Typically, winters in this region are mild, but there have been instances where conditions (primarily ice) have wrecked havoc on the populace by tying up traffic, downing power lines, and isolating residents. Many of you will find yourselves traveling the highways to visit with relatives during this time of year. As with everything else, a little preparedness goes a long way toward providing peace of mind for you and your loved ones.
Safety Steps for Winter Weather
To help keep you safe this winter, take a few minutes to review the everyday precautions that follow.
Winter temperatures can be deceiving. Thermometers measure only the cold. Don't forget that the effects on your body are compounded by the wind. The combined effect of winter cold and wind speed is called wind chill.The dangerous effects of wind chill rise as the temperature drops and the wind increases. Heat is carried away faster from the skin, driving down body temperature. This can lead to frostbite or hypothermia.
- Low Body Temperature
- Warning signs
- Uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.
- Take the person's body temperature. If it is below 95°F (35°C), immediately seek medical care.
Sources: American Red Cross; National Weather Service
Dressing for Winter Weather
To avoid a chill, try to stay warm and dry. Layering clothes helps prepare you for different conditions and activities. Use three essential layers - underwear, insulation and outer shell - in different combinations to maintain comfort through changes in weather and exertion levels:
Plan from head to toe. Wear a hat, which can save half your body heat loss. If needed, wear layers of pants to keep your legs warm. Gloves and warm socks help protect fingers and toes, where you can first feel the effects of cold temperatures.
- Provide basic insulation and moves moisture away from skin, preventing chill when activity stops.
- Choose long underwear, or thin, snug-fitting pants with a long-sleeved T-shirt or turtleneck.
- Use one or more layers, depending on conditions.
- Sweaters, sweatshirts and other similar garments are good insulators. Some newer insulating pieces are also suitable as an outer shell in milder weather.
- Choose garments that are windproof, and preferably waterproof, such as those made of coated nylon or polyester. Many shells - such as ski-style jackets or parkas - combine the outer and insulating layers.
- Good fit is crucial. If the shell is too big, heat loss can occur rapidly. If it is too small, you may not have enough room for insulating layers.
Source: Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI)
Walks & Drives
Treading a slick sidewalk or moving your car from a slippery driveway can be dangerous. Accidental deaths occur most frequently in January, when an estimate 1,000 people die from falls outside the house.
To increase safety of family, friends, and neighbors, keep your walkways and driveway free from snow and ice. Snow blowers and ice-melting granules make the process much easier and less physically demanding.
When the weather turns nasty -
- Act early. It's easier to remove snow immediately following a snowfall, before it becomes packed or turns to ice. When heavy wet snow, sleet or freezing rain begins, prevent ice from forming by spreading ice melters. Reapply later, after removing any accumulation.
- Remove ice and provide traction to keep walkways safe. Many ice melters can help reduce the risk of slips and falls, and are more effective than household items like sand or kitty litter. Be sure to check the package labels. Always look for products than do not irritate skin, require special handling or protective clothing, or contain harsh chemicals. Follow directions carefully.
- Clear a wide path. When snow accumulates, take extra time to clear more than just a single shovel width on sidewalks. It will make waling easier and safer.
Source: National Safety Council statistic; Koos, Inc.
Shoveling demands heavy physical exertion. The strain from the cold and hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating from overexertion can lead to a chill and hypothermia. Seek alternatives to shoveling. Use a snow blower and ice-melting products to help make snow removal easier. Get help from others.
If you must shovel, remember to -
- Take it slow; do it carefully.
- Lift small amounts, especially when removing heavy snow, slush or ice.
- Use proper posture to prevent back strain. Keep your back straight, and lift gently from the knees and hips. Stop if you feel pain or become short of breath.
Source: American Association of Orthopedic Medicin
Before a Storm or Emergency
Check your emergency supplies. As with your hurricane preparedness, you need drinking water, first aid kits, nonperishable/canned foods (and a method of opening them), flashlights and radio, along with spare batteries. If it is your intent to stay at home in times of power outages, have a safe alternate heat source, such as a fireplace, wood burning stove, kerosene heater or camp stove. Remember, during the storm is not the time to consider where your fuel is coming from. Lay in your supply before you need it. Now is also a great time to check those smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Do not forget extra bedding, particularly if you anticipate additional family members coming to wait out the storm at your home.
Get and keep your vehicles in good working order, and keep them fueled. Put a mini winter emergency kit in each of your vehicles, especially if you plan to travel.
Remind your family what the warning terms mean and the actions you should take in each.
- Winter Storm Watch
- Be alert, a storm is likely.
- Winter Storm Warning
- Take action, the storm is in or entering the area.
- Blizzard Warning
- Snow and wind combine to produce blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill, seek refuge immediately.
- Winter Weather Advisory
- Weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, especially to motorists.
- Frost/Freeze Warning
- Below freezing temperatures are expected and may cause damage to plants, especially crops and fruit trees.
Discuss with others in your family how to contact household members in case of separation. Use a common out-of-area (different county or state) contact in the event you have to evacuate your residence.
Know how to turn off gas, electric power and water to your home. Plan ahead of time on what you should do to assist elderly or disabled friends and neighbors in your area.
During a Storm or Emergency
Keep informed of developing weather conditions by tuning into your local radio/TV station. If you have one, monitor your NOAA weather radio for updates. Keep your emergency kit available in case you have to evacuate your residence. If you go outside, dress for the elements. Remember, dressing in several layers of loose fitting clothing is more efficient than wearing a single heavy coat. Wear a hat and gloves (mittens are actually preferable as they are warmer). Outer clothing and footwear should be water repellent and of sturdy construction.
Eat and drink regularly. Fluid intake is as important in cold weather as it is in warm weather. You are as susceptible to dehydration in the winter as you are in the summer.
Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your house cooler than normal. Ensure ventilation is adequate if you are using kerosene or other type stoves. Fill kerosene stoves outside, after the wick has been extinguished. Keep a fire extinguisher handy, especially when using alternate heat sources.
Avoid travel if possible during any storm. Stay on main roads if you are forced to travel, and try never to travel alone. Make others aware of your schedule when you are traveling. Try to keep your fuel tank at least half full all the time.
After the Storm or Emergency
When possible, conduct a check of your home and the surrounding neighborhood. Dress appropriately, including footwear that can offer a degree of traction. There will be patches of ice where you least expect them and now is not the time to fall and break something. Report downed power lines and broken gas lines immediately. Check on your neighbors, especially those you know might need your help. Be careful not to overexert yourself and watch for the same in others. It is a natural tendency to do to much to soon.
Winter storms do not visit our area very often, but when they do, problems arise. Many of the recommendations are just good common sense, but yet the tendency is to forget what we have learned from experience. Be safe this winter and enjoy. Have a great holiday season.