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How to Protect Yourself From Record-Breaking Cold

Arctic blast bringing freezing weather to much of U.S.

Brace yourself for an early taste of winter: As the weather turns frigid thanks to a blast of arctic air, forecasters are predicting temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below average across much of the United States.

These bone-chilling temps — which were down to the single digits across much of the Midwest on Tuesday morning — will make it feel like “the middle of winter,” according to the National Weather Service. And with the unseasonable drop in temperature comes the need to get prepared for cold weather quickly.

First, make sure that you are safe (and comfortable) inside. The National Institute on Aging recommends keeping the thermostat set between 68 and 70 degrees at minimum. Keeping your thermostat set to the same temperature day and night can also help prevent your pipes from freezing — which starts to become a concern around 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Experts also say to be mindful when using warming aids like electric blankets, which can cause burns, and space heaters, which have been linked to house fires and cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. According to Chrissy Kistler, a geriatrician and physician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, those who like to bundle up to stay warm should keep in mind that two to three thin layers of clothing are actually more effective than one thick layer.

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Your car also needs a cold-weather update. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends servicing the radiator and checking the antifreeze level and tire treads before heading out into freezing conditions. The agency also says to keep a car emergency kit, with items like a portable charger, blankets, food and water on hand. (Having a similar kit stocked at home is also a good idea.)

If you're headed outdoors, be mindful of icy patches, which pose a fall risk, and strenuous activities, like shoveling snow, which put added strain on your heart in cold weather. Hypothermia, a dangerous drop in body temperature, manifests differently in older adults, who may not shiver but instead exhibit signs like pale or ashy skin, or feelings of tiredness and confusion, according to the American Geriatrics Society.

The CDC also recommends bringing pets indoors and being ready to check on friends and loved ones who may be in need. Don't forget to check on plans for air travel. More than 1,000 flight cancellations were reported as of Monday, with the number likely to grow as cold weather persists over the next several days.

Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 12, 2019. It has been updated with the AARP Top Tips video.

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