Long bar lines might put students at risk for hypothermia

Although nighttime temperatures in Champaign dip far below freezing, many students still wait in long lines outside of bars.

Dr. David Lawrance, medical director of McKinley Health Center, said although nobody has come into McKinley with frostbite or hypothermia, both are very real concerns during cold weather. At press time, Carle Clinic was unable to comment on the number of patients who had been admitted for hypothermia or frostbite this winter.

Lawrance said frostbite occurs when tissue is frozen. Beyond a certain point, the damage is irreversible, which results in an injury like a severe burn. Frostbite could result in permanent loss of function, amputation or the need for skin grafting.

“If I stand in the cold long enough so that my hands or feet or my ears are turning numb, that’s a sign that occurs preceding frostbite,” he said.

Eric Snodgrass, atmospheric sciences instructor, said exposed skin is in danger of getting frostbite at cold temperatures. In wind chills of minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit, exposed skin will freeze in 30 minutes, he said.

Kim Stevens, senior in ACES, said she dresses adequately for the cold but admitted that this was not always the case.

“As a freshman I definitely didn’t,” Stevens said. “Girls would wear dresses and no jackets.”

Now, Stevens said she will not wait in line longer than five minutes.

Lawrance said hypothermia occurs with an abnormally cold body temperature. He cited a well-known instance of fatal cold exposure as an example of what can happen when hypothermia is unchecked.

“A lot of us computer geeks will recall (former TechTV technology analyst) James Kim’s death from hypothermia in 2006 after his car and family got stranded in a blizzard (while traveling to) California,” Lawrance said. “He went looking for help and he died of hypothermia. His family was finally discovered, safe in their car and were not injured.”

Snodgrass said people with hypothermia might experience violent uncontrollable shivering, loss of muscle control, trouble making a fist, and trouble making decisions and thinking clearly.

Jim Angel, state climatologist, said although people can get into serious trouble with hypothermia, young healthy adults will probably be able to withstand more time in the cold than older individuals. He also said people who are drinking might be putting themselves at a greater risk because alcohol impairs judgment.

Snodgrass said he believes most people would leave a bar line before getting hypothermia.

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“What I would worry about is someone who is drunk and trying to walk home,” Snodgrass said.

He said alcohol numbs the skin to the cold and has been known to flush the skin with blood, giving the sensation of being warm.

Lawrence also said an intoxicated person who is abandoned by his or her friends in the cold might be in danger.

“Their judgment is severely impaired, the alcohol contributes to difficulty with temperature regulation, and the alcohol followed by the cold exposure depresses levels of consciousness,” he said. “If this person lies down and falls asleep in the freezing cold, they well could be dead when found.”