Winter Safety Tips for Enjoying the Outdoors
Helpful hints for preventing hypothermia and frostbite and spotting unsafe ice
Despite winter getting off to a slow start, if the forecast is correct we’re in for cold, snowy weather soon. The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County reminds people to play it safe while enjoying ice fishing, snow tubing, cross-country skiing, and other winter activities.
“It’s always safest to enjoy the outdoors with others so you’re not alone in case of an emergency,” said Dan Jones, ranger operations assistant manager at the District. “Otherwise, be sure to let someone else know exactly where you’re going and when you plan to be back,” he added.
When deciding whether to venture onto ice, remember the guideline that there should be at least 4 inches of solid clear ice for one person and at least 8 inches for a group. Rangers do not monitor ice conditions in DuPage forest preserves, so visitors step onto the ice at their own risk.
Ice strength can vary over one body of water and can be affected by wind, snow, rain, sunlight, water depth, underground springs, and temperature. Anyone stepping on the ice should know the signs of dangerous conditions.
- Cracks, ridges, or faults
- Differently colored ice, especially dark gray or black
- Ice that looks rotten or porous
- Ice covered by snow, water, or slush
- Running water or bubbles under the ice
Jones explains that if a person were to fall through the ice, they should turn back toward the direction they were coming from because that ice is likely strongest. “Place your hands and arms on the unbroken surface and kick your feet while trying to pull yourself out. I always recommend outdoor enthusiasts carry ice safety picks for this purpose because they can dig into the slippery surface and provide traction if someone should need to get out of the water,” he said. “Once you’re back onto the ice, lie flat and roll away from the hole. Then get to a warm, dry, sheltered area as soon as possible, and call 911,” he said.
People spending time outdoors in winter should dress in layers with moisture-wicking underclothes and outer heat-retaining layers. Wool, silk, and synthetic fleece retain body heat better than cotton. Waterproof boots, thick socks, a hat, and gloves or mittens help keep extremities warm. A scarf, neck tube, or face mask will keep your face warm and help cover as much exposed skin as possible. In addition, traction cleats will keep you from slipping on icy trails.
Even mild temperatures can cause frostbite and hypothermia, two medical conditions that require treatment. Signs of hypothermia include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, slurred speech, and loss of motor skills. Early signs of frostbite, which most frequently harms extremities like fingers, toes, ears, and noses, include numbness, tingling, or changes to skin color. Keep in mind that certain people are more susceptible to the cold, particularly children, the elderly, and those with circulation problems.
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County has been connecting people to nature for more than 100 years. More than 5.5 million people visit its 60 forest preserves, 166 miles of trails, seven education centers, and scores of programs each year. For information, call 630-933-7200 or visit dupageforest.org, where you can also link to the District’s e-newsletter and Facebook; X, formerly known as Twitter; Instagram; YouTube; and TikTok pages.
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