An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Local News | Dec. 23, 2021

Don’t Underestimate Mother Nature: Winter Safety Tips for Cold Weather

Never forget the power of nature and its effects, especially if exploring outdoors during the coldest months of the year.

In wintertime, "hands down, the worst mistake you can make is to underestimate what challenges nature is capable of and overestimate your own abilities," said Army Master Sgt. Daniel Fields.

"These are the root causes of the majority of the troubles that I have seen."

Two crucial aspects of retaining readiness in winter climates are nutrition and liquids uptake, he said. The same safety tips apply to hikers, skiers and campers.

The field packs that infantry troops carry contain more nutrient-dense foods and snacks, for example.

Despite the added nutrients, "soldiers can spiral pretty quickly into hypothermia from the 'shell-core effect,'" Fields said. The shell core effect takes over when soldiers are on the move in the winter. They use up more energy. They sweat in their winter uniforms. If they don't eat or drink, they can become dehydrated, cold and fatigued.

"There is decreased blood flow to the extremities," he explained. "A consequence is cold diuresis, where they urinate more and more frequently," thus becoming more and more dehydrated. Diuresis occurs because the body has to filter more blood through the core to keep warm, thus engaging the kidneys in more urine production as they eliminate toxins.

A slew of other issues can also happen, such as chilblains and frostbite, even when soldiers have been educated about the effects of the cold, Fields noted. That's what training is for: "Sometimes it takes a little while to get them to understand until they're experienced and comfortable working in the cold."

For those dealing with winter's cold temperatures and possibly snow, sleet, or frozen rain, here is Fields' top advice:

  1. Embrace the extremes of the environment. Don't hide from it.
  2. Seek every available opportunity to acclimate and train in the cold. This only builds confidence and proficiency.
  3. Prior to conducting an outdoor winter activity, seek ways to educate yourself about the specific activity.
  4. Invest in quality outdoor clothing and equipment. The dividends will be priceless.
  5. Understand the effects of the cold (or altitude) on the body.

 

Picture of winter training gear
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division train on cold weather tactics with subject matter experts from the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain) as part of the annual Mountain Legacy event, Camp Ethan Allen Training Site, Jericho, Vermont, in February 2021 ( Photo by: Army Maj. J. Scott Detweiler, Joint Force Headquarters, Vermont National Guard).

"If soldiers are prepared, mentally and physically, with the proper training and equipment, those units will be extremely effective, year round and in any climate. A soldier well trained and experienced in the cold will also perform at a high level in more hospitable weather," he said.

A soldier trained only in summertime or under ideal conditions will have great difficulty when operating in cold weather, he warned. "In many cases, soldiers and units have an absolute inability to perform effectively in extreme cold."

"When the mercury drops and the snow falls, avoid (when prudent) conducting indoor physical training. Snowshoeing for example, is an excellent opportunity to allow soldiers to become familiar and comfortable with their cold weather uniform and equipment while at the same time conducting physical training," Fields said.

Educational opportunities for wintertime activities exist at many colleges and outdoor recreation groups or co-ops, Fields said. "If you'd like to go backcountry skiing, snowshoeing or camping, for example, take an avalanche awareness course, a wilderness first aid course or even a backcountry camping course.

Avoid tight fitting, restrictive clothing, especially garments made with cotton. "Wear clothing loose and in layers to maximize the benefits of the insulating properties of the clothing."

"Many live by the mantra: 'There is no bad weather, only bad equipment (clothing).'"

Finally, Fields said: "Continually study and learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of cold weather injuries. Most importantly, know how to prevent and treat dehydration, hypothermia, chilblains and frost bite."

Here are some other top tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for staying safe:

  • Bring extra water with you and plan to drink more water when exerting yourself outdoors in the cold.
  • Carry a rucksack or backpack filled with nutrient-dense foods, an aluminum blanket, a compass, back-up battery for your cell phone, mirror, rope, utility knife, and first aid kit.
  • Carry extra gloves or mittens in case yours get wet.
  • Stay on the trails. Off trail, you might not be able to see trunk holes, rocks and other potential hazards.
  • Tell someone where you're going, with whom, and when you plan to be back. Create a time when they should alert authorities that you may be lost or injured.
  • Be aware of frostbite, which can show up sooner than you think. Never immerse a frostbitten extremity in hot water. Instead, you should gradually warm up the extremity over time to avoid damage to blood vessels and tissues.
  • If a heavy snowstorm starts, stay where you are and build a lean-to if you can. Don't wander off, so that rescuers can more easily find you if needed.
  • Have a safety kit ready in your car's trunk that includes blankets, protein bars, water, first aid kit, and an auto safety kit that includes flares.
  • A colorful rag may be useful to hang out your window so snow plows can see you.
  • In an emergency, stay put until help comes if at all possible.
U.S. Air Force personnel assigned to the 36th Medical Group learn to use the Military Health System Genesis program at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Jan. 12, 2024. MHS Genesis is an advanced electronic health record, that has replaced several legacy systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Allon Lapaix)

MHS GENESIS Deploying in Guam

Local News
Jan. 18, 2024

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam – Military Health System GENESIS deployed here, Jan. 13th, 2023.MHS GENESIS is...
Read More
The front of the Ehrling Bergquist Medical Clinic at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.

MDG announces holiday season family day schedule

Local News
Dec. 18, 2023

The 55th Medical Group recently announced its holiday season family day schedule for the Ehrling Bergquist...
Read More
Sailors from USNMRTC Okinawa enjoys cake the morning of the MHS GENESIS launch.

MHS GENESIS Now Operational in Europe, Pacific

Local News
Dec. 12, 2023

MHS GENESIS, the Department of Defense’s new electronic health record, is now operational in the European and...
Read More
Air Force physician chosen to lead military’s largest medical network

Air Force Physician Chosen to Lead Military’s La...

Local News
Oct. 13, 2023

An Air Force physician with over 30 years of service became the first director of the newly designated Defense...
Read More
Anyone Can Get Vaccinated!

New COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance for 2023-24

Local News
Sep. 18, 2023

This page is being updated based on the Sept. 12, 2023, decision and recommendation by the Centers for Disease...
Read More
NMCP Bell

Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Receives Level I...

Local News
Aug. 28, 2023

PORTSMOUTH, Va - PORTSMOUTH, Va. (Aug. 24, 2023) -- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) has been...
Read More
Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Victoria McPhall hands Lt. Laken Koontz an intrauterine device (IUD) at Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River. IUDs are one of the many birth control options offered during the clinic’s Walk-in Contraceptive Clinic every Wednesday from 1-2 p.m.

Military Health System: How Ideas Are Adopted to...

Local News
Aug. 24, 2023

New evidence-based practices can improve health care, yet they don’t always get adopted. There are many...
Read More
Defense Health Agency’s 2022 Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Douglas Rozelle (center) stands with his team from Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio following their completion of the Medic Rodeo, a grueling four-day event challenging Air Force Medical Services personnel’s physical stamina and combat medical knowledge in 2019 at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico. Rozelle was a technical sergeant during the competition. (Courtesy Photo)

Senior Noncommissioned Officer of Year Credits T...

Local News
Jul. 17, 2023

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Douglas Rozelle has been “aiming high” since 1983 when his parents, Dana and Larry,...
Read More

Jan. 18, 2024

MHS GENESIS Deploying in Guam

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam – Military Health System GENESIS deployed here, Jan. 13th, 2023. MHS GENESIS is the Military Health System’s advanced electronic health record that replaced several legacy systems. This system provides greater interoperability of patient information across all military hospitals, clinics and Veteran Affairs.

Dec. 18, 2023

MDG announces holiday season family day schedule

The 55th Medical Group recently announced its holiday season family day schedule for the Ehrling Bergquist Clinic.

Dec. 12, 2023

MHS GENESIS Now Operational in Europe, Pacific

MHS GENESIS, the Department of Defense’s new electronic health record, is now operational in the European and Indo-Pacific regions.

Oct. 13, 2023

Air Force Physician Chosen to Lead Military’s Largest Medical Network

An Air Force physician with over 30 years of service became the first director of the newly designated Defense Health Network Central, the military’s largest medical network, on Oct. 1.

Sept. 18, 2023

New COVID-19 Vaccine Guidance for 2023-24

This page is being updated based on the Sept. 12, 2023, decision and recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that everyone 6 months and older get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19 illness this fall and winter.

Aug. 28, 2023

Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Receives Level II Trauma Center Designation

PORTSMOUTH, Va - PORTSMOUTH, Va. (Aug. 24, 2023) -- Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) has been awarded provisional designation as a Level II Trauma Center by the Commonwealth of Virginia's Department of Health.

Aug. 24, 2023

Military Health System: How Ideas Are Adopted to Help Patients, Providers

New evidence-based practices can improve health care, yet they don’t always get adopted. There are many reasons for this, including a lack of awareness, lack of training and implementation support, and a reluctance to doing things differently than in the past—to name a few. Even mandates to adopt a certain new service or practice may not overcome some of these barriers.

July 17, 2023

Senior Noncommissioned Officer of Year Credits Team, Spouse for Achievement

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Douglas Rozelle has been “aiming high” since 1983 when his parents, Dana and Larry, now retired U.S. Air Force master sergeants, welcomed him into the world at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. Later, his career took a different path because of his manager at a local pharmacy.

July 17, 2023

Defense Health Agency’s Top Noncommissioned Officer ‘Aims High’

Defense Health Agency Noncommissioned Officer of the Year U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Daniel Fisher competed in the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s Noncommissioned Officer of Year competition in Washington, D.C in May 2023. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in August 2023.

July 17, 2023

Department of Defense Stateside Deployment of MHS GENESIS Complete

Deployment of MHS GENESIS, the Military Health System’s new electronic health record, is complete at military hospitals and clinics in the continental United States, and now sights are set on transitioning overseas this fall.