm the surfaces of the room.  Also do not block all sources of fresh air.  DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES use gas appliances to heat your home.  Every year people die trying to use propane heaters and even BBQ Grills to heat their homes.  Gasses trapped inside the home will kill you faster than the cold. So bundle up and tough it out.

Question: Help I’m trapped in the snow. No Help is coming.

Stay with your vehicle, run it for limited periods to keep from freezing. NOT just to stay warm.  Go outside only for limited amounts of time, to eliminate waste (Pee, Poop). Collect water in the form of snow if you do not have water.  Clear exhaust pipe so the engine can run, and to keep vehicle visible to rescue crews.

Question: Help I’m Trapped outside in a field, and no help is coming.

Answer: You’re still not dead, keep your wits about you and you can live.  Read everything above, if there is snow and you have a means to build a shelter there are a couple of options.

A: I’ve got trees around me.

Start taking branches and making a shelter. If you have big branches make a lean-to. Taking the sticks and propping them against the tree to make a space for yourself.  Line the ground with branches to stay off of the cold ground.  Make it as small as possible for you to fit into but thick so it will keep out the cold if you do not have fire.

B. I’m in a bald field of snow.

Don’t panic.  You can survive. If you have the time and energy try to build Qunizhee, a mound of snow. Do it slowly and don’t get to exhausted in the process.  Let the mound sit and settle, then slowly dig into the mound of snow to create a cavity.  Snow an insulator, it’s really fluffy and has lots of air to trap heat.  So the center of your little mound may keep you nice and warm.  If you have a candle  you have a heat source that can keep you alive for the night.  But make sure you leave an escape for any gasses that are created.  Like a small vent made by a stick in the top of your hut.

The most important thing to remember in the cold is to stay warm, and stay calm.  Panic will kill you faster than cold.  Stay calm and access your situation and act logically.  Do not run for help if you can not see it, if you have shelter use it.  If you can make fire or stay warm do so.  Help will come to you.  Stay warm and make water from snow if you do not have water.  Eat to keep your strength up.

Stay sane and stay safe

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6 responses to “Polar Vortex: A how to survive primer.

  1. Nice one Bob. The best way to deal with this…. stay inside, have a hot chocolate, grab a book and if you are one of the lucky few… light a fire. OK, now I want a polar vortex coming here!

    • Thanks Ivy! I have to agree with you. Fact is you and I know how to deal in this type of cold. Most Americans do not.

      Even the basics of cold weather survival tend to escape them, because they don’t deal with it daily in winter.

  2. I thought you Canucks dealt with polar vortex kinda year round? I started to understand it a bit here in LA. This morning it was 52 degrees above zero. OMFG! What do I do??

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