Staying safe this winter

Gray Hughes

The calendar might say “fall,” but the weather as of late screams “winter.”

The National Weather Service, looking towards winter, has released a winter safety guide. One area of focus in the safety guide is what to have in a car during the winter.

The weather service recommends individuals have a cell phone charger, first aid kit, jumper cables, spare tire, flares, full tank of gas, sand or kitty litter, tow rope, blanket, snow shovel and brush, flashlight, mittens, hats, boots and other warm clothes, water and snacks in order to be prepared.

At home, the weather service recommends individuals have a flashlight with extra batteries, battery-powered National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio and portable radio to receive emergency information, extra food and water, extra prescription medicine, first-aid supplies, heating fuel, emergency heat source such as a fire place, wood stove or space heater, a fire extinguisher and smoke alarms.

The weather service has also detailed the differences in a winter storm warning, a winter storm watches and a winter weather advisory.

In a winter weather advisory, wintry weather is expected.

“Light amounts of wintry precipitation or patchy, blowing snow will cause slick conditions and could affect travel if precautions are not taken,” the definition reads on the weather service website.

During a winter storm watch, snow, sleet and ice are possible, according to the weather service, with a medium amount of confidence that a winter storm has the possibility to produce heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain. 

This, the weather service said, can cause “significant impacts.”

Finally, a winter storm warning dictates that snow, sleet and ice are expected with a high degree of certainty that a winter storm will produce heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain with “significant impacts.”

If stuck outside during a winter storm, the weather service says individuals should find shelter and attempt to stay dry with all exposed body parts covered. If there is no shelter nearby, the weather service says to build a lean-to, windbreak or snow cave to protect from the wind. A fire should be built not only for heat but to attract attention. Rocks should be placed around the fire to both absorb and reflect heat.

Snow should be melted first before consumption because, according to the weather service, eating unmelted snow can lower one’s core body temperature.

The weather service also recommends exercising from time to time, moving arms, legs, fingers and toes to help keep blood circulating and to keep warm. However, individuals trapped in the snow should avoid overexertion such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow if not in good health.

“The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack,” the weather service said. “Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.”

If driving is necessary during a winter storm, the weather service recommends to slow down, make sure the vehicle is clear of ice and snow, let someone know what path is being taken and have a fully charged phone.

If the vehicle begins to skid, the weather service says to remain calm, ease the foot off the gas and turn the wheels in the direction the car needs to go.

The weather service also recommends pulling over if the weather is too bad to continue on.

If the vehicle gets stuck in a storm, stay in the vehicle and run the motor for about 10 minutes each hour for heat. While running the motor, the weather service says to open a window in the car to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Turn on the dome light at night when running the engine, tie a bright colored cloth to the door or antenna and, after the snow stops falling, raise the hood of the car to indicate that help is needed.

If stuck inside, the weather service says to stay inside. Safeguards should be used when using heat from a fireplace, wood stove or space heater to avoid a fire. If the house uses a gas furnace, ensure it is not blocked by snow as soon as the snow stops and it’s safe to go outside.

If the heat in the house goes out, the weather service says to close off unneeded rooms to avoid wasting heat, stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors, close blinds or curtains to keep in some heat and wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Layers should be removed to avoid overheating, sweating and the chill related to those.

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