What to do before a winter storm



Posted on November 5, 2009 at 3:54 PM

(Tips from the Charlotte Fire Department)

Winter Storm Facts

  • About 70% of winter storm deaths occur in the family automobile. The rest are attributed to heart attacks from overexertion or by hypothermia caused by overexposure to the cold. To avoid overexertion when shoveling snow or performing other difficult tasks, pace yourself. Your heart is already working overtime to keep your body warm and any additional stress could lead to problems. Unless it is necessary to travel, stay indoors during an ice or snow storm.
  • Of those individuals killed by by hypothermia, exposure to the cold, approximately half of them are over the age of 60, and three quarters of them are male.
  • Elderly and children under the age of one are most susceptible to the cold. During extremely cold temperatures, elderly and small children should be stay indoors at temperatures above 70 degrees or dress appropriately for the season with layers of clothing and a head covering if venturing outside.
  • Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. Even areas which normally experience mild winters can be hit with a major snow or ice storm or by extreme cold. During this period, downed power lines, blocked roads and traffic accidents may occur.

What to do Before a Winter Storm

Know the terms used by the weather forecasters:

  • Freezing Rain - rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet - rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory - cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch - severe winter weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible within the next day or two.
  • Winter Storm Warning - severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin.
  • Blizzard Warning - heavy snow and strong winds will produce a blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning - below freezing temperatures are expected.

Gather emergency supplies:

  • A battery-powered NOAA weather radio and battery-powered commercial radio with extra batteries.
  • Food that doesn't require cooking
  • Extra water in clean soda bottles
  • Rock salt to melt ice on walkways, and sand to improve traction
  • Flashlights, battery-powered lamps and extra batteries in case of a power outage. (Candles are a fire hazard.)

Prepare for possible isolation in your home:

  • Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be cut off.
  • Have emergency heating equipment and fuel (a gas fireplace, wood burning stove, kerosene heater, or fireplace) so you can keep at least one room of your house warm enough to be livable. If your furnace is controlled by a thermostat and your electricity is cut off by a storm, you will need emergency heat. For safety, follow all manufacturers' instructions in the operation of heating equipment.
  • If you have a fireplace, store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure your family knows how to use them.

Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply.

  • Insulate walls and attics.
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic.

Winter Heating Tips

Over the last four years, the Charlotte Fire Department has responded to 142 winter heating-related fires. Of these 142 fires, three people were killed, 136 people were left homeless, and resulted in over $1.6 million dollars of property damage.

The following are a few home heating safety tips to consider so that you and your property will be at less risk this winter:

   1. Have your furnace inspected annually to insure proper maintenance and operation.
   2. Keep space heaters at least three feet away from combustible items such as drapes, furniture or paper products.
   3. Only use fuel approved by the manufacturer.
   4. Never leave portable heaters unattended and never use them while you sleep.
   5. Always refuel your kerosene heaters outside and never overfill or refuel when hot.
   6. Keep children and pets away from heaters.
   7. Before using wood stoves or fireplaces, check your chimney and flues for creosote build-up.
   8. Use fireplace screens to protect your home from sparks and embers.

Remember to use common sense when dealing with heating appliances and please make sure that your home has a properly installed, working smoke alarm on each floor and near the bedrooms. Effective January 1, 2001. Homeowners will be required to have a CO Alarm installed to protect them from the poisonous, colorless, and odorless gas called Carbon Monoxide.

What to do During a Winter Storm

  •     Listen to the radio to television for weather reports and emergency information.
  •     Dress for the season.

         1. Wear several layers of loose-fitting, light--weight clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The out garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
         2. Mittens are warmer than gloves.
         3. Wear a hat or other head covering. Most of the body's heat is lost through the top of the head.
         4. Cover your mouth with a clean scarf to protect your lungs from the cold air.

  •     Be careful when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack -- a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, do some stretch exercises before going out and don't overexert yourself. Consider purchasing a snow blower (similar to a lawn mower for snow), which requires far less exertion to remove a significant volume of snow than a shovel.
  •    Check on neighbors who may have trouble staying safe during winter storms. Elderly or homebound residents are at particular risk. Make sure they have adequate hearing and food and offer to clear their sidewalks or driveways.
  •     Watch for signs of frostbite -- a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
  •    Watch for signs of hypothermia -- uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness or apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get medical help immediately.
  •    When at home:

         1. Conserve fuel if necessary by keeping your house somewhat cooler than normal. Temporarily "close off" heat to some rooms.
         2. When using kerosene heaters, maintain ventilation to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

Winter Storm Driving Tips

  •     If you must travel, consider taking public transportation. Call 336-RIDE for schedule information. If you travel by car, travel in the day, don't travel alone, and keep others informed of your schedule. Stay on main roads; avoid back-road shortcuts.
  •    Keep your vehicle "winterized" with antifreeze.
  •     Carry a "winter car kit" in the trunk of your vehicle. Following are some items you may want to have available:

          o windshield scraper
          o shovel
          o battery-powered radio
          o flashlight
          o extra batteries
          o water
          o snack food
          o mittens
          o head covering
          o blanket
          o tow clains or rope
          o tie chains vbag of road salt
          o sand
          o florescent distress flag
          o booster cables
          o road map
          o emergency flares

If a blizzard traps you in your car:

  1.          Pull off the highway. Set your hazard lights to the "flashing" position, and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
  2.          Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not venture out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can get shelter. Distances are often distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close, but be too far to walk to in deep snow.
  3.         Run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a window slightly for ventilation. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear away the snow from the exhaust pipe.
  4.         Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use anything available for insulation. Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
  5.         Take turns sleeping. One person should always be awake at all times to look for rescue opportunities. Balance electrical needs, use of lights, heat and the radio, with supply.
  6.         If stranded in a remote rural area, spread a large cloth over the snow by attract attention of any rescue personnel who may be surveying the area.

Emergency Three Day Kit

The best time to assemble a three-day emergency supply kit is well before you'll ever need it. Most people already have these items around the house and it is a matter of assembling them now before you need it.

Start with an easy to carry, water tight container - a large plastic trash can will do, or line a sturdy cardboard box with a couple of trash bags. Next gather up the following items and place them in your kit.

    * Essentials:
          o Water - 1 gallon per person per day
          o Water purification kit or bleach
          o First aid kit and first aid book
          o Pre--cooked, non-perishable foods, such as canned meats, granola bars, instant soup and cereals, etc.
          o Baby supplies: formula, bottle, pacifier, soap, baby power, clothing, blankets, baby wipes, disposable diapers, canned food and juices.
          o Non-electric can opener
          o Anti-bacterial hand wipes or gel
          o Blanket or sleeping bag per person
          o Portable radio or portable TV with extra batteries
          o Flashlight and extra batteries
          o Essential medications
          o Extra pair of eyeglasses
          o Extra house and car keys
          o Fire extinguisher - ABC-type
          o Food, water, leash and carrier for pets
          o Cash and change
          o Seasonal change of clothing, including sturdy shoes.
    * Sanitation Supplies:
          o Large plastic trash bags for waste, taps and rain ponchos
          o Large trash cans
          o Bar soap and liquid detergent
          o Shampoo
          o Toothpaste and toothbrushes
          o Feminine hygiene supplies
          o Toilet paper
          o Household bleach
          o Rubber gloves

Stocking up now on emergency supplies can add to you family's safety and comfort during and after a disaster. Store enough supplies for at least three days, preferably seven days, in one place.