Red Cross Urges Preparedness for Winter Weather

Frigid temperatures, biting winds, ice and snow are causing quite a mess for much of the Midwest and the East coast. The winter storm dumped more than a foot of snow in some areas, and nearly two feet in others, just at the time when people were beginning their Christmas holiday travel and now when they are traveling back home.

With millions of Americans hitting the road for holiday travel, the American Red Cross is urging families and individuals to take precautions against the dangers of wintry weather.

Prepare a Winter Storm Plan:

  • Have extra blankets on hand.
  • Ensure that each member of your household has a warm coat, gloves or mittens, a hat, and water-resistant boots.
  • Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit for your home and car.
  • Have your car winterized before hitting the road.

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit For Your Home:

  • First aid kit and essential medications.
  • Battery-powered NOAA Weather radio, flashlight, and extra batteries.
  • Canned food and can opener.
  • Bottled water (at least one gallon of water per person per day to last at least 3 days).
  • Extra warm clothing, including boots, mittens, and a hat.

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit For Your Car:

  • Battery-powered radio and extra batteries
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Booster cables
  • Fire extinguisher (5 lb., A-B-C type)
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Bottled water and non-perishable high-energy foods, such as granola bars, raisins and peanut butter
  • Compass and road maps
  • Shovel
  • Tire repair kit and pump
  • Flares
  • Extra clothing to keep dry
  • Sack of sand or cat litter (for tire traction)
  • Tow rope

Hazardous Winter Travel:

Additionally, if travel is necessary during potentially dangerous winter weather, it's best to inform someone of the travel route, destination and expected arrival time. Travelers should also remember to keep their gas tanks near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. If stuck in the slick conditions, the following actions should be taken:

  • Stay with your car. Do not try to walk to safety
  • Tie a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) to the antenna for rescuers to see.
  • Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear so fumes won't back up in the car.
  • Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running so that you can be seen.
  • As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to keep blood circulating and to stay warm.
  • Keep one window away from the blowing wind slightly open to let in air.

Another severe threat posed by winter storms is hypothermia, a serious condition that predominantly affects males and people over 60. People generally suffer from hypothermia after being over-exposed to extremely cold weather, dangerous wind chills, ice and snowstorms, freezing rain or sleet — another reason why stranded passengers should remain in their vehicles until help arrives.

Protect Yourself:

  • Mittens provide more warmth to your hands than gloves.
  • Most of your body heat is lost through your head. Wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears.
  • Dress in warm layers so you can remove items if you get too warm.
  • Recognize the symptoms of hypothermia that can be a serious medical condition: confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.
  • Recognize frostbite warning signs: gray, white or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin. Seek medical attention immediately if you have these symptoms.
  • Wear waterproof, insulated boots to help avoid hypothermia or frostbite by keeping your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.
  • Get out of wet clothes immediately and warm the core body temperature with a blanket or warm fluids like hot cider or soup. Avoid drinking caffeine or alcohol if you expect you or someone you are trying to help has hypothermia or frostbite.

Protect Your Home:

  • Be careful with candles – Do not use candles for lighting if the power goes out. Use flashlights only.
  • Inspect fireplaces and wood stoves - Use a sturdy screen when burning fires. Burn only wood - never burn paper or pine boughs.
  • Use generators correctly – If you have a portable generator and the power goes out, always plan to keep the generator outdoors. Never operate it inside, including the basement or garage. Do not hook up a generator directly to your home's wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Connecting a cord from the generator to a point on the permanent wiring system and backfeeding power to your home is an unsafe method to supply a building with power.
  • Prevent frozen pipes - When the weather is very cold outside, open cabinet doors to let warm air circulate around water pipes. Let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe - even at a trickle - helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing. Keep the thermostat set to a consistent temperature.
  • Check smoke alarms - Make sure alarms are working properly and replace batteries as necessary
  • Be aware of overuse of electrical outlets - Don't overload your electrical outlets. Be careful of extension cords that present hazardous walkways.

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