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Red Cross urges preparation and caution in the face of severe winter weather
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Leigh-Anne Dennison
January 13, 2007

Temperatures continue to be an issue as a cold weather front moves across the American heartland, bringing a variety of conditions to the states in its path including heavy and freezing rain, sleet, snow and bitter winds.

With weather conditions and temperature variations, ice storms are a concern in some areas, including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri while other areas such as the Mississippi and Ohio River Valleys – where rivers are already high – anticipate flooding as the cold, wet weather system moves east over the holiday weekend. The National Weather Service has issued severe weather watches and warnings in several states. With the ever-changing conditions, the American Red Cross urges the public to stay tuned to local news and weather experts for storm updates and adhere to guidance and warnings issued by local and state officials.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger already have declared a state of emergency for large portions of their respective states due to the brutal cold weather. Plummeting temperatures in northern California prompted Gov. Schwarzenegger to order the opening of at least 16 warming centers. American Red Cross chapters in the state are supporting the governor’s request, providing cots, blankets and volunteers to staff city centers. Working in cooperation with other non-profit partners, the Red Cross also is providing food to center residents, as needed.

Besides the threat of the cold, damp conditions faced by those who might venture out, power lines brought down by heavy rain, snow, wind or ice may mean outages that pose additional risks to residents. Without power, residents may not be able to heat their homes, store food or prepare meals. The Red Cross urges those in the path of this weather front to make preparations for its onslaught and use extreme caution before, during and after it strikes their area of the country.

Get prepared

  • Get a kit – Buy or gather supplies to help you weather the storm, including the following essentials water, non-perishable food, battery powered-radio, flashlight with extra batteries, first aid supplies and special items for medical conditions. Have extra blankets on hand and warm clothing including a coat, gloves or mittens, hat and water-resistant boots for each household member. Put items in an easy-to-carry container that is accessible in the event you need to evacuate. Assemble a kit for your vehicle as well in case you need to travel while the weather is less than ideal.

  • Make a Plan – Create an evacuation plan that includes identifying multiple exit routes in case some roads are inaccessible. Identify motels/hotels, emergency shelters/warming center or other places to stay along your evacuation route outside the affected area. Print out helpful tips from sites such as RedCross.org for handling issues like power outages, generator safety, water treatment and food safety. Finally, make or update an emergency communications plan and contact list, and contact loved ones now to tell them your plans if you must evacuate. Be sure to include anticipated routes and travel times as well. In the event you are separated from loved ones and cannot reach them by phone, try alternatives such as text messaging, e-mail and reporting your status on the Red Cross Safe and Well Web site, accessible through Redcross.org.

  • Be Informed – Listen to NOAA Weather Radio and your local radio and TV stations for updated storm information. Find out now how authorities will notify you and where evacuation or emergency sheltering centers are likely to be in or near your community. Check maps for alternate routes out of your neighborhood in the event that streets are flooded or blocked. Pay close attention to news reports not just for weather updates but for information related to road closings, power outages or affected utilities and services in your own and adjacent communities. Follow the instructions of local public works and government officials.

Weathering the Storm

  • Stay Hydrated – People may not realize that dehydration is as much a problem in cold weather as it is in hot, when fluid loss is more visibly apparent. Exertion, such as shoveling snow or scraping ice, and dry, heated air can exacerbate the problem.

  • Dress Appropriately – Stay inside; 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.

  • Be a Good Neighbor – Check on neighbors who are older, have disabilities or have several infants or young children in the home and might appreciate a little extra assistance during harsh weather.

  • Avoid Travel – Be alert to changing weather conditions and avoid unnecessary travel.

Use Caution

  • Alternative Heat Source – Use extreme care when using alternative heat sources such as coal or wood-burning stoves, wood or gas fireplaces and portable heaters. Improper use or placement is a common cause of winter home fires. Follow all directions and keep any flammables far from the heat source. Cooking appliances should not be used as a heat source; never use an outdoor grill inside.

  • Generator Safety – Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using a generator during a power outage. Do not use generators inside.

  • Food Storage and Safety – Avoid opening the refrigerator and freezer during a power outage to keep food cold as long as possible. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold enough for at least a couple of hours. A freezer that is half full will hold for up to 24 hours – a full freezer for 48 hours.

  • Snow and Ice – After the storm has passed, use extreme caution when walking on sidewalks and driveways; a thin, light layer of snow may be masking a slick ice patch. If you shovel snow, be extremely careful. It is physically strenuous work, so take frequent breaks to avoid overexertion and stay hydrated.

Red Cross chapters throughout the affected region will continue to monitor conditions and remain on alert – ready to offer assistance such as a safe place to stay, a warm blanket and some food and water.

Finally, waiting out a winter storm in close quarters with windows and doors shut up tight can increase stress, making people more anxious and triggering conflicts. Consider planning some fun indoor activities and diversions, such as reading, board games or arts and crafts projects, to entertain household members and stave off that dreaded “cabin fever.” While so much energy is focused on physical safety and comfort, your psychological and emotional well-being is important too.

To learn more about disaster preparedness and safety including winter storm safety, visit the “Get Prepared” section of Redcross.org or contact your local Red Cross chapter.

The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. 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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