How Fast Frostbite Can Occur in This Dangerous Chicago Cold - NBC Chicago

Stay a step ahead of the storm with tips from the NBC Chicago Storm Team

How Fast Frostbite Can Occur in This Dangerous Chicago Cold

The impending bitter blast has already closed schools and businesses, forced modified transit schedules, and prompted a disaster proclamation in the state



    How Soon Frostbite Can Happen in Dangerous Cold

    Pete Sack breaks down how quickly frostbite can occur in the dangerous cold set to hit the Chicago area. 

    (Published Monday, Jan. 28, 2019)

    Frostbite will be a major concern across the area this week, as life-threatening temperatures will mean it can happen in a matter of minutes. 

    A Wind Chill Advisory began at 4 a.m. across the area. It will continue until 6 p.m., when a Wind Chill Warning takes effect for the entire metro area. 

    Temperatures are expected to fall during the late afternoon and early evening hours Tuesday, with wind chill readings dropping as low as -35 on average. Air temperatures will plummet to -18 in the city and near -25 inland by dawn Wednesday, making for wind chill values between -45 and -55 across the area. Some locations could see wind chills as low as -60 Wednesday morning. 

    On exposed skin, with wind chill values between -10 and -20 degrees, frostbite can happen in 30 minutes. As wind chills climb to -20 to -30, it could happen in as little as 10 minutes. 

    For wind chills between -30 and -40 degrees, frostbite can occur anywhere from five to 10 minutes. 

    And once wind chills reach -40 and below, frostbite can happen in two to five minutes. 

    Parts of the body most commonly affected include the face, ears, hands and feet. Frostbitten skin is whitish and stiff, and the area will feel numb rather than painful.

    To treat frostbite, warm the affected part of the body gradually. Wrap the frostbitten area in blankets, sweaters, coats, etc. and seek medical attention immediately. Do not rub frostbitten areas because the friction can damage the tissue.


    Hypothermia is caused by a drop in body temperature to 95 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or less and can be fatal if not detected promptly and treated properly. Infants and the elderly are particularly at risk of hypothermia. Signs of hypothermia include:

    • Shivering

    • Exhaustion

    • Confusion

    • Drowsiness

    • Slurred speech

    • Weak pulse

    • Slow heartbeat

    • Infants may experience bright red, cold skin.

    Do not try to treat hypothermia at home. The condition should be treated in a hospital.

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