Frostbite within 5 minutes in Minnesota's extreme cold

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Photo Courtesy: Regions Hospital

The brutal temperatures sweeping through Minnesota this week can be very dangerous, especially if you're not prepared for the elements. With wind chills dropping to 40 or 50 below zero, frostbite is possible in less than five minutes.

"It's a hostile place to be without adequate clothing as you know," said Minneapolis Police Sgt. Grant Snyder.

Monday night, Sgt. Snyder spread some warmth to those who live on the streets in downtown Minneapolis. He handed out hats, gloves and blankets to help prevent the homeless from getting frostbite.

"It's a huge issue,” said Sgt. Snyder. “As you can see, you don't have to stand out here on Hennepin Ave. for very long. You'll see people walking up and down with no hats, no gloves, no socks, or maybe a hoodie. It’s not going to keep them warm."

During a typical winter weekend, doctors at Regions Hospital usually see one or two cases of frostbite, but they have treated 20 to 25 cases since last Friday alone. They expect even more when the temperature plunges in the days ahead.

"Typically, it’s people who are inadvertently locked out, maybe they fall, maybe they are walking and get lost,” said Dr. David Dries. “Some people get stranded in their vehicles."

Dr. Dries says frostbite can cause swelling, blistering and discoloration of the fingers, ears and toes and in extreme cases, can even lead to losing those extremities. He also says the best way to avoid freezing your extremities is to wear proper winter clothing and minimize the time you spend outside, especially when the temperature is below zero.

"There's isn't a magic bullet, but this is the time of year when it’s very important to remind people of the basics,” said Dr. Dries.

Unfortunately for the homeless, it’s not always easy to get out of the elements, but Sgt. Snyder hopes his handouts warm more than just a few hearts.

"It’s a tragedy that everyone out here on the street lives with,” he said. “If you are homeless long enough in a Minnesota winter at some point, you probably will get some level of frostbite."

Dr. Dries says it’s especially important to keep a close eye on children on days with extreme weather, since they don't have the same judgement as adults and might not realize they have frostbite when they are playing outside until it’s too late.