The cold of winter is out in full force in Hamilton County as an arctic air mass continues to create subzero temperatures and strong wind chills.
A wind chill advisory from the National Weather Service is expected to remain in effect until noon today. While this surge of extreme cold may pass soon, the winter season is here to stay. With that in mind, local officials say it's important to prepare when facing extreme colds.
Hamilton County Public Health Director Shelby Kroona said the most important thing for people to understand is how quickly their skin can be damaged by frostbite.
"When it's this cold, it's less than five minutes," Kroona said. "Five minutes might sound like a long time, but it really isn't."
The signs of frostbite include the loss of feeling and white or pale appearance of extremities. Kroona said a common form of warming up in the cold by rubbing ones hands together can lead to tissue damage in the cold. She said those in the cold should cover their hands or put them under their armpits to heat them up.
Kroona also said people should think about how they can limit their time in the cold, such as starting their car and going back inside while it warms up. Cars should also contain blankets and an emergency kit. Travel is also safer during the daylight hours, Kroona said.
Pets should also be considered during the cold. Kroona said the same precautions people take should apply to pets as well. Limiting their time outside to just a couple minutes at a time and cover their paws.
Webster City Police Chief Brian Hughes said the department does file charges against dog owners in certain cases related to leaving them outside for extended periods in the cold.
"I can't think of any excuse for that," Hughes said.
Hughes also said that the elderly are more at risk in the cold. He asked that neighbors of the elderly help them with outdoor tasks such as shoveling snow or unloading groceries to help out in the community.
Those who go out and run in the cold should also have a cell phone in case they are injured while working out, Hughes said.