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Editor’s Note: I know it’s a little late for an article about blizzards, but they’ve been known to hit up North in the middle of spring. And it will be snowing in Australia in a few months, so for my readers down under, here go you.
With every winter comes the threat of severe snow storms, and this winter is no exception. It’s imperative to learn some basic winter precautions before bunkering in. Once the storm has passed, the danger isn’t over. There are also many precautions one must take when going outside after a blizzard. Here are 6 tips to help you survive.
1. Beware of Carbon Monoxide
When cleaning snow off a car, beware of carbon monoxide. According to the CDC, “Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.” People also die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning when the gas becomes trapped around their vehicle in the snow.
Invest in battery powered carbon monoxide detectors. Keep one in your home and car. Be aware that it’s dangerous to sit out a snowstorm with the engine running. In a blizzard, your car exhaust pipe can become clogged or blocked sending the poisonous, odorless, gas back into the vehicle.
2. Know The Signs of Hypothermia
Interestingly, in the end stages of hypothermia, people tend to believe that they are getting hotter and hotter. In their hypothermic delusional state they actually start removing warm clothing. Of course this just expedites the freezing process.
When stuck in a chilling situation, beware of the signs of hypothermia. Of course, one should never try to camp out in below freezing temperatures. But sometimes things happen and you get stuck. Be aware of the possibilities and take proper precautions.
3. Purchase Snow Tires
Optimally, have two sets of tires – one set for winter and one for regular dry-season wear. Make room in your budget for two alternating sets. It can make driving on snowy or slippery roads easier and safer. Snow tires have extra traction and can grip the road like a beast. They also wear out quickly on dry roads so they’re not recommended for year-round use.
Winter tires can definitely make a big difference. Snow tires are still flexible at below 45 degrees. This gives you biting edges and an advantage over all-season tires. The general rule is to change to snow tires in October and then change them back around April.
4. Stock up on supplies
Pack a winter appropriate bag of necessary supplies to keep you and your family safe. In the event of a severe weather warning there is usually less than half a day to prepare. In such cases most people will be scrambling to purchase needed items from their nearest stores. Many stores will run out of essential items quickly.
Beat the crowds and make sure that you keep appropriate quantities of important items. Collect easy to prepare food, potable water, candles, lanterns, and a battery-powered or wind up radio in case of emergency. If the power goes out, or utilities are adversely affected, it can sometimes take days to restore power to all neighborhoods. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
Keep a winter storm survival kit in a secure place in case of a cold weather emergency. Homemade kits should contain everything from blankets to flashlights with extra batteries. Also gather: waterproof matches, shovel, windshield scraper, tool kit, jumper cables, water container, road maps, and flares. To stay safe in a winter storm situation it’s important that precautions are taken prior to the storm’s arrival. Keep abreast of local weather conditions and be aware of blizzard warnings. While the classifications for conditions are the same as a winter storm watch, a warning means that these conditions are expected within the next 12 hours or sooner.
5. Stay As Warm As Possible
I know, that’s pretty obvious, but here’s how to do it. If you’re indoors when the storm hits be sure to stay inside and close off unneeded rooms. To conserve heat be sure to cover the windows at night. Stuff old towels or rags inside cracks and underneath doors to prevent cool drafts in the rooms you’re occupying. Eat and drink often to prevent dehydration. Wear layers of loose-fitting, light-weight and warm clothing.
If caught outside, work to find a dry shelter immediately and cover all exposed body parts. In the unfortunate event that you are caught outdoors without shelter, prepare a lean-to, wind break, or snow-cave up against a building or other solid structure or tree for protection against the wind. Build a fire for heat and attention purposes. Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect the heat. Melt snow before consuming.
If the storm hits and you are stranded in your vehicle, stay inside your vehicle but only run the motor for ten minutes each hour. Crack the windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically check that the exhaust pipe is clear and snow isn’t covering the outlet. Tie a colored cloth to your antenna or door to make your car more visible to rescue workers in the snow. Once the snow stops falling, raise the hood to signal distress. Move around in the car to keep warm and get your blood flowing.
6. Use Smaller Snow Shovels and Know Your Limits
After every big winter storm there is usually a surge in heart attacks as people over-exert themselves in the cold weather. Shoveling snow poses an increased risk for heart attack – especially in cardiac patients and those with high blood pressure. People most at risk are those over 55, who are sedentary, and have known coronary heart disease or other risk factors.
Snow shoveling increases blood pressure and heart rate from the activity and exertion. The cold temperatures also constrict blood vessels. The low temperature causes blood to thicken and become more prone to clotting. It’s a combination that kills over a 100 people every year. A study by researchers at the US Nationwide Children’s Hospital looked at data from 1990 to 2006. Researchers noted that while cardiac-related injuries accounted for only 7 percent of the total number of injuries, they were the most serious. Cardiac related injuries accounting for more than half of the hospitalizations and 100 percent of the 1,647 fatalities associated with shoveling snow.
I know it seems counter-intuitive, but some people may want to invest in a small snow shovel to make snow-shoveling less strenuous. Use your leg muscles to lift the snow and not your lower back – even push the snow if needed. Be sure to dress very warm to avoid inflammation and take frequent breaks.
With the proper precautions and some ahead-of-time planning, you will survive a winter weather event with ease. Don’t be afraid of inclement weather emergency situations, just be prepared.