What could be more fun on a winter day than building igloos or snow forts–the possible exception being nailing your pesky brother with a snowball. But then there’s the danger of retaliation! The Washington Post reported on Jan. 29 that a couple in Virginia made a super big snow fortress with lights and all! So it’s safer to stick with snow forts for winter safety. Or maybe not. Every year, kids are endangered by the very snow forts they so enjoy. Along with hypothermia, frost bite and falling on ice, “snow drowning” or engulfments in snow forts are top winter safety hazards. It’s similar to the grain engulfments that killed three Canadian sisters in 2015. Snow drowning is like sand engulfments that occur when kids play in the sand.
This is a very important winter safety message to parents and children. Don’t play or let someone you love play in insubstantial things like snow, grain or sand. Okay so yes, snow freezes hard, unlike grain or sand. But anything that can collapse on a child puts him in danger of engulfments, even really cool igloos. And snow forts and sand castles collapse very easily. Children get trapped and suffocate. They have no choice but to inhale snow or sand. It fills their lungs which is essentially drowning. Children playing in snow forts or tiny igloos are heavily bundled making it even more difficult to escape.
Sand or snow drowning is worse than being trapped in tiny spaces like baby Jessica McClure who was stuck in a well. She had enough air to cry and sing. But it’s a concern if there are inhalants, like snow, sand or grain, that can choke kids. Drowning happens very quickly. The three girls who died in grain engulfments were only under the grain a short time. They weren’t little children but teens. They couldn’t even swim their own way out, let alone help each other. So three children died tragically and needlessly. Even kids survive, they may have brain damage from lack of oxygen. They may have lung problems from inhalation.
Don’t misunderstand—children should play outside, even in winter so long as they are properly dressed and observe winter safety precautions. There is no fun so fun as playing at the beach on a summer day or in the snow in winter. And building sand castles and snow forts teaches engineering and boosts creativity. The point is to play near them, not in them. Build open igloos and snow tunnels no taller than thigh high. Don’t get inside snow forts. Kids can put dolls or action figures in snow forts, but not themselves. No matter how cool igloos are or how sturdily they are constructed. fragile, temporary play structures like snow forts are accidents waiting to happen.
Let kids tunnel and build snow forts but outside structures. If the unthinkable should happen and you’re in sand or snow, find an air pocket and breathe slowly. Don’t panic or scramble about–you’ll only get wedged in more tightly. It’s not helicopter parenting to curtail how kids play in sand and snow. It’s common winter safety sense.