Your Body as a Weather Instrument

2017-10-29 11:02:49.000 – Bill Ofsiany, Summit Volunteer


I love this time of year. The leaves are mostly gone, as are the crowds and bugs. It is the time of year that the weather instrument that we know best, becomes evident: our body.

The first hint of cold weather you might experience something called vasomotor rhinitis. When cool or cold air hits your eye, a gland above and to the side of the eye starts producing more tears, that flood into a canal that drains into the nose, and stuffs it up. You will notice this if it is cold and there is a little wind, or if you are making your own wind by riding your bike. The reason we put goggles on, besides avoiding physical trauma to the eye from high speed ice and water, is to reduce rhinitis.

Another signal the body sends out in response to cold is to the furnace room, the cells of your body. The message to you is EAT SOMETHING! Like a stove; no fuel means no heat. Your can be dressed in the best equipment money can buy, but if you don’t eat you can’t stay warm. Carbos give you the energy for play, but fat calories warm you up on a cold day and last longer than the quick hit carbs give.

Your head is a major thermo-regulator. Crank up your activity and blood vessels in your scalp quickly dilate and you start dumping excess heat to the air. Sweat speeds that heat loss by evaporative cooling. When you go outside in cold weather wihout a hat, those same sensors say, “you are losing too much heat, shut off the extremites, save the core!” Blood vessels constrict in your hands and feet. With less warm blood flowing through them, the much colder surrounding temperature wins out and your hands and feet feel cold. That message from your weather center is telling you, ‘PUT A HAT ON!” It makes no sense to have a thick parka on, and a bare head.

For those of you who like to play outside when it is very cold, another temperature sensor makes itself evident. When the temperature is below 10 degrees F, and you breathe in through your nose, the “stuff” inside your nose stiffens up and feels like it is solidifying. Above ten degrees it usually is not noticeable, below ten degrees, very much evident. A thermometer in your nose. Who knew?

The two life saving signals you have to listen to, are goose bumps and shivering. Both of those are life preservers. They are telling you that you are losing heat, faster than you are making it. They are the early warning signals, that in themselves aren’t a risk. But if you ignore them and don’t stop heat loss or increase heat production (food and hydration), your body temperature will start a slide toward hypothermia. At a point not far from that “cold miserable…I don’t care anymore” point, your body stops sending signals and, your awareness to what is happening to you shuts down, as your body starts shutting down. The person you are with now has the responsibility for saving your life. Your weather instrument has shut down.

Go outside this winter and play in the cold in either your back yard or on Mt. Washington. Dress well, eat something, have fun, and be safe. You have the right weather sensors to keep you comfortable and safe, just pay attention to them!


Bill Ofsiany, Summit Volunteer

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