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Red Cross Offers Cold Weather Health and Safety Tips
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Katie Lawson
October 20, 2006

Fewer than 100,000 homes and businesses in Western New York remain without power today one week after a storm dumped nearly two feet of snow on the region. For the tens of thousands still without power, the lack of electricity coupled with the unexpected early winter-like weather makes for a potentially dangerous combination.

The storm brought Buffalo its two snowiest October days on record and knocked out power for more than 400,000 homes and businesses. According to the Associated press, 12 reported deaths have been attributed to record-breaking storm as well as many injuries, such as hypothermia and carbon monoxide poisoning from improperly vented generators and gas stoves used for heat. While cool weather continue in many parts of the country and winter approaches, the American Red Cross offers the following winter health and safety tips to cope with frigid weather.

A look inside an American Red Cross emergency supplies kit. This ready-made, three-day kit can be purchased at the RedCross.org Online Store and customized to meet the individual needs of the household. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)
A look inside an American Red Cross emergency supplies kit. This ready-made, three-day starter kit can be purchased at the RedCross.org Online Store and customized to meet the individual needs of the household. (Photo Credit: American Red Cross)

Be Prepared for Winter Weather

While winter storms can strike quickly and without warning, there are many things you can do to prepare yourself and your family. Take the time to prepare now by having extra blankets on hand and making sure that you and your loved ones have warm coats, hats, gloves or mittens and water-resistant boots.

Assemble an emergency supplies kit for your home in case it is not safe to go out during a storm. Be sure to include bottled water (at least one gallon per person per day), non-perishable food and a can opener. The kit should also include a battery powered NOAA weather radio, flashlight, extra batteries and extra warm clothing. Assemble an emergency supplies kit for your car too and have the vehicle winterized before storm season.

Know What To Do

If experts indicate severe weather could be headed your way, stay tuned to local radio and TV stations for updated information on conditions. Know the difference between a winter storm watch and a winter storm warning.

A storm WATCH means that winter weather is possible in your area. A storm WARNING means a winter storm is headed you way. A blizzard warning indicates strong winds, blinding wind-driven snow and dangerous wind chill are expected and you should seek shelter immediately.

Exposure to cold can cause serious injury such as frostbite and hypothermia. When a winter storm warning is issued, follow these tips to stay safe and warm during the storm.

  • Stay indoors during the storm.
  • If you must go outside, several layers of lightweight clothing will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat. Gloves (or mittens) and a hat will prevent loss of body heat. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs.
  • Understand the hazards of wind chill, which combines the cooling effect of wind and cold temperatures on exposed skin. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from a person's body at an accelerated rated, driving down the body temperature.
  • Walk carefully on snowy, icy, sidewalks.
  • After the storm, if you shovel snow, be extremely careful. It is physically strenuous work, so take frequent breaks. Avoid overexertion.
  • Avoid traveling by car in a storm, but if you must...
    • Carry an emergency supplies kit in the trunk
    • Keep your car's gas tank full for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing.
    • Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.

Stay Warm Safely

During the winter months, many people turn to alternative heating methods such as wood burning stoves, fireplaces and space heaters. With these alternative ways to heat your home, come a few potential fire hazards. The Red Cross recommends keeping all potential sources of fuel, such as paper, clothing, bedding and carpets or rugs, at least three feet away from heat sources.

It is also possible that severe winter weather could cause power outages. Flashlights should always be used for emergency lighting during a blackout. The Red Cross recommends against using candles due to the significant danger of causing a home fire. Follow these tips to ensure your safety during a power outage:

  • Turn off or disconnect any appliances, electrical equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, it may come back with momentary "surges" or "spikes" that can damage equipment such as computers and motors in appliances like the air conditioner, refrigerator, washer, or furnace.
  • Leave one light turned on so you'll know when your power returns.
  • Keep the doors of your refrigerator and freezer closed to keep your food as fresh as possible. If you must eat food that was refrigerated or frozen, check it carefully for signs of spoilage.
  • Use the phone for emergencies only. Listening to a portable radio can provide the latest information. Do not call 9-1-1 for information -- only call to report a life-threatening emergency.
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic signals may stop working during an outage, creating traffic congestion. Also remember that equipment such as automated teller machines (ATMs) and elevators may not work during a power outage.
  • If you use a generator, connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator. Do not connect a generator to a home's electrical system or operate the generator inside.
  • Remember to provide plenty of fresh, cool water for your pets and make sure you have enough food stored for them as well.
  • If it is cold outside, put on layers of warm clothing. Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors. Never use your oven as a source of heat. If the power may be out for a prolonged period, plan to go to another location (relative, friend, or public facility) that has heat to keep warm.

For more information to help you get ready for winter weather, contact your local Red Cross chapter or visit the Get Prepared section of Redcross.org.

The American Red Cross has helped people mobilize to help their neighbors for 125 years. Last year, victims of a record 72,883 disasters, most of them fires, turned to the nearly 1 million volunteers and 35,000 employees of the Red Cross for help and hope. Through more than 800 locally supported chapters, more than 15 million people each year gain the skills they need to prepare for and respond to emergencies in their homes, communities and world. Almost 4 million people give blood—the gift of life—through the Red Cross, making it the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The Red Cross helps thousands of U.S. service members separated from their families by military duty stay connected. As part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a global network of more than 180 national societies, the Red Cross helps restore hope and dignity to the world's most vulnerable people. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

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