Winter’s icy fingers have taken a firm grip on most of the eastern United States, including areas not accustomed to snow and subzero temperatures.
Extreme cold can pose a number of hazards to life and property ― but you can minimize the risk by familiarizing yourself with winter safety tips. HuffPost has gathered a number of these, which you will find below, in an effort to ensure you and your loved ones are prepared for the winter storm informally dubbed “Grayson.”
Be smart and stay safe
Freezing weather has been blamed for at least 11 cold-related deaths this week. Five have been reported in Wisconsin, four in Texas, one in North Dakota and one in Missouri.
Many people spend time outdoors in the winter. Doing so can expose you to several safety hazards. Here are some tips to stay safe, adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- If you must go outside, inform a friend or relative of your proposed route and expected time of arrival.
- Dress in layers of light warm clothing. Choose a tightly woven, wind-resistant coat or jacket. Wear a hat, scarf, gloves and waterproof boots.
- Be aware of the weather conditions.
- Carry a fully charged cellphone.
- Work slowly when doing outside chores.
- Sprinkle cat litter or sand on icy patches.
In addition to the above suggestions: Limit your alcohol intake, as it increases the risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Shivering is an indication your body is losing heat. Seek shelter to warm up.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has assembled some great tips for winter motorists.
Tips for preventing water pipes from freezing
If water pipes freeze, they can burst, which can be costly and inconvenient to repair.
To help head off potential water freezes, you can take the following precautions, adapted from the American Red Cross:
- Run water, even at a trickle, to help prevent your pipes from freezing.
- Open the kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing (be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children).
- Keep the garage doors closed if there are water lines in the garage.
- Keep the thermostat at the same temperature day and night. Your heating bill may be a little higher, but you could avoid a costlier repair job if your pipes freeze and burst.
In addition to the above suggestions, you should consider winterizing water pipes by wrapping them in insulation (newspaper can also work in a fix) or self-regulating heat tape. These items are available at most home improvement stores. If you suspect your pipes are going to freeze, consider closing the inlet valve on your toilet and then flushing it to prevent damage.
If the pipes freeze, open the faucets to allow for expansion of frozen water. If you are a renter, contact your landlord. Do not use a blowtorch or a kerosene or propane heater to unfreeze your pipes, due to risk of fire. If a pipe breaks, shut off the valve controlling the water to your home. If you don’t know where the shutoff valve is, contact your utility provider.
In the event your home is damaged by the extreme cold, you might be eligible for financial relief through your homeowner’s policy.
If you lose heat due to malfunction or power outage
In power outages, heat systems that rely on electricity won’t operate, allowing bitterly cold temperatures to take hold inside the home.
Here are some tips for staying warm, adapted from the New York City Emergency Management Department:
- Take measures to trap existing warm air by hanging blankets over windows and doorways.
- Stay in a well-insulated room.
- Dress warmly. Wear hats (the body loses between half and three-quarters of its heat through the head), scarves, gloves and layered clothing.
- If you have a well-maintained working fireplace and use it for heat and light, be sure to keep the damper open for ventilation. Never use a fireplace without a screen.
- Do not use your oven or fuel-burning space heaters to heat your home. These can release carbon monoxide, a deadly gas that you cannot see or smell. (For these same reasons it is inadvisable to sleep in a running vehicle.)
- Use only portable heating equipment that is approved for indoor use. Space heaters should only be used for a limited time each day. Plug them directly into a wall outlet. Never use an extension cord or power strip. Keep combustible materials away from the heat source and never leave running space heaters unattended, especially around children.
- Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in every room.
- Electric blankets should only be used if they have an automatic safety shut-off and are less than 10 years old. Avoid tucking them in at the sides of the bed.
In addition to the above suggestions, you should contact your utility provider to ensure they are aware of your power outage. In some instances, your provider may be able to provide an estimate of when power might be restored.
In the event you have electricity but no heat, check your breaker switches. If you use propane or fuel oil, check the levels. If you can’t identify the problem, contact a repairman.
Keep pets safe
Pets are happiest and healthiest when kept indoors, especially during extreme cold.
Follow these tips, adapted from the Humane Society, to keep animals safe and comfortable:
- Keep your pets inside with you and your family. Under no circumstances should pet cats be left outdoors, even if they roam outside during other seasons.
- If your dog is outdoors much of the day for any reason, they must be protected by a dry, draft-free shelter that is large enough to allow them to move comfortably, but small enough to hold in body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches from the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.
- Pets who spend a lot of time outdoors need more food in the winter because keeping warm depletes energy. Routinely check your pet’s water dish to make certain the water is fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls; when the temperature is low, your pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
- Windchill can threaten a pet’s life. Exposed skin on noses, ears and paw pads are at risk for frostbite and hypothermia during extreme cold snaps. For this reason, short-haired dogs often feel more comfortable wearing a sweater ― even during short walks.
- Dogs are at risk of salt poisoning in winter due to the rock salt used in many areas ― often when licking it from their paws after a walk. Store de-icing salt in a safe place and wipe your dog’s paws, even after short walks. If your dog ingests rock salt, call a veterinarian immediately.
- Be sure your horses have access to a barn or a three-sided run-in, so they can escape the wind and cold. While not all horses will need to be blanketed, blankets will help horses keep warm and dry, especially if there is any rain or snow. If you’ve body-clipped your horses, keep them blanketed throughout the winter. Also, be sure to feed your horses more forage ― unlimited amounts, if possible ― during extreme cold. This will help your horses create heat and regulate their body temperatures.
The freezing start to 2018 continues
According to the National Weather Service, wind chill advisories and freeze warnings have been issued from South Texas to Canada and from Montana to New England. It’s below freezing in many locations, and states of emergency have been issued in Georgia and North Carolina. An estimated 47 million people live within the affected areas.
If the cold persists and you find yourself without heat or shelter, call family, neighbors or friends to see if you can stay with them. Or consider getting a room at a hotel or checking with local officials to find the closest warming shelter.