Winterize your Life – Be prepared for Cold Weather
Winter weather can strike with little warning. NOAA weather predictions for the next three months include an increase in precipitation by as much as 33% for much of Nebraska. While it is difficult to predict exactly what weather conditions will unfold in central Nebraska, now is the time to prepare.
“Now is the time to think about the winter season by preparing our cars and our homes,” says Jim Morgan, public health risk coordinator for South Heartland District Health Department. “We can also assist the elderly by including them in our emergency plans.”
Mr. Morgan encourages people to use the Ready.gov website as a helpful resource when planning for the winter months ahead. “The Ready.gov website provides information to help us prepare for natural disasters, including winter-specific planning ideas,” he said. “It has lists of items for preparing emergency kits, including a variety of planning tools that are appropriate for seniors, families with young children, individuals with special disabilities or language barriers, and people with pets.”
Be smart about exposure to the cold by staying out of the frigid temperatures especially if there are windy conditions. According to the National Weather Service Wind Chill Chart, frostbite can occur in 30 minutes or less with as little as 20 miles per hour wind if the actual temperature is 0 degrees. A colder temperature and/or faster wind speed results in frostbite occurring even faster.
Health department staff member Jessica Warner suggests that we review the winter weather forecast categories: Winter Storm Watches, Advisories and Warnings. She says, “Knowing and understanding these categories will help us understand our risk and make decisions about traveling or spending time outside and can help us be better prepared.”
Every year thousands of travelers get stuck off the road due to closure or icy conditions. Call ahead (511) for road conditions before you decide to travel. Before you travel, make sure that you have winterized your car by having adequate antifreeze, wintertime windshield wiper fluid and good tires. South Heartland staff also encourage you to make an Emergency Kit for your car which may include:
- A fully charged cell phone and extra battery or charger.
- Shovel, sand, ice scraper
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Non-perishable food, medications and water
- A change of clothes and snow boots
- Jumper cables
- First Aid Kit including emergency flairs and a flashlight
Winter storms are the third most costly natural disaster in the U.S., behind hurricanes and tornadoes. In the last 20 years, wintry weather has caused more than $1 billion a year on average in insured losses, making up approximately 22% of claims according to Verisk Analytics, a risk assessment company.
Preparing your home could save you thousands of dollars in damages and will cut costs you would have spent on utilities. Taking a few steps may help you prevent damages leading to expensive repairs in the future:
- Tune up your heating system – schedule a check for carbon monoxide and oil the fan.
- Caulk drafts around windows and doors and improve insulation in attics or walls as needed.
- Check your roof for loose or missing shingles and clear gutters.
- Check for fire hazards due to a clogged fireplace or stove. (chimney inspection)
- Drain water from lawn irrigation systems and exterior faucets to avoid frozen pipes.
Wintertime may be especially difficult for seniors for several reasons. Due to cold temperatures and lack of transportation, seniors may spend most of their time indoors and may become lonely. If venturing outside, they may be at risk for falls.
Ms. Warner says that preventing falls by clearing wet or icy walks for seniors is a great way to insure their safety. In addition to falls, cold weather places an extra strain on the heart. “If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, ask your health care provider about shoveling snow or doing other work outdoors.”
For more information about cold weather hazards, see the booklet from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety which is available at www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/guide.asp or the booklet may be obtained at South Heartland District Health Department by calling (402) 462-6211 or toll free at (877) 238-7595.
Michele M. Bever, PhD, MPH