|BUNDLE UP, PLAN FOR WINTER WEATHER CONCERNS
Even though the meteorological calendar states that winter starts December 21, we’ve already had our first taste of the season. As any St. Charles County resident can tell you, we should expect more snow, ice and bitter cold over the coming months.
Icy winter precipitation and extreme cold can be life-threatening. Before winter storms return, take a few moments to keep your family, pets and home safe by:
- Locating winter clothing. A weather-appropriate coat, gloves or mittens, a hat and scarf will limit exposure to unsafe temperatures.
- Updating home and vehicle emergency supply kits. Include extras like blankets, jumper cables, de-icing supplies, radio and batteries, flashlights, food, water and other essentials.
- Ensuring that vehicles, heating units, appliances and electrical cords are in peak working condition.
- Following media and register for weather advisories to be alerted to potential dangers.
- Checking on friends and neighbors to ensure their well-being and help those in need.
When temperatures drop and the weather brings its full force, serious problems can develop in a relatively short period of time. Following are some winter weather situations and dangers, as well as suggestions for being prepared:
The National Weather Service uses distinct terminology to describe changing conditions. Each of these are issued under certain criteria:
- Winter Weather Advisory – Issued when winter precipitation, winds and temperatures are expected in the area, but that conditions are not expected to meet hazardous criteria. Individuals should be prepared for travel difficulties.
- Wind Chill – Wind causes the effect of cold temperatures to have a greater impact on the body. Wind accelerates the rate of heat evaporation, which lowers body temperature faster.
- Winter Storm Watch – Issued when conditions are favorable for a significant winter storm to occur. Heavy precipitation, winds, blowing snow, extreme temperatures or a combination of these events are possible.
- Winter Storm Warning – Issued when a significant winter weather event is expected soon. A combination of snow, ice, blowing snow and extreme temperatures are likely. Travel will become difficult or impossible during the event. Individuals should delay travel plans until conditions improve.
Body Heat Loss
Warm, dry clothing and blankets can prevent body heat loss from head to toe. Wear a hat and scarf to protect the head and face, gloves or mittens to warm hands, and water-repellent boots or shoes for feet. Layers trap air to keep the body warm and allow for removal of clothing to prevent overheating.
Outside of clothing, avoid alcohol and caffeine. These cause the body to lose heat more rapidly.
Hypothermia occurs when the body’s core temperature falls too low and impacts brain function. If you encounter an individual with hypothermia, warm them with blankets, shelter and beverages and seek medical assistance. Warning signs of this dangerous condition include:
- Extreme shivering
- Slurred speech
- Bright red, cold skin
Frostbite is the freezing of body tissue. Individuals should seek immediate medical attention for possible cases of frostbite. Signs of frostbite include:
- Numbness in the affected area
- Skin that feels unusually firm to the touch
- A white or grayish color to the skin
Residential fires cause millions of dollars in property loss and kill hundreds of Americans each year. When using alternative heating sources such as wood stoves, fireplaces and space heaters, follow these safety precautions:
- Check the source for proper installation and cleanliness before using. Check electrical sources and accompanying cords for damage or fraying before every use.
- When purchasing a portable heating device, look for an emergency shut-off that activates when the unit tips.
- For gas and kerosene heaters, use only the fuel recommended for that device. Do not use flammable liquids or accelerant in fireplaces or wood stoves.
- Keep a protective screen in front fireplaces to prevent sparks and move any flammable items away. Do not discard ashes inside the home or garage, or near flammable items.
- Be certain the heat source and device are turned off and all fires extinguished before leaving the room or going to sleep.
- Check the home for a working smoke detector and change batteries regularly (at least every six months).
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas that builds through the burning process and kills hundreds of Americans each year during winter months. Symptoms of CO poisoning include:
If you experience or notice any of these symptoms in others, go outside and get fresh air immediately. Contact an HVAC technician to check furnace connections.
Individuals cannot detect too much CO in the air without a monitor. To prevent build-up of the gas, be sure to:
- Vent fumes from fuel-burning appliances or chimneys outside the home.
- Clean vents completely prior to using a heating device.
- Turn off space heaters before leaving a room or going to sleep.
- Never use an oven to heat the home or burn charcoal indoors.
Traveling in winter weather is another challenge:
- If driving in snow or icy conditions, allow extra time to arrive safely and be aware that bridges and overpasses freeze faster than other roadways and can become covered with hidden “black ice.”
- When walking, avoid stepping foot on icy ponds, lakes or other waterways and be extra careful along stairs, hills and ice-covered sidewalks.
- In case you become stranded while driving or walking, bring along a fully-charged cell phone to call for assistance and find a warm shelter until help arrives.
Maintain Peak Vehicle Conditions
Motorists should also inspect the condition of their vehicle to avoid being stranded during the season:
- Schedule a test of the battery system and replace weak batteries that may be difficult to start in extreme cold.
- Inspect belts and hoses for wear or cracks.
- Check the tire tread and make sure the tire is properly inflated.
- Fill fluids, especially coolant, brake, power steering and window cleaner, to proper levels.
- Keep at least a half-tank of gasoline in the system at all times. Starting the engine with the system at lower levels may be difficult in cold weather.
Even though they come equipped with furry coats, pets require extra care during the winter.
If you’re unable to bring a pet inside during the winter, follow these recommendations:
- Provide a shelter that is shielded from direct wind and located off the ground to minimize heat loss. If you need warm straw for outdoor pets, call the Pet Adoption Center at 636-949-7387.
- Add calories, especially protein, to keep their body warm.
- Provide a constant source of fresh, drinkable water and check bowls for freezing.
- Bang loudly on vehicles parked outside or in garages prior to starting. This allows outdoor cats or wildlife seeking shelter under the hood a chance to escape.
- Clean antifreeze spills thoroughly, as the sweet-tasting liquid can be deadly to pets if swallowed.
When walking a dog in the winter, keep him or her on leash whenever outdoors. Snow and ice can hide dangers and can mask clues to help your pet return home if missing. Sensitive paws can be damaged by sharp ice crystals or ice melt material, so be sure to clean paws after the walk.
Resources for Information
If reports call for winter storms, pay close attention to media outlets and travel advisories. Forecasting cold temperatures and winter precipitation can be difficult, causing rapid changes to forecasts. Many times, the difference between a light dusting and several inches of snow is little more than a few miles on the map. Here are a few suggestions for winter preparation resources and news:
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