Most people are aware of the risk of falling due to snowy and icy conditions. But there’s another weather phenomena — high winds — that also pose a threat.
On April 23, Wichita recorded sustained winds of 29 miles per hour, with gusts up to 54 miles per hour around noon. On that day, an 87-year-old woman fell because of a wind gust and broke her hip. According to a local hospital, five older residents fell and broke their hips because of windy conditions during the latter part of April.
Kelly Butler, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said awareness is the best way to prevent falls during high wind. Check the wind speed as you would the temperature and make decisions on your activities for the day based on those details.
What wind speed are you comfortable in, what activities can you safely perform outdoors if there is high sustained wind or gusts? Many people may not be able to answer those questions now but next time you’re out in the Kansas wind, observe what speed of wind you can comfortably walk in and maintain your balance. Consider if there are any places you frequent where you experience higher wind and gusts — for example, where you feel a wind tunnel effect or the wind seems higher in less densely populated neighborhoods.
If wind gusts on a particular day are over your comfort zone, stay inside and wait to complete those outdoor tasks or exercise until the wind settles to a more manageable level. Weather apps can help you track wind speed during the course of the day, and the National Weather Service issues advisories and warnings (see its Wind Information Page at https://www.weather.gov/dmx/dsswind).
A fall can occur in any situation, no matter your age or physical conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that over 800,000 people a year are hospitalized in the United States with fall injuries. At least 300,000 older people are hospitalized for hip fractures annually, mostly caused by falling. Older adults often have underlying reasons for falls, including low blood pressure, leg weakness and poor flexibility. High winds pose another threat.
The Central Plains Area Agency on Aging is taking an informal poll: if you’ve fallen due to the high winds please email email@example.com and tell us your experience. Your name will be kept confidential.
Monica Cissell is director of information and community services for CPAAA.