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Monday, January 6, 2014

Things to Know When it Snows

Submitted by Mike Lovas, Saint Paul Emergency Management

Winter is upon us and will take up residence in Minnesota for the next few months.  There are some important things to keep in mind to keep yourself ready and safe during Old Man Winter’s stay.  Winter storms can be deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm.  Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain.  Storms can knock down power lines leading to a loss of heat, power and communication lines that can last for hours or days.
For your home
Prepare your home by having a shovel or other snow removal equipment, sand to provide traction and salt to help melt icy conditions.  Many types of salt products are sold in stores, so make sure to see which one works best for you-- from basic salt to chemical enhanced salt to pet friendly salt options.  Be alert for overexertion while clearing snow.  Pace yourself, especially with large areas to clear or with heavy, wet snow.  If you need to clear snow or ice from your roof, use a roof rake or other device to safely clear snow from your room, gutters, air intake or vents rather than climbing up on your roof.
Have a survival kit ready in case power does go out with extra blankets, warm clothing, extra water and food sources that don’t need heating to prepare.  Remember to factor pets or animals into your plan and keep them warm and safe.  Frozen paws can happen fast.   And remember to clear a path to your garbage can and mailbox to ensure timely, uninterrupted service for both. 

Check your furnace, radiators, or other heating source to make sure they are efficient and operational.  Keep a safe clearance from them to prevent fire hazards.  Never use an open oven or stove to heat your house.  If you do use a fuel-burning source to provide heat, make sure it is properly vented to prevent dangerous carbon monoxide buildup; if you haven’t already done so, it is a great time to install carbon monoxide detectors in your house.  Check the status of your chimney if you have a fireplace and make sure it is clear of buildup that could pose a fire hazard.
Inspect your pipes to prevent frosting and freezing.  Insulate where necessary and shut off exterior water sources and open hose valves to mitigate pipe bursts.  Insulate your windows to help save energy and keep cold air out. 

Be cautious of how much you plug into an outlet and limit chain light sets, decorations or other things.  Too many things plugged into an outlet can lead to blown fuses or electrical fires.

For your car
Check your car to make sure it is ready for winter driving conditions.  Some things to inspect is the antifreeze level, battery condition, brake pads, exhaust system, air filter, heater and defroster, windshield wiper blades and washer fluid level with fluid designed for frost or freezing conditions, tire conditions and air pressure, fuel and oil levels, and have a snow/ice scraper.  It is always necessary to clear all snow and ice from your windows, hood, truck, and roof before you drive.  A bag of sand or kitty litter stored in your trunk can also aid in traction if you find yourself stuck on ice.

Make sure your car emergency car kit includes a small shovel, that your flashlight has fresh or extra batteries, water-type beverages with a snack such as a candy bar, granola bar or other non-salty food options, extra hats, gloves/mittens and blankets, jumper cables, road salt or sand, and road flares, chemical light sticks (chem lights), or bright colored material/cloth to signal for help or attention.
You can even purchase prepackaged meals at local outdoor stores similar to a Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) or other type of heater meal that can sit in the car in the event of an emergency if you find yourself stranded.  In the event of loss of traction, your car floor mat rugs can also be placed under your tires to gain traction. 

Make sure you take time to refresh yourself on driving conditions for your vehicle and specific techniques for 2-wheel drive car (front or back) and 4-wheel/all-wheel drive, check your following distances and what to do in the event of a spin out or if you encounter patches of ice or black ice.
For yourself

Review your communication plan, especially with family or friends with small children, elderly, or those with functional needs.  Make sure you always have a key or cell phone with you in case you get locked out of your house/apartment or find yourself stuck somewhere.  Dress for the conditions and stay dry.  Wet, cold clothes allow for hyperthermia, frost bite or other cold weather injuries.  Have enough medication on hand in the event you get stranded at home.
And remember to still consume water; there are more heat related illnesses reported in the winter months than the summer months because people aren’t thinking about hydration and are bundled up while participating in outdoor activities.  Water consumption is just as important in winter as it is in summer. 

For more on how to prepare for winter, visit: http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather

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