Keep warm in the cold: Tips from an expert

Eight feet of snow. Twenty degrees below zero. Joe knows cold.

An Emergency Turner for Louisville Water, Joe Lueke has worked in frigid temperatures not only during his 23 years at the company but also during his eight years as a U.S. Marine. His service included deployments in Iceland, Greenland and Norway.

Through cold weather training, Lueke got first-hand experience with how cold it gets “172 miles north of the Arctic Circle,” he said.

Working for Louisville Water, Lueke is often the first person on the scene if there’s a main break (because he has to turn off the water), and freezing temperatures can cause a higher number of breaks than normal.

So Lueke has developed several strategies to keep warm when the thermometer drops. He shares these tips:

Start at the top. 

“A good wool or fleece toboggan” is a critical piece of clothing, Lueke said. You can lose a lot of heat through the top of your head so “you always need to keep it covered.”

Pick the right gloves.

Of course, good gloves are important too, and Lueke points out that Louisville Water crew members often keep two or three pairs with different thicknesses in their trucks. That way they always have gloves that fit the weather as well as the type of task they need to perform. Multiple pairs of gloves also give them spares if one gets wet.

Put on three or four layers.

This is old advice that some people ignore nowadays because coats made of modern materials, such as Gore-Tex, can seem plenty warm. But Lueke says three or four thin layers still keep you warmer than one thick layer, and they give you the ability to put on or remove layers as you get warmer or colder. Besides, a bulky coat can get in the way of the work you need to do (such as turning off valves if a ruptured pipe is gushing water into the street).

Wear wool.

It usually keeps you warmer than other types of material, Lueke said, so you should “wear wool whenever possible.”

He noted that he wears wool socks during cold weather. If you wear cotton socks and they get wet — either from water getting inside your boot or from your own sweat — they soak up the moisture and there’s a chance they could freeze, which would definitely make you miserable and might even lead to frostbite.

Lueke, who likes to hunt in the winter, said he doesn’t use disposable hand or feet warmers. He’s tried them, but he found that they’re usually more trouble than they’re worth.

They can help keep you warm “if you’re just standing there,” he said, but when you move they tend to shift around in your clothing and make you uncomfortable.

On the job for Louisville Water, Lueke can get in his truck to warm up if he’s waiting for other crew members to arrive at a site, but he said that simply keeping moving usually keeps him warm enough.

“If you’re working hard and doing your job,” he said, “you’re not going to get that cold anyway.”