Weather experts offer tips for keeping warm and dry in the winter
December 14, 2018
Layering up is the recommended foundation for livestock producers, or anyone who works outside, in order to keep warm in frigid weather. There are new items on the market to help retain body heat. Also, some of our cold weather analysts in this story are actually all-weather experts year-round. They're climatologists who assist in analyzing each season's three-month seasonal climate outlook.
"When I have to be outside when it is really cold, I always keep the following in mind — layers, limit exposure and pay attention to extremities," said Tony Bergantino, deputy director of Water Resources Data System in the Wyoming State Climate Office and Wyoming Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) state coordinator.
For the layers, Bergantino said, "Building outward, I start with thermals (long-johns, top and bottom), usually normal pants but I have some insulated flannel shirts that I use before finally putting on either a regular jacket or an old down one that I have. On at least one occasion, I recall an outer layer consisting of coveralls to give my legs the same protection as on top," he said. For Bergantino, socks are usually the green Army style.
Regarding limiting exposure, "I try not to be out any longer than absolutely necessary," said Bergantino, who follows his own sage advice by taking warm-up breaks.
Pay attention to extremities — ears and nose, fingers and toes. "Those will be the parts that you usually will notice the cold in first. With appropriate gloves and full head and face-mask, I've been in temperatures down into the minus 30s and 40s F. You just have to make sure to get inside when you start feeling any discomfort," Bergantino said. He said that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center is still forecasting the almost 80 percent chance of full El Niño conditions forming this winter, which typically results in the jet-stream dropping south, focusing storm development from southeast California eastward into the Four Corners region of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, then east into Oklahoma and the Southeast U.S.
To keep warm when working outside for extended periods, a Colorado range management specialist recommends increasing movement/activity, and wearing lots of layers.
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"My secret is staying in motion, wearing lots of layers, and relying on wool next to my skin. In Colorado, we're probably much warmer, and the temperature fluctuates more than many places such as Minnesota, so this means if you're out in the middle of the day and moving, you probably will need to take off some coats to avoid sweating, thus the importance of layers in this part of the world. Also, a thermos of hot water/tea helps, as does eating enough food," said Retta Bruegger, regional specialist, Range Management | Western Region Colorado State University Extension. Bruegger lives in Grand Junction, which is relatively warmer and at a lower elevation, although she is also very familiar with the climate and terrain at 7,600 feet further east in the mountains, where she grew up.
KEEP FEET WARM
For socks, Bruegger's go to is the Darn Tough sock brand, which can be found at https://darntough.com. "They're warm and very long lasting." Bruegger said to keep feet warm in below zero weather, "In that situation I might wear more than one pair of socks, and put a felt insole into my boots, and maybe get disposable shoe heaters."
Another Colorado scientist agreed that it's vital to keep your feet warm.
"As for socks, my feet seem to be cold no matter what. My solution to cold feet is a combination of an easy-to-use gas fireplace at home, a space heater in the office, a remote starter on my car and an electric blanket on my bed," said Becky Bolinger, Ph.D., assistant state climatologist, Colorado Climate Center/Colorado State University Department of Atmospheric Science.
A different option for cold feet are battery-powered socks, which have been available at Cabela's for a couple of years and are considered a popular item.
"ActionHeat Unisex Heated Cotton Socks with rechargeable batteries heat up to 140 degrees F for approximately 10 hours, or with AA batteries that heat up to 140 degrees F for approximately four hours. Cabela's also has wool socks with rechargeable batteries. They have strategically placed ActionFlex heating panels and special infrared heating and ActionWave heat-reflective technology in ActionWarmth fabric that provides heat-trapping insulation," said Katie Mitchell, communications manager for Bass Pro Shops Group. "In 2017, Bass Pro Shops acquired Cabela's to create a best-of-the-best experience with superior products, dynamic locations and outstanding customer service," Mitchell said.
A new item at Cabela's are the Heat Factory ProFLEX Outdoor Heated Insoles. "These heated insoles keep your feet warm and toasty through the most bitter cold by utilizing high-tech wireless thermal technology. Made of a flexible and cushioning polyurethane, these dual density insoles surround a removable, rechargeable battery covered by a comfortable and resilient Poron cushion," Mitchell said. "Handy remote operation gives you easy control over the insoles with three settings — no heat, medium (100 degrees F), and high (111 degrees F). Powered by rechargeable batteries, these fit easily into your boots or shoes, and come with charging case, charger, USB cable and wireless remote control."
Other wool socks Cabela's offers, combine merino wool and Carbon Heat fibers to capture and release warmth to insulate and regulate body temperature. "These insulating socks keep body heat around the feet. Elastic arch support fights foot fatigue to assure all-day comfort," Mitchell said, "and these are ideal for hiking, hunting, snow skiing, camping or winter sports in extreme cold conditions."
Duluth Trading Company recommends one of its favorites, the Duluth Men's Alaskan Hardgear Heavyweight Boot Socks.
Regarding boots for working outside, Mitchell recommends Cabela's RedHead Destry Western Work Boots for men. "They're built for the long haul, with hard-workin' features like ultra-durable Goodyear Welt Construction featuring leather welt, a distressed full-grain leather upper, and heavy-duty Cambrelle lining, and a non-slip rubber outsole."
When livestock producers, and others spend extended time outdoors in winter weather, staying dry is important. Even when the temperature isn't extremely cold, hypothermia can quickly be an issue when you are wet. Those who regularly get work done in adverse weather already have their strategies in place.
"That would typically include layers, that can be added or removed as conditions change. Materials that retain their insulating properties when wet are also recommended. These could be modern synthetics designed for outdoor activities or the tried and true wool, used for generations," said Mary Knapp, assistant state climatologist, located at Kansas State University's Department of Agronomy in Manhattan. "It's also important to remember the hat," Knapp said. "Contrary to folklore, you don't loose more heat through your head than other parts of the body. However, it is often the one part that isn't covered so it becomes an escape route for the much needed body heat."
While holding onto heat through dressing in layers is important, a Nebraska climatologist advises being aware that excessive layers build up heat, increasing perspiration, which can have a cooling effect on the skin (think of the cooling effect when we sweat in the summer).
"Therefore it is important that your base layers are breathable to allow heat to escape from the body, which ultimately decreases perspiration," said Allen Dutcher, associate state climatologist in the Nebraska State Climate Office in Lincoln, who prefers wool thermals, which he purchased in an outdoor shop in Fort Collins, Colo. "My grandfather, who was a commercial fisherman his entire life, always said 'dress accordingly,' but remember if your head, feet and hands stay dry, you will minimize heat loss from your extremities and will ultimately feel much warmer. That's because your body's circulation will not be impeded," Dutcher said.
A new cold-weather jacket for surviving frigid temps out in the field is Cabela's RedHead Redwater Buffalo Jacket for men. "Our RedHead Redwater Buffalo Jacket for men is thick, soft, and warm. The outer shell, which is brushed for softness and features a buffalo plaid pattern, is made from 100 percent polyester polar fleece. The lining, which runs from the collar all the way down the sleeves and body, is made of 100 percent polyester sherpa fleece," Mitchell said.
Sheepskin in general is also said to be one of the warmest material in fur coats. Ranchers have purchased quite a few dusters at a Denver store. The duster is considered heavy-duty lambskin.
"The duster is the full length cowboy jacket and is very popular and warm, because it is full length and has straps on the inside of the jacket that strap around your legs, so if it's snowing or raining, your legs stay dry," said manager Tristam Cunningham at Overland Sheep in Denver. "I've even sold it to people from New York City. A lot of people want something to have from the Wild West in Colorado and while it's not totally the Wild West, tourists enjoying visiting from all over the world, and especially from Europe," Cunningham said.
Incidentally, since ranching/farming outerwear needs to be durable, they are not considered interchangeable with ski jackets.
"Skiers need to be warm, both on lift and coming down a slope. When I shop for ski wear, it needs to be thin, flexible, warm and dry, yet breathable for body heat to release," said longtime skier Jeffrey Karl Smith of Vail, Colo. "Of course, ski wear is fashionable too, where farm/ranch wear does not necessarily need to compete," said Smith, who's been skiing Vail for 40 years.
For ranchers and others working outdoors, Duluth Trading company recommends their tough-as-nails coats, particularly the men's Alaskan Hardgear Puffin Jacket. Duluth Trading officials say it has a water-repellent finish that sheds snow and sleet and a temperature rating that, "will keep you warm to 0 degrees F while you work up a storm. This jacket has channel-quilted 100 percent polyfill lofts, and promises to insulate even when it gets soaked. It also features a storm flap to block wind at the zipper and has Diamond Armpit Gussets to provide movement freedom."
Taking steps to stay warm and dry are vital for health and safety. If the body doesn't keep warm and dry, as Dutcher put it, "The body will try to protect its core (internal organs) by shutting down blood flow to the extremities. "Therefore," Dutcher highly recommends, "Spend the extra money for a good quality pair of shoes, gloves and hat." ❖
— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.