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Millions of Americans are facing dangerously cold temperatures. Here are some cold-weather tips tested at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Frigid temps and travel chaos felt across U.S.
Frigid temps and travel chaos felt across U.S. 02:45

As a winter storm pummels the country, dangerously cold temperatures are impacting states across the Midwest and Great Plains regions. The cold has snarled power lines, air travel and more.  At least 12 deaths have been attributed to the storm and cold weather so far. 

CBS News senior weather and climate producer David Parkinson reports that more than 40 cold temperature records are likely to be broken Tuesday from Texas to Tennessee and in Michigan.

Some have braved the cold in recent days: Thousands of NFL fans sat at freezing games on Sunday and Monday, with Buffalo Bills fans even trying to clear the field of snow before Monday's game, which had been rescheduled from Sunday because of the weather. Meanwhile, in Iowa, voters fought through bitter cold to vote in the state's Republican caucuses

Fans take their seats in the snow before the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers
Fans take their seats in the snow before the game between the Buffalo Bills and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Highmark Stadium in in Orchard Park, New York, on Jan. 15, 2024. / Getty Images

As the cold front settles in, experts in emergency medicine with experience in winter weather weighed in on how to prepare for dangerous temperatures, how to stay warm even in frigid weather, and what to know about potential emergency situations. 

How can you prepare for winter weather? 

One of best ways to stay safe amid freezing temperatures, says Dr. Bradley J. Uren, a professor of emergency medicine with the University of Michigan who grew up in the state's upper peninsula — where freezing temperatures and massive snow are common in the winter — is to be prepared for whatever the weather might throw at you. 

That can include making sure you have what you need at home, like extra layers and ways to stay warm in case you lose power. If you have a space heater or other heating source, make sure there's a safe place to plug it in and operate it. It can also help to ensure that you have batteries, candles and other supplies for power outages. 

If you do need to go out in a vehicle, Uren recommends having supplies like extra clothes, warm gloves and a snowbrush handy. Make sure your car has more than enough gasoline, and it can't hurt to throw in some extra supplies like hand warmers or a sleeping bag so that you can stay warm if something happens while you're driving. Also, check that the vehicle has windshield wiper fluid and that it is functional in cold weather. Uren said he makes many of these preparations himself. 

"Being an (emergency room) doctor, I see what happens when people aren't prepared, so I try to be prepared myself," Uren said. "I've never had to use any of those things, but I feel better knowing that they're there and I can help myself in case of an emergency." 

How can you stay safe in freezing temperatures? 

Dr. Daniel Bachmann, an emergency medicine expert at Ohio State University who specializes in wilderness medicine and who has summitted Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the top tallest mountains in the world, said that you should limit outdoor time during freezing weather. If you do have to go out, he advised trying to do it at the warmest time of the day. 

"We have so much technology to help us with our weather challenges ... so leverage that," Bachmann said. "Leverage the technology, whether it's just using your smartphone to look at forecasts or keeping up on what that forecast is." 

Use that forecast to dress appropriately for the weather. Wear layers like down jackets that can help you trap warm air pockets, and add warmer layers like heavy sweaters. Make sure as little skin is exposed as possible to limit the risk of frostbite and other conditions. However, it's important to limit sweating, since the moisture created by your sweat can cool your body. 

Another way to stay warm, Bachmann said, is make sure that you've had something to eat and drink. 

"Being hydrated and nourished are important because when you have food in your body, then your body is burning that and they're metabolizing that, and that's how heat is generated," Bachmann said. "Having some food, having some nutrition, before you go out is a helpful foundation to keep your body warm." 

When getting prepared to go out in frigid weather, Uren said that people should take the full weather forecast into consideration. Air temperature is just one aspect: People should also consider the wind chill and the estimates of how cold the air will feel. 

"The temperature to the human is important, and you should limit your time outside," Uren said. "It's a lot of fun to go outside and build a snowman with the kids or go sledding, but bear in mind that those temperatures and that wind chill can put you and everyone else at risk of hypothermia or frostbite." 

What to know about hypothermia, frostbite and more 

Dangerously cold weather can result in conditions like hypothermia and frostbite. 

Frostbite is a cold injury to body tissue. Early signs of the condition include redness, numbness, or pain on areas of the skin, followed by loss of feeling and color to the area. If you start to see these early signs, get inside and warm up immediately. Uren said that in some weather conditions, frostbite could begin on exposed skin in just five minutes.

Hypothermia occurs when core body temperature gets too low as a result of prolonged exposure to the cold. This risk increases when it's extremely cold and windy, Uren said. In an article he wrote in 2022, Bachmann noted that alcohol use can also make someone more susceptible to hypothermia, since 

Both conditions can be dangerous, the doctors said, but can be prevented with proper preparation, warm clothing and going inside when necessary. 

"It's the same advice that my mom always gave me, that everyone's mom gives them: Cover everything up. Cover the exposed skin, make sure you've got good gloves, good shoes, wear a hat. You can wear a face mask or a scarf, something to cover your face ... You may even want to think about wearing goggles that can keep the snow and ice and wind away from your exposed eyes and that portion of your face that's hard to cover otherwise," Uren said. "If you do those things, you can have a lot of fun in the snow. And if not, you might end up in the emergency department." 

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