Are You Winter-Wise?
Some people love wintertime and others consider it a necessary, but not always pleasant, part of living in our great state. No matter how you feel, winter weather has arrived, and with it comes a special assortment of challenges to your health and safety. Read through the following topics below to learn how to prepare for and respond to different winter-related challenges.
Preparing for Winter Weather
Our cold temperature and often frigid winds can make staying warm safe a challenge. Prepare yourself for extreme cold with these simple steps.
- Listen to weather forecasts to help you anticipate the weather conditions you may encounter.
- Check your emergency supply kit and make sure it is fully stocked. You may consider adding winter-specific items to your kit, such as blankets, extra or heavier clothing and an alternate heat source.
- Have your chimney or flue inspected and, if necessary, cleaned. Residue left inside the chimney or flue can cause dangerous, flammable conditions.
- Install smoke detectors and battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors, and remember to test the batteries on each regularly.
- Weatherproof your home to the extent possible by insulating water lines, walls and your attic; adding weather-stripping; and putting in insulated doors and storm or thermal-pane windows.
- If possible, bring your pets indoors. If they cannot be inside, provide adequate shelter and make sure they have access to unfrozen water.
Staying Safe Outdoors
Whether it is across town or across the county, take a few extra minutes to make the trip unforgettable…in a good way!
Check and restock your vehicle’s winter emergency supplies. In addition to the regular emergency supplies, it should include a shovel, sand or cat litter, a windshield scraper, road salt, warm clothing and/or blankets and a coffee can, matches and candles. You should have regular maintenance service on your vehicle year round, and when cold weather hits be sure to check your antifreeze, replace windshield wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture and ensure that your tires have good traction and are properly inflated. Finally, keep your gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the fuel tank and lines.
Try to avoid traveling when roads are snowy or icy or when visibility is poor. Listen for radio and television reports of travel advisories or view current Montana road conditions online.
Avoid Cold-Related Health Conditions
Serious illness or injury can result if you spend a prolonged amount of time in the cold without proper gear or protection.
When your body loses heat faster than it can replace it, your internal body temperature is lowered, and hypothermia can occur. Some symptoms of hypothermia may be shivering, exhaustion, confusion, slurred speech or drowsiness. Hypothermia is particularly dangerous because it affects your brain and you may not even know what’s happening. Seek warmth and medical attention immediately if you or someone else begins to exhibit signs of hypothermia.
When areas of your body are exposed to extremely cold temperatures for prolonged periods, you may get frostbite—an injury due to freezing. The affected area may be numb and discolored, and, because frozen tissues become numb, the victim is often unaware of frostbite until it is pointed out by someone else. Get out of the cold and protect any exposed skin if at the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area. Slowly warm the area and seek medical care if you detect symptoms of frostbite.
Dressing appropriately is your first line of defense against hypothermia and frostbite.
- Layer with loose, thin, warm materials. Numerous thin layers seem to be more effective than less thin layers. Your outfit should include a warm hat, gloves and boots.
- Dress properly for the activity that you are doing. For example, you would want to dress differently for skiing rather than snowmobiling.
- Hand, foot and body warmers can be a helpful addition, but should not be considered a suitable alternative to dressing properly.
Staying Safe Indoors
Carbon Monoxide Exposure
Most of us will spend much of our time during the winter indoors with our doors and window tightly closed against the cold. While it keeps us warm, this situation presents the increased potential for carbon monoxide exposure and poisoning. To help prevent this, have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year and follow the guidelines below.
- Plan ahead—if you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace or space heater, be extremely careful, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on proper use.
- Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home. If it sounds, leave your home immediately and call 911.
- Seek medical attention immediately if you feel dizzy, light-headed or nauseous and suspect that carbon monoxide poisoning may be the cause.
- Use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window.
- Run a car or truck inside a garage, even if you leave the door open.
- Burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.
- Heat your house with a gas oven.
A power outage can leave you without heat and electricity for a brief time, a few hours or even a few days. The best way to combat a power outage is to be prepared! While the power is still on, plan how you will heat your home, keep your food safe, ensure safe drinking water and avoid downed power lines and electrical shock.