Minnesotans are settling in for another winter. It’s time to get ready for the challenges of ice, snow and cold. For everyone, especially people with disabilities, winter weather can be lifethreatening.
The key to winter safety is being prepared for what’s coming. Monitoring weather forecasts is essential. Find the best resource in your community for upcoming weather issues, such as snow emergencies and when vehicles must be off streets to allow for snow plowing. Many cities now have email, Twitter and Facebook notices of snow emergencies. This winter the City of Minneapolis will put weather information on electronic street signs.
Almost all television stations and the National Weather Service also offer weather updates via smart technology. When the power goes out, it’s always good to have a battery-power radio for weather emergencies updates. Some radios can be recharged with a crank handle. Another good investment is a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio receiver. See www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr for more information.
When listening to weather reports, know what winter weather terms mean. These definitions are from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):
• Frost/Freeze Warning: expect below-freezing temperatures.
• Winter Weather Advisory: expect winter weather conditions that are hazardous.
• Winter Storm Watch: Be alert because a winter storm is likely.
• Winter Storm Warning: a storm is in the area or entering the area.
• Blizzard Warning: This type of warning is issued when snow and strong winds, near-zero visibility, snow drifting, and life-threatening wind chill are imminent. It’s time get out your winter emergence kit.
• Wind Chill: air temperature combined with the wind speed. Pay attention to wind chill information. The Wind Chill Index is the temperature felt on exposed skin. When the wind increases, it can take heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely.
Staying safe outdoors
Anyone who must go out should try to keep trips as brief as possible. Cold weather and prolonged exposure to cold can trigger new health problems and worsen pre-existing conditions.
A hat, scarf or mask to cover the face and mouth, sleeves that are snug at the wrist, layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing and a water-resistant outer coat to stay dry and boots are best.
When layering on the clothes, make sure the outermost garment is tightly woven to reduce the loss of body heat. Stay dry because wet clothing can cause chills. Avoid getting alcohol or gasoline on skin during cold weather because those liquids can cause greater heat loss from the body. Starting to shiver is a sign that it’s time to go inside and warm up.
Anyone with heart disease or high blood pressure should be careful of exertion in cold weather. Blood circulation is compromised by cold conditions. Always follow doctor’s instructions on working in the cold.
Walking on ice and snow is extremely dangerous. A fall can cause serious and even fatal injuries. Stock up on salt, sand, clay cat litter or chemical de-icers for increased stability on sidewalks. (Don’t use clumping cat litter as it doesn’t provide good traction.)
Report unshoveled sidewalks and bus stops, and streets and roads that haven’t been plowed. Some communities have information and complaint hot-lines. Transit services also may have complaint lines.
Limited home snow shoveling help is available for people with disabilities and senior citizens. Unfortunately, a number of programs and services around the state have had budgets cut. Churches, neighborhood groups and Living at Home/Block Nurse programs are potential resources. Call the Senior Linkage Line 1-800-333-2433 or the Disability Linkage Line at 1-866-333-2466.
Be cautious about travel and monitor weather conditions before leaving. Take a cell phone along. It is always a good idea to let a family member or friend know about a trip, and your expected arrival time.
Never count on a motor vehicle to provide adequate warmth if the vehicle is stranded. Move to the side of the road and stay in the vehicle and wait for help.
Use flashers and raise the hood if it isn’t too windy, raining or snowing.
Only run the vehicle motor and heater for about 10 minutes per hour. Open a window slightly for clean air and make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow. This will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Persons who get stranded in a motor vehicle need to stay awake. Keep arms and legs moving as much as possible to promote circulation and stay warm.
All motor vehicles in Minnesota should be prepared with emergency supplies. Have a shovel, windshield scraper, cell phone and portable charger, battery-powered radio, flashlight and extra batteries, water, snack foods, tow rope, jumper cables, emergency flares, help signs, road salt, sand, hats, coats, mittens, blankets, and a first aid kit. Have a metal can or tin, and put waterproof matches and a candle inside to melt snow for drinking water. Never eat snow as a water source as that lowers body temperature. The link to the MnDOT ADA accessibility comment/complaint form http://www.dot.state.mn.us/ada/complaintform.html
Staying safe indoors
Staying safe and warm at home sounds like a great way to spend a cold winter day. But if the electricity goes out and travel is restricted, being stuck at home isn’t much fun.
Many Minnesotans, especially those in rural areas, face the risk of losing power during a storm. Prepare for longer waits in rural areas. Make a winter checklist and be ready for a week without access to food, water and electricity. Have drinking water, canned food and a manual can opener. Stock up on foods such as breads, crackers and dried fruits that can be eaten without cooking. Have a stock of prescription and non-protection drugs and a first aid kit. Make sure flashlights and battery-powered lanterns are working, and extra batteries are on hand. To reduce the risk of accidental fires, don’t use candles.
Service animals’ needs also should be considered, by stockpiling needed pet food and water.
Be careful with space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces as those can cause burns, start fires or in some cases add to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Make sure home carbon monoxide and smoke alarms are in good working order. Close off rooms that aren’t in use to conserve heat. Close drapes or cover windows with blankets at night. Stuff towels or rugs beneath cracks under doors.
Extreme cold can cause home water pipes to freeze and sometimes rupture. When very cold temperatures are expected, leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously. Keep the indoor temperature suitably warm. Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes.
Information for this article came from the State of Minnesota, Senior Linkage Line, Disability Linkage Line, Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Info websites. Visit www.minnesotahelp.infoto find both linkage line websites and other useful information. Another good website is www.disability.state.mn.us/emergency-preparedness.