How long does it take to get frostbite?

How likely are you to get frostbite when it’s cold
outside? Growing up in the UK, frostbite was the
stuff of fantasy, something intrepid explorers and
fictional adventurers suffered from, not ordinary people. And for some reason in my imagination, it inevitably ended up with body parts
being hacked off. So Michigan winters have come as
something of a shock to me. This was brought home recently while
walking the 10 bitterly cold minutes between my car and
my office one morning. As my admittedly uncovered years
started to burn, began to feel my English certainty
crumble. Just how quickly does frostbite set in? Frostbite occurs when your skin and
flesh freeze. If you left a severed finger lying
around, this would happen at temperatures of just below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, or zero degrees
Celsius in grown-up numbers. Fortunately, body parts that are still
attached are warmed by circulating blood, and as a result don’t start to freeze until you get to -10 degrees Fahrenheit or so. Even then, you’d need to hang around outside
with your extremities exposed for quite some time before you had a problem. But if it’s cold enough outside and you
aren’t wrapped up warm, parts of your body can begin to freeze.
This leads to the stuff you are made of being damaged, and frostbite sets in. In calm air you
need to stand around in temperatures below minus 10 to minus 20 degrees
Fahrenheit for a long time before frostbite becomes an issue. When the wind gets up though it’s a
different story. Wind doesn’t change how cold the air is, but
it does alter how fast it can suck the heat out of you. Once you get below 32
degrees Fahrenheit, the higher the wind speed the faster you
freeze. Its a simple as that. And this is important if you’re worried
about frostbite, as the faster you freeze, the faster
frostbite sets in, and the more severe it’s likely to be.
According to the US National Weather Service, at minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit
and a five-mile-per-hour breeze, it’ll take
around 30 minutes before you need to worry too much. Get down to minus 15 degrees and 30
miles per hour winds, and your uncovered extremities have
around 10 minutes before they begin to solidify. And by the time you’re down to minus 20
degrees in 35 miles per hour winds, five minutes outside will be enough to
turn your ears into frozen popsicles! Thankfully my experience walking between the car and
the office was just a painful reminder of how bitterly cold Michigan can get, and not a
prelude to losing an ear or two. I’d have had to be outside for a good 30
minutes for any serious damage to set in at those temperatures. And even then the damage would most likely
be reversible. And there’s another myth about frostbite
from my childhood busted. Frostbite doesn’t necessarily
lead to amputated body parts. But it is sobering to think
that with some of the conditions we’ve experienced this winter, just 10 minutes outside without the
right clothing could have led to some serious damage. To learn more about frostbite, check out the links below. And as always,
please do join the conversation in the comments.