One of the most difficult survival situations is cold weather. Every time you venture into the cold, you're pitting yourself against the elements. But with just a little knowledge of the environment, proper plans and the right equipment, you can overcome the elements. As you remove one or more of these factors, survival becomes more and more difficult. Remember, winter weather is highly variable. Prepare yourself to adapt to blizzard conditions even during sunny and clear weather.
Cold is a far greater threat to survival than it appears. It decreases your ability to think and weakens your will to do anything except to get warm. Cold is an insidious enemy; as it numbs the mind and body, it subdues the will to survive. Cold makes it very easy to forget your ultimate goal: to live.
Cold regions include arctic and subarctic areas and areas adjoining them. About 48 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s total landmass is classified as a cold region due to the influence and extent of air temperatures. Ocean currents affect cold weather and cause large areas normally included in the temperate zone to fall within the cold regions during the winter.
Elevation also plays a big role in defining cold regions. Within the cold weather regions, you may face two types of cold weather environments: wet or dry. Knowing in which environment your area of operations falls will affect planning and execution of a cold-weather operation.
Wet cold-weather conditions exist when the average temperature over 24 hours is minus 10 degrees Celsius or above. Characteristics of this condition are freezing during the colder night hours and thawing during the day. Even though the temperatures are warmer in wet cold-weather environments, slush and mud usually make the terrain very sloppy. You must concentrate on protecting yourself from the wet ground and from freezing rain or wet snow.
Dry cold-weather conditions exist when the average temperature in a 24-hour period remains below 10 degrees Celsius. Even though the temperatures in this environment are much lower than normal, you do not have to contend with the freezing and thawing.
In these conditions, you need more layers of inner clothing to protect you from temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees C. Extremely hazardous conditions exist when wind and low temperature combine.
Windchill increases the hazards in cold regions. Windchill is the effect of moving air on exposed flesh. For instance, with a 27.8-kph (15-knot) wind and a temperature of minus 10 degrees C, the equivalent windchill temperature is minus 23 degrees C.
Remember, even when there is no wind, you will create wind by skiing, running, being towed on skis behind a vehicle or working around aircraft that produce wind blasts.