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  • Don't Make These 4 Mistakes While Exercising in the Winter

    I love to run and exercise outside. When it comes to exercise, I’ve managed to do most things wrong. This especially goes for winter exercising. A couple of times, I’ve exercised myself into life-threatening situations. So, based on my experience, here’s what not to do while exercising in winter.


    Error 1: Don’t dress for the weather

    Repeat after me. Cotton is bad. When cotton gets wet, it doesn’t dry. Wet clothes lose their ability to insulate, which means they can’t keep you warm.

    closeup feet group athletes running snowy path in woods

    When you exercise, wear synthetic, tight-fitting layers. On your upper body, wear a wicking bottom layer, a warm, synthetic fleece middle layer and a wind- and waterproof outer layer. Different experts estimated you can lose at least 10 percent of body heat from your head, so wear a hat and something around your neck. You can lose as much as 30 percent of body heat through your hands and feet, so wear mittens and consider two pairs of socks: an inner wicking pair and an outer wool pair. Dress for temperatures 20 degrees warmer than the actual temperature. If you’re warm as you begin exercising, you’re overdressed.

    Winter exercising means dealing with ice, snow, slush, and puddles. Consider wearing trail running shoes or use a waterproof spray on your shoes. If you’ll be walking or running in snow, think about something like YakTrax, a shoe equivalent of a car’s tire chains. Consider trying snowshoeing – many ski rental places will also rent snowshoes.

    I learned the necessity of appropriate dress the hard way when I went on a guided winter mountain climb. I had practically no experience with snow and no synthetic winter gear. I borrowed a nylon track suit and snow boots. However, my t-shirt and long underwear were all cotton. As I climbed, I began to sweat heavily. Every time I stopped to rest, I unzipped my jacket and pulled off my gloves to cool off.

    The year I did the winter mountain climb was unseasonably warm. The snow on the mountain was deep but soft. Every step I took I sank to my thighs. When I wasn’t sinking, I was slipping. Both the exertion and the slipping contributed to my soggy state. Soon, I was shivering and spots on my legs and hands went numb and white. I was exhausted.


    Error 2: Stay out in wet weather for too long

    One expert recommended spending no more than 45 minutes running during rain or sleet. Most advised exercising indoors on wet days. All recommended getting into dry clothes as fast as possible after exercising outdoors.

    I did a duathlon (running and biking) in icy rain. I wore the right clothes, but I was slow and ended up soaked and freezing for more than 90 minutes. I began shaking uncontrollably, I was clumsy and my thinking was muddled.


    Error 3: Don’t know the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite

    HypothermiaHypothermia occurs when a body’s core temperature drops below 95 degrees, according to WebMD. It’s usually caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, but can occur in moderate temperatures if a person has certain medical conditions or is wet. Symptoms include heavy shivering, confusion, drowsiness, slurred or mumbled speech, loss of coordination and a slow, weak pulse.

    Frostbite occurs when skin and tissue freeze after exposure to cold temperatures, according to the Mayo Clinic. Frostnip is a very mild version of frostbite that can be treated with first aid. Symptoms include off-colored skin, prickling and numbness in the affected area, hard or waxy-looking skin and blisters or swelling after rewarming.

    Both on the mountain and after the duathlon, without knowing it, I developed mild hypothermia. Also on the mountain, without my knowledge, frostnip developed in my hands.


    Error 4: Don’t have a buddy

    Fortunately, both on the mountain and after the duathlon, I was with others. On the mountain, two other climbers helped me thaw frozen extremities, climb down, and get home. My future husband was at the duathlon as my cheerleader, and he helped me find dry clothes and get warmed up before driving me home. In both cases I put myself into trouble, but because of others’ assistance, I suffered no lasting ill effects.


    Winter exercising can be great. Sunshine provides vitamin D to help with the winter blues. You actually burn more calories when you exercise, because your muscles aren’t as efficient. Exercising strengthens heart muscles and, as long as you don’t overdo it, can help your immune system keep out winter bugs. But take extra precautions to make winter exercising fun and safe. Don’t learn the hard way like I did.

    - Melissa


    What are your tips for exercising outside in the winter cold?


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  • El Niño vs The Arctic Oscillation: Opposing Weather Systems Bring Extreme Weather

    In the U.S., this year’s winter weather has been like a boxing match, with the southern El Niño sparring with the northern Arctic Oscillation and North Atlantic Oscillation for temperature and precipitation supremacy.

    May the best oscillation win?

    El Niño is a once-every-several-years warming of the eastern Pacific. A major El Niño event, like the one we’re experiencing now, commonly brings buckets of precipitation to the southwest, buckets of precipitation and colder weather to the southeast, and slightly warmer, drier weather to the northern Rockies and Midwest.

    In December and into early January, El Niño had commanded the match. Temperatures in the northeast reached the 60s and even 70s, smashing record highs. At the same time, tornadoes in the southeastern U.S. – a common El Niño phenomenon – killed two dozen people in four days. The severe storms continued into January in the southeast, as a tornado touched down in Florida on January 9.

    Shirtless - USA Today - Arctic Oscillation And then there was this guy... "What Arctic Oscillation?" - via USA Today

    Here’s where the match got interesting, though. The same storm system that brought the Florida tornado also brought extreme cold temperatures and blasting wind to the Midwest. A January 10 football playoff game in Minnesota was the third-coldest NFL game ever played, with a kickoff temperature of -6 degrees F. The storm left more than 120,000 people without power across several states.

    This extreme cold is more characteristic of a polar vortex, caused by the North Atlantic Oscillation and Arctic Oscillation. And it’ll probably continue through January.

    Arctic Oscillation El Niño is causing massive flooding in California, but won't do much in drought relief - via CBS News

    However, in California, El Niño is still the big hitter. The state is in a brief pause in a series of storms that could last for a few weeks. The storms are bringing lots of rain – which, alas, creates problems for awards ceremonies’ red carpet preliminaries – and causing floods in spots.

    Meteorologists expect even this El Niño won’t make much of a dent on the multi-year California drought. For starters, rainwater doesn’t stay put. Once the ground is saturated, water flows away, often in storm drains to the Pacific. In Orange County, in southern California, about half that water gets captured for later use. The rest ends up in the ocean.

    Rain Barrel - Arctic OscillationMany agencies in southern California are trying to collect more of that rainwater. On January 6, the State Water Resources Control Board approved a plan to spend $200 million for projects to capture more rain.

    In California and many other states, homeowners can capture rain for their own use. A 1,000-square-foot roof can collect 600 gallons from one inch of rain, according to the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension.

    It’s not that hard to make a small rain capture system; WikiHow has directions. Basically, it requires making a platform for a rain barrel (or barrels), taking a barrel and adding a spigot and overflow valve, attaching it to a rain gutter’s downspout and putting a filter in the downspout to catch larger stuff that would clog it. To use the rainwater for landscaping or gardening, set up a drip irrigation system and run a hose out to it from the barrel.

    Professional installers can also make a larger rain capture system.

    A few caveats. First, this system is gravity-powered, so if you want to water higher than your collection location, you’ll need a pump. Second, this water’s not suitable for drinking. It needs boiling and filtering to become potable. Third, not all states and municipalities allow rainwater collection, and some allow it only on a limited basis. This is especially true in the west, where water rights are paramount.



    Disaster_Blog_Banner Arctic Oscillation

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  • El Niño Nationally: From the Pacific Northwest to the Deep South

    Anyone in the northeastern U.S. who’s “dreaming of a white Christmas” has a disappointing awakening coming. High temperatures 10 to 30 degrees above normal in the entire eastern half of the country could allow rain, but no snow. This pattern’s similar to what climate scientists predicted for this year in the wake of possibly the strongest El Niño event recorded.

    Sea Surface Temperature - El Niño Nationally Sea surface temperature - via NOAA

    Trade winds usually pile warm surface water on the western side of the Pacific, off the coast of Indonesia. During an El Niño year, trade winds fail and that warm water sloshes back to the west coast of South America. Right now, the water there is more than two degrees warmer than average. The warmer water and atmosphere during an El Niño typically can lead to major changes in weather patterns in the U.S. and across the world, according to the National Weather Service.

    El Niño patterns are usually strongest from December to March. Let’s look at what El Niño could mean for some other parts of the U.S. We considered California on December 3.


    Pacific Northwest

    National Weather Service maps give a high probability that the Pacific Northwest will be normal than usual and a chance that it will be drier than usual.

    This has worried northwestern water managers who in April measured record-low snow levels in parts of the Cascade Mountains. It also worried emergency managers, who saw more than a million acres of forest burn during the spring and summer.

    So far, they needn’t have worried. The area has been hammered by one major storm after another. Floods have engulfed the Oregon and Washington coasts. The Mt. Baker, Wash. ski area has 190 inches of snow. Last year at this time it had six inches. One atmospheric scientist called it a “La Niña type phenomenon.”

    That doesn’t mean things can’t change. The Pacific Northwest usually dries out in the latter part of the winter.



    The Gulf Coast and southeastern U.S. have historically been colder and wetter during strong El Niño years.

    So far, the southeast has seen warmer-than-normal temperatures but lots of rain and flooding. Texas had its fifth wettest October recorded. As of mid-November, Atlanta had more than a foot above average in rainfall for the year.

    Later winter could include ice storms in the Deep South.

    NOAA - El Niño Nationally via NOAA

    Ice storms can have nasty results. One that struck Tennessee at the end of February brought down trees and power lines all over areas east of Nashville. At the height of the storm, the whole of Fentress County and part of Cumberland County – 35,000 people – were without power, according to a NOAA report. Some didn’t get it back until March. Cumberland County Emergency Management called it the “worst natural disaster in the history of Cumberland County.”

    Strong El Niño events tend to reduce the number of Atlantic hurricanes. However, severe thunderstorms and tornadoes can become more common in central and southern Florida. On February 22, 1998, during the strongest El Niño year recorded, seven tornadoes struck central Florida. Forty-two people were killed.

    So far, the south’s weather has been unusually warm. Forecast high temperatures for the week of Christmas are between 10 and 20 degrees higher than normal.



    After January and February brought record-breaking snow and cold temperatures to the northeast, people there may find a white Christmas kind of anathema. That’s good, because December is shaping up to be the warmest in memory. Buffalo, N.Y. broke a 116-year record for the latest date with no snow on the ground.

    The rest of the winter season will likely be warmer than normal too. However, that doesn’t mean warm. A temperature a few degrees warmer than normal means ice storms rather than snow storms. One of the worst ice storms in history took place in the northeast U.S. and Canada January 5-8, 1998, during the last strong El Niño. Forty-four people were killed, more than 500,000 people lost power and damage totaled $4.4 billion in the U.S. and Canada.

    All these forecasts are maybes. Yes, this year U.S. weather seems to be following a classic strong El Niño pattern. But even strong El Niño patterns have variations. One climate blogger compared it to a bartender who occasionally messes up a drink order.

    “Sometimes El Niño is the bartender who doesn’t bring you what you ordered,” he said.

    So if the threat of abnormal El Niño weather spurs you to prepare, great. Ready.gov has information about El Niño preparation. The National Weather Service and weather.com have El Niño information. Check it out, then plan for your area. And be ready for something else.


    There's your El Niño national outlook. How is El Niño treating you in your neck of the woods?


    Winter_Storm_Blog_Image - El Niño Nationally

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