This past November and early December have seen some of the most widespread cold weather on record across North America. While the rest of this winter’s forecast is expected to be be warmer, much of the rest of North America will probably have what the National Weather Service calls “equal chances” for above or below conditions. And some places – like the upper Midwest, near the Great Lakes, and along the Northeast corridor – can become bitterly, nose-freezing cold.
Surviving this kind of weather just requires a little common sense. Even still, it’s sobering for just how ill-prepared some folks are when the weather forecast is for sub-zero temperatures with a wind-chill that can flash-freeze a pair of wet blue jeans in under three minutes. So, here’s a few simple winter safety tips to keep in mind to get you and your family safely through the coldest times of the year whether you’re at home, or driving cross country, or working outside.
Chilling At Home
Usually, being at home is the best place to be during bitterly cold weather. However, with your home’s furnace working hard to keep your house warm, potentially dangerous problems can develop. Here’s a few things to do and to watch for:
Have your furnace inspected every year before the heating season begins to catch any problems in advance.
Keep an eye on oil or gas furnace and water heater exhaust. Just look at your chimney or furnace vent pipe periodically for that white puff of steam to be certain that snow or ice (or even birds, squirrels, etc.) aren’t blocking it.
If you have a wood-burning fireplace, have your chimney inspected once a year by a qualified chimney sweep.
Check that your flue dampers open and close properly. It’s also best if your fireplace has an outside fresh air draft-source. This reduces drafts in the rest of the house.
Reduce dangerous creosote buildup by only using wood that has been seasoned a year or longer. Also keep a large wood box that you can close near to the house to keep the wood dry.
Install a carbon monoxide and natural gas/propane furnace detector. If something goes wrong with your furnace system or wood heat, the alarm may save your family.
Homes in the winter can have problems with mold, especially if they have un-sealed crawlspaces that have air ducts passing through them. They may also have problems with freezing pipes during severely cold weather. Remember to encapsulate your crawlspace to save up to 18% off your energy consumption
Snow Jobs: Working Outside
In cold weather, your body’s metabolism burns up LOTS of energy to keep your temperature at 98.6°F. The trick to working outside comfortably hinges on three simple rules:
- Dress in layers. Dressing layers allows you to shed or put on layers of clothing to stay comfortable and dry. Wear lined work gloves. Nothing pulls warmth out of your hands faster than a cold metal tool like a wrench or hammer.
- Stay dry. If your clothes get wet, your body will lose heat far more quickly. Wear material that wicks moisture from your skin to keep you dry, comfortable, and WARM.
- Don’t over-exert yourself. You might not think you are working that hard, but your metabolism is. Also, avoid drinking alcohol. Taking a little nip will not warm you up. Alcohol dialates blood vessels, causing your body to lose heat faster and adding more stress to your metabolism.
Consider this one little luxury – Buy a boot dryer. These inexpensive devices are pricelss. They dry out your footwear for the next time you need to go out into the cold and wet.
Remember, if there’s even a little snow or ice on your roof, keep off of it. Those Christmas lights can wait until it thaws. And you don’t want to fall off and become a real snow angel.
Ice Road Trucking
Winter time road trips always pose the peril of ending in ditch somewhere dark, lonely, and cold. And while this may sound like a worried Minnesota Mom, it’s always best to prepare for the worst when road conditions may be at their worst.
Get informed in advance about any winter weather advisories, watches, and warnings that you might encounter on your trip route. It’s not unusual during winter storms and blizzards for states to close stretches of interstate highway. It’s also not uncommon for states to issue tow bans during storms. That means if your vehicle goes into the ditch or becomes stranded, it will not be towed until conditions are safe enough. So, you could be in for a long, long wait.
Check over your windshield washer fluid level to confirm it is the winter-mixture (contains ethanol).
Check that your rear windshield defroster works and that your exhaust system doesn’t have holes in it.
Tell someone your travel plans and your route to someone that you can keep in contact with. That way, you’ll have someone who can alert authorities if they don’t hear from you after a long period of time. Be sure to keep your cell phone charged!
Keep your gas tank full to prevent water from building up in the fuel line and freezing during bitter cold. Use ethanol or a fuel additive.
Take your time in bad weather. Maintain a safe speed and allow plenty of extra room for other vehicles on the road in front of you. It takes very little effort to lose control of your vehicle while driving on ice and snow.
Keep these items in your trunk:
- Bag of sand or kitty litter to help with traction if you become stuck and a bag of ice melt for those really slick spots.
- Shovel (a flat garden shovel is actually best; most snow shovels can’t chunk through ice)
- Tire chains
- High calorie snacks
- Heavy blanket
- Extra windshield cleaner fluid
- Flashlight (with extra batteries)
What To Do If You Go In The Ditch
If you do get stuck somewhere dark and lonely and cold, then you may be forced wait several hours for help. When conditions are seriously awful, it might be safer to wait out the storm by remaining inside your vehicle.
Idling your engine will help keep you warm and charge the car’s battery.
Run the engine only for a few minutes. Car’s heater will work more efficiently if you set the vents set to re-circulate the cabin air.
Make sure that the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow or ice to keep those gases out of the car. It is possible you may have to clear the pipe several times.
If you think you smell exhaust, open a window to get some fresh air. After all, car exhaust can kill.
Fundamentally, all of these winter safety tips can be boiled down to the following: Stay warm, keep dry, and be alert. Knowing what to do during bitterly cold weather is all you need to survive winter’s fury.