People familiar with harsh winters understand specific precautions must be taken to effectively contend with storms and cold temperatures. Both can be dangerous or even deadly for the unprepared or those who do not respect the power and unpredictability of nature.
Still, many of us are not ready for winter’s arrival. Planning ahead and preparing yourself, your home and your cars can give you the upper hand when dealing with power outages or heading outdoors, be it for travel, recreation or out of necessity. If you are prepared for winter’s potential hazards, you’ll be more likely to stay safe and healthy when temperatures drop.
Many people prefer to remain indoors during winter, but your home must be appropriately outfitted in order to be a sanctuary from the cold. Be prepared for weather-related emergencies, including power outages. Stock canned and dry food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, and store water in clean containers.
Be ready to check on family and neighbors who are especially at risk from cold weather hazards: young children, older adults and the chronically ill. If you have pets, bring them inside. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate, warm shelter and unfrozen water to drink.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests taking the following steps to help keep your home – and you and your family – safe and warm during the winter:
Install weather stripping, insulation, and storm windows.
Insulate water lines that run along exterior walls.
Clean out gutters and repair roof leaks.
Check your heating systems.
Have your heating system serviced professionally to make sure that it is clean, working properly, and ventilated to the outside.
Inspect and clean fireplaces and chimneys.
Install a smoke detector. Test batteries monthly and replace them twice a year.
Have a safe alternate heating source and alternate fuels available.
Prevent carbon monoxide emergencies.
Install a CO detector to alert you of the presence of the deadly, odorless, colorless gas. Check batteries when you change your clocks in the fall and spring.
Learn symptoms of CO poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
Get your car ready for cold weather use before winter arrives, and when planning to travel be aware of the current weather and forecast for conditions you may encounter.
Service the radiator and maintain the antifreeze level and check tire tread. You may even want to consider replacing tires with all-weather or snow tires. Keep the gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines and use a wintertime formula in your windshield washer.
Prepare a winter emergency kit to keep in your car in case you become stranded. The kit should include a portable cell phone charger, blankets, food and water, a first-aid kit, booster cables, flares, tire pump, and a bag of sand or cat litter in the event you get stuck in mud or snow. It is also advisable to pack a compass, maps, flashlight, battery-powered radio and extra batteries, first-aid kit and plastic bags you can use as trash or waste receptacles.
Many people spend time outdoors in the winter, whether working, traveling or enjoying winter sports. Outdoor activities can expose you to several safety hazards; so be prepared for what winter might throw at you.
Wear appropriate outdoor clothing such as a tightly woven and preferably wind-resistant coat or jacket over layers of light, warm clothing. Wear or bring with you gloves, hats, scarves and waterproof boots. Even if you are heading to work or a formal outing, a situation where you need to be more appropriately clothed may arise.
To reduce the likelihood of falls, sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches on sidewalks and driveways. If taking care of outdoor chores, work slowly.
If you are going on an outing or adventure, take a friend or let someone know where you are headed. And always bring a first-aid kit and a fully charged cell phone.
When planning travel, be aware of current weather and forecast, and avoid traveling when the weather service has issued advisories. If you must travel, inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival.
Follow these safety rules if you become stranded in your car.
Make your car visible to rescuers. Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna, raise the hood of the car (if it is not snowing), and turn on the inside overhead lights (when your engine is running).
Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area. Stay with your car unless safety is no more than 100 yards away.
Keep your body warm. Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers. Huddle with other people if you can.
Stay awake and stay moving. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems. As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve circulation and stay warmer.
Run the motor and heater for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. Make sure snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe — this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
You can’t stop winter or the cold, but you can be ready for them when they come.