Tech & Science

No Pants Subway Ride: Please Don't Get Naked in a Bomb Cyclone, Doctors Advise

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A man without pants travels in a subway during the 'No Pants Subway Ride' in New York on January 8, 2017. KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images

The annual No Pants Subway Ride returns Sunday to cities across the world, and in related news, a temperature at which it might conceivably be reasonable to wear no pants while riding the subway in a ton of those cities does not.

The No Pants Subway Ride has been a January tradition since Improv Everywhere kicked it off in 2002. In New York City, where it originated, the temperature will be approximately 20 degrees Fahrenheit when the festivities are scheduled to commence at 3 p.m. eastern time.

The East Coast of the United States is in the midst of a massive winter storm with record-breaking low temperatures. More than 21 people have already died, some of them from exposure and hypothermia. Let's now take a few moments to discuss the conditions under which a person is likely to develop frostbite.

Dr. George Willis, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center, told Newsweek there’s no exact threshold below which frostbite commences, but that there’s a risk any time the temperature drops lower than around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. And of course, the lower the temperature, the less exposure you need to develop it. 

“If they're in average health with no medical complications, people develop signs in around 30 minutes to an hour,” Willis said. “But it could be after 20 minutes. So if they were naked, or not wearing pants or any kind of covering...yeah.”

"The first thing you need to do is get to a warm area," Willis said. “Definitely do not try to get the exposed extremities warm by rubbing them with your hands, or with friction of any sort."

One of the biggest mistakes people make after too much exposure to the cold is instinctively rubbing the skin to warm it. Friction will amplify the damage your skin's already endured and then some. You know what else causes friction? Frozen, naked thighs sticking and unsticking from a subway seat, or being scraped by the nylon. outerwear everyone else is wearing, or immediately yanking on pants once off the train.

Moisture makes frostbite damage worse, too. Like, say, if you were sweating or being exposed to snow and slush. Once back in a warm, dry, frictionless place—so, the opposite of a crowded subway—don’t use hot water to warm up if you think there’s a chance of frostbite.

“You can get third-degree burns using hot water to rewarm,” Willis said. “Use lukewarm water or actually even cold water. That temperature will still be warmer than your skin.”

Signs of imminent frostbite vary from person to person, but generally, the first sensation is a “bite,” which then grows more painful. The extremities afflicted will then become progressively more numb, which can be dangerous because it leads people to underestimate how much damage they’re actually suffering.

Willis said higher-risk demographics here are the elderly, because they often have weakened nervous systems or might not be fully cognizant of what’s happening, and anyone who’s been drinking alcohol, for the same reasons just more so, since alcohol also lowers internal body temperature. People with diabetes are at greater risk, too, as are those with poor circulation.

Depending on your skin tone, frostbitten areas might first turn redder than usual, then move in a more whitish or yellowish direction. That means your circulation’s being cut off. Please consider pants this weekend.

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