Imagine being stranded in the wild. Maybe you went for a hike and got lost, maybe you are escaping a disaster (natural or man-made), or maybe the society collapsed and you are facing an apocalyptic scenario. And then, to make things even worse, there is a terrible storm, a blizzard, or a scorching heatwave. How do you survive this extreme weather, what can you do in order to live through it?
What do you need to know and have in order to survive extreme weather? The quick answer is to dress appropriately and take shelter. However, you also need to know:
- How to treat heat injuries
- How to treat cold injuries
- What should be in your emergency survival kit
- How to survive a storm, hurricane, flood, tornado, and other natural disasters
I am certain that a short answer does not completely satisfy you. Let’s go through a more detailed information about surviving various types of extreme weather. I will also recommend further reading that will expand your knowledge and make you even more prepared.
Surviving the Heat
When the object of discussion is surviving an extreme weather, we tend to immediately think about extreme cold. However, high temperatures can be just as dangerous as low ones. Heat can reduce your functioning, limit your activity and threaten your survival. You should act in a preventive manner and lower the heat’s influence on you. You can simply stay in shade and stay hydrated by drinking the right amount of water.
Surviving the heat also entails acclimating yourself to the conditions. The sun and the heat will probably not go away that easily, especially if it’s summer time, so let your body get used to it. The acclimatization can take 5 to 14 days, and by the end of this period you will be able to tolerate the high temperatures. There are several advantages to successful heat acclimatization:
- Lesser chance of heat injuries
- Better heat dispersal
- Your body temperature will stay closer to normal
- Less electrolytes leave your body when you sweat
- You start producing sweat even before it gets too hot
I mentioned heat injuries. There are 3 main injuries, which I will list in order of their severity. Additionally, I will mention what steps you should take to treat and survive them.
- Cramps: These are highly painful spasms that can attack muscles in your legs, belly, back and arms. Heat cramps are primarily caused by the loss of the electrolytes due to a combination of sweat and extended physical strain. You can treat them by stepping away from the sun and drinking a lot of water. Once under a shade, remove any restraining clothing from the affected area and vigorously massage the muscles to restore circulation.
- Exhaustion: This is the next level of a heat injury. If you don’t hydrate and continue exerting your body, while the electrolytes level becomes dangerously low, you will experience heat exhaustion. Symptoms can include nausea, strong headache, excessive sweat and tingling in your limbs. Your body temperature will be uncomfortably high. This can be treated just like the cramps, but you will also have to relocate to a cooler spot.
- Heat stroke: This is even more severe than the exhaustion. The symptoms can include those of the heat exhaustion, and also very high body temperature as well as a degradation of neural functioning. Heat stroke can damage inner organs, such as blood vessels, kidneys, liver and even brain. Heat stroke should be treated immediately by completely undressing, putting ice in armpits and groin, and getting fluids via IV. If it’s possible, the stroke’s victim should be transported to a hospital right away.
For more information of treating a heat stroke, here is a useful video from Howcast:
Surviving the Cold
Low temperatures can be deadly and lead to their own types of injuries. There are localized ones, such as frostbite, and systematic injuries, such as hypothermia. Let’s take a look at both of them.
Localized Cold Injuries and How to Treat Them
Cold injuries also have an order of severity.
- Frostnips: This is a very light type of cold injury, as a tissue does not freeze. The involved parts are usually the fingertips or the nose. A frostnip can be battled by simply warming the affected area.
- Chilblains: A chilblain is a somewhat similar phenomenon, but it comes along with dampness. Again, there is no freezing here, but a cold air can surely cause it. The skin will be covered with red patches, and later can even swell and get blisters, which will stay for weeks. Do not attempt to scratch your skin when this happens! Instead, apply calamine lotion, keep yourself warm and excercise to restore the blood flow.
- Trench foot: This injury is caused when your feet remain cold and wet (not frozen) for a long time. The results are cramps, severe itching, numb feeling in your extremities, and of course, pain. In some radical cases, a trench foot can lead to gangrene and demand amputation. It can be prevented if you constantly keep your feet warm, clean and dry. Periodically change your socks and always have a footwear that fits the climate.
- Frostbite: In this type of cold injury, a tissue’s freezing actually occurs. A frostbite can be superficial, affecting mostly the skin, which starts feeling kind of smooth and waxy and looking pale. There is usually no pain until the tissue is thawed, but blisters will appear afterwards. A deeper frostbite reaches muscles and tendons, which remain stiff even after the affected person warmed up. This type of a frostbite should be treated by a doctor right away, otherwise the damage will be irreparable.
A lot of these cold injuries can be prevented by staying dry and warm whenever you have the chance. If your clothes get wet and it’s cold out there, remove them at once. Always carry a sleeping bag and anything that will help you start fire, even if you don’t have matches or lighter. Layered clothing made of cold-resistant fabrics is your best friend.
Systematic Cold Injuries and How to Treat Them
When core body temperature drops below 95°F / 35°C, it’s a sure sign of hypothermia. It can happen to people who are facing extremely low temperatures, are trapped under an avalanche or in a freezing water. Symptoms can include fast heart beating, severe shaking, stiffness, nausea and disorientation. In the last stage of hypothermia, one loses the abilities to speak and think coherently, and to coordinate his or her movements. A victim of hypothermia will feel sleepy and fall asleep just before dying.
This is why it is imperative to keep them awake. A person who experiences hypothermia should be taken away from the source of the cold. They need to be rewarmed in order to survive this systematic cold injury. Any wet clothing should be removed, and the injured person must be covered in blankets. It is also highly advised to isolate the victim from a cold floor or ground. Make them drink warm fluids as you apply warm compresses. If hypothermia is diagnosed and treated in time, the affected person will survive.
Here is a video from ProCPR that demonstrates how different cold injuries are treated:
For additional information, I would like to direct you to FAQ on surviving extreme cold weather.
Surviving a Natural Disaster
Recent years saw a steep rise in devastating natural phenomena. Maybe it’s the climate change, maybe the planet had enough with us. Whatever the real cause is, it seems like not a month goes by that we have a share of:
- And a few more unpleasant surprises from Mother Nature
Any of these can force you leave your daily habitat and drive away from the danger. Alternatively, you can be stranded in your house without being able to leave it. Therefore, in order to survive a natural disaster, you must be prepared. The best way to survive the most extreme weather is to have an emergency kit. I made a list of the most recommended emergency kits that you should check out. Ideally, any emergency kit should contain at least the following items:
- First aid kit to treat assorted injuries and wounds. Among the common items, it should have something to help you treat a current disaster-related injuries. For instance, in case of wildfire, a first aid kit must include a burn relief spray or gel. It should also contain your prescription medicine. Feel free to read this ranked list of the best first aid kits.
- Water for every member of your party. Everyone should have a gallon of water for every day of your journey. You can supplement this with a portable filtration device, such as the highly recommended LifeStraw Personal Water Filter, which guarantees the complete removal of bacteria, parasites and pollutants from any source of drinking water. Click the link to see thousands of positive reviews that this emergency kit item received on Amazon.
- Food for every member of your party (including pet food for your dog or cat). Dry food can be neatly packed without adding too much to the overall weight of the kit. Make sure you have at least 2 weeks of food, whether you’re stuck at home, or escaping into the wilderness.
- Emergency signaling items, such as a flashlight with extra batteries.
- Navigation means, such as a map and a compass (learn how to choose a compass). Relying on a GPS or the Internet in your mobile phone can be tricky. The Internet can be down, or your electronic devices can run out of juice, without any option to recharge them.
- Radio, for the same reason (the Internet can be unavailable). You need to stay updated whether the disaster is progressing in your direction, or whether it is safe to return home or step outside your shelter. Bring a few batteries for the radio as well, or get one that can be charged with a hand crank.
- Mobile phone + charger. Despite what I said earlier, it’s a versatile tool that can also be used to contact emergency services or other family members.
- Tools that can help your survival. A multi-purpose tool is always a welcome addition to any emergency backpack. It’s usually very compact and can contain tons of useful tools, such as a knife, two types of screwdrivers (flat and Phillips), scissors, cutter, bottle opener, tweezers, and so on.
This list, of course, is not complete, but these items will definitely make a huge difference, as far as your personal survival in an extreme weather is concerned. Unless you are forced to survive on a deserted island, all these items can be easily purchased and gathered. There are a few more things that you probably should pack, such as cordage, fire starter, tent and important documents, among others. You can read the complete list in my article about what should be in a survival backpack.
Tips on Surviving Extreme Weather
Now you know how to deal with heat and cold injuries, and how to prepare an emergency kit. Let’s proceed to a list of very useful advices and tips that can be applied to almost any type of extreme weather. Although I briefly mentioned some of them earlier, they deserve a more detailed explanation.
- Any recovery from the effects of cold weather involves warming yourself up. However, don’t dive into a hot tub right away! This can lead to lack of orientation and loss of consciousness. Instead, do a few basic exercises and consume warm drinks. A hot tea is always a good option, much more preferable in this case to coffee.
- Wear several layers of clothing, but do so wisely. The layer closest to your body should be made of moisture wicking materials, such as silk, synthetics or wool. This way your skin will remain dry at all times. The mid layer should provide you with good insulation – a fleece is a good example. Then there is the external area, which should be made from a weather-resistant fabric. If you’re facing snowfall, rainfall or a fierce wind, your clothes should not encumber your movement, but rather protect you and keep you dry, warm and safe.
- Speaking of clothing – keep your fingers and toes protected. They suffer the most during a cold weather. Wear a suitable footwear and mittens. Mittens are better than gloves, since putting four fingers together helps creating additional body heat.
- Eat and drink to maintain the correct body temperature. Your meals must include more protein than usual before you go outside into the cold. Since protein demands more energy in order to be digested, the body heat will get higher and more suitable for the cold weather. Also, you must hydrate, even if you don’t feel thirsty. Hydrated body can resist the cold better. Again, drink tea or other non-alcoholic liquids. Despite the warm feeling, alcohol actually lowers the flow of blood to your skin by narrowing the blood vessels. Therefore, it is highly recommended to stay away from alcohol during the cold weather.
- Prepare your house, especially if you live in a disaster-prone area. Your water pipes should definitely be insulated to prevent freezing. Make any necessary repairs to your roof and ensure that the gutters are not blocked with any debris. Your windows and doors should be sealed with caulk and weather strips.
- If you must evacuate the area in a vehicle, stick to main roads and drive during daytime. The main roads are usually in a better condition, even during a rain, ice or snow. Drive carefully, don’t attempt to race other drivers or unnecessarily switch lanes. If you must stop, brake gently as you slow down. Pay attention to black ice, especially on bridges, don’t take it for a pavement by mistake.
There are a couple of books on Amazon that I strongly recommend taking with you, as they will assist you no matter what the weather throws against you.
Surviving Extreme Weather: How to Survive the Worst Storms, Floods, Droughts and Cold Spells is an excellent guide that prepares you for the worst weather possible. There is a chapter for every natural phenomenon that teaches you what to do when facing storms, snowfalls, drought, flood, and so on. The book prepares you for a variety of scenarios, whether you’re out there in the wild, or dealing with a disaster while living among other people. The book teaches how to prepare your house, how to foresee an upcoming disaster, how to build a shelter even while suffering from an extremely low temperature, and much, much more. This book perfectly supplements the article you just read, and can answer advanced question that you still might have. A must have for any survivalist!
Weather Wizard’s Cloud Book is a different approach to weather – it helps you to predict it. The book explains a famous and very accurate system that uses natural signs for the weather forecast. Thanks to this method, you will be able to follow any development of the local weather and foresee what it has in store for you. The system truly works, and its accuracy easily surpasses that of official forecasts and weather maps. With over 120 photos, this is a complete guide that help you being prepared long before any disaster strikes.
How can I stay warm inside a shelter? Heating your tent or portable shelter can be done in several ways. There are electric and halogen heaters, there are thermal blankets, tent insulations and wood stoves. If you don’t have any equipment, you can use heated stones, hot water bottles or even build the tent above the campfire. Naturally, each method has its advantages and disadvantages. How do any of these work? You will need to read the article on best ways to heat a tent to learn more.
How can I read the weather before it gets worse? There are old and proven ways to foresee the upcoming weather, in case you don’t have an Internet access or a radio. You can predict the weather by watching the sky, its color and the different shapes of clouds. You can also pay attention to the wind, the changes in the air pressure and the temperature trends. Animals and plants can be your forecasting friends, too, as their behavior or foliage can hint either at the immediate weather change or at the next season’s conditions. To learn more about this, I invite you to check my article on reading the weather for survival.
What other survival skills do I need to possess before facing extreme conditions? A true survivalist has enough essential knowledge that will help him to face the harshest of challenged. For instance, you need to know how to treat a wound, build shelter, start fire even without matches, navigate the terrain using the stars, collect water, forage and prepare food, and a few more basic survival skills.