The old adage that it isn’t fit weather for man nor beast has particular meaning as temperatures have plummeted to near record lows, even for January in New England.

Yesterday, Ray Whitley, of Salisbury, an observer for the National Weather Service, was recording some interesting numbers, and warning that frigid temperatures are nothing to take lightly.

It’s dangerously cold, he said, and even when wearing warm clothing, those who venture out should limit their exposure to no more than 30 minutes, and that includes two- and four-legged creatures, and those who are shoveling or playing in the fluffy white stuff.

“The uniqueness of this storm is that we don’t usually see snow when the temperature drops to zero degrees or below,” Whitley said. “(Friday) morning it was -2 degrees. And it will probably drop down to -5 degrees (Friday) night.”

January is the coldest month of the year, he said, but it’s been years since this type of cold has settled in.

If going out can’t be avoided, then take care when dressing. Wear layers of clothing made of fabrics that breathe, Whitley said, always wear hats, warm gloves and socks, and if possible, shoes or boots with insulating factors. Mittens warm better than gloves, Whitley added, but once clothing gets wet, it loses its protective properties.

Fingers and hands, feet, toes, and exposed skin are especially vulnerable to the cold and should be covered while outdoors.

“The reason our fingers and toes get cold first is that our bodies pull heat in from our extremities into the (core) to protect our vital organs,” Whitley said. “In this kind of weather, frostbite can set in within 30 minutes.”

Those who think they don’t need to dress warmly because they’re just going from warmth to their heated vehicles need to think again and think ahead.

“Because we run from our house to our cars some people think they don’t need to dress properly,” Whitley said. “But if your car breaks down, then you’re in trouble because you’re not prepared.”

Pets need protection, too, during low temperatures, especially young, older, or sick animals and the smaller breeds. And this is no time to leave dogs outdoors in dog houses.

According to Salisbury veterinarian Dr. Heidi Bassler, most people in the region own house pets who are used to the warmth of the indoors. Although farm dogs with heavy coats who are more accustomed to living in barns than houses might be heartier, that isn’t the case for most, she said.

So, pet owners with house animals need to be sensible when taking their animals outdoors in extreme colds.

“People need to use common sense, if it’s too cold for us to be out for a long time then it’s too cold for our pets,” Bassler said.

Larger dogs particularly affected by the cold are those with short hair, like Dobermans, as well as small breeds. Using a sweater for these animals when they go out is a good idea, Bassler said. Like humans, pet extremities are subject to frostbite. Ears, noses, tail tips, can be a problem, so keep exposure to a minimum.

When ice enters the picture and salt or chemical snow melts cover the ground, washing off paws is a good precaution. These substances can irritate paws, cause them to crack, and also lead to dogs or cats licking off the chemicals, which isn’t advisable.

“Wiping off paws when your pet comes in, or even keeping a small bowl of warm water handy to dip paws in would be good,” Bassler said.

January is the month that traditionally gets the most snow, Whitley said, but so far this winter has already outdone itself. This snowfall averaged 11 inches throughout his observation territory from Greenland, N.H., to Haverhill and Ipswich, he said. Added to the 17 inches of snow that’s already occurred since November, that puts the region at 28 inches already.

“We’re already ahead on snowfall so far,” Whitley said. “We usually average about 53 or 54 inches of snow throughout the entire winter that runs from November to April.”

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