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How Long Can You Survive In Freezing Water?

Have you ever wondered how cold it has to be before hypothermia and frostbite become health threats?

Experts say in most cases, the temperature must be below 32 degrees.

But wind chill, how well skin is protected and moisture levels factor into the risk. According to the mayoclinic.com, "hypothermia occurs most commonly at freezing temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures(above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat or submersion in cold water."

The United States Search and Rescue Task Force has a risk list for when hypothermia might set in if you are submersed in water:

Water temperature: 32 degrees or below
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: Less than 15 minutes
Expected time of survival in the water: Less than 15 to 45 minutes

Water temperature: 32.5 to 40 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 15 to 30 minutes
Expected time of survival in the water: 30 to 90 minutes

Water temperature: 40 to 50 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 30 to 60 minutes
Expected time of survival in the water: 1 to 3 hours

Water temperature: 50 to 60 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 1 to 2 hours
Expected time of survival in the water: 1 to 6 hours

Water temperature: 60 to 70 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 2 to 7 hours
Expected time of survival in the water: 2 to 40 hours

Water temperature: 70 to 80 degrees
Time until exhaustion or unconsciousness: 3 to 12 hours
Expected time of survival in the water: 3 hours to indefinite

People can survive indefinitely in water temperatures above 80 degrees.

People have survived longer or shorter periods of time than outlined on this list. These are estimates.

Eastern Carolina's waterways and ocean temperatures range from 40-60 degrees this time of year.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature has to be below freezing in order to get frostbite on exposed skin. Experts say the areas most likely impacted are your hands, feet, nose and ears. Frostbitten skin is hard, pale and cold and becomes red and painful as it thaws.

The symptoms of hypothermia are shivering and what the experts call the "-umbles": stumbles, mumbles, fumbles and grumbles. Mayoclinic.com says other symptoms may include: slurred speech, abnormally slow rate of breathing, cold, pale skin, fatigue, lethargy or apathy. In severe cases, hypothermia can lead to death. Young children and the elderly are most vulnerable.

For more information about the risks, symptoms, prevention and treatment of hypothermia and frostbite, click on the related links below.


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