Thirty-five years ago today, New England was hit with one of the largest winter storm I can remember. The Blizzard of 1978 will go down in my memory as a wild few days. Growing up on the coast of Massachusetts as I did, winter storms can take on a whole new meaning. Not only did we get the snow, but we got the wind and the water. We were lucky, our house is way above the water line, but many families were not. I also like to keep in mind that back in the days of Don Kent and the stick on sun on the map, we did not have days of warning like we do now.
As I write this, we stand in the door looking out at another winter storm. Yes, we get snow here in New England in February, but it is not just the snow that ones needs to be concerned about. I serve as part of a team for Emergency Management, and yesterday we were on a conference call with the State Emergency Management folks. The big concern is prolong power outages. If the power goes out, and I am sure it will, the repair crews will not start working until the storm has passed. The power companies are not going to send their crews out in the storm to fix the power. So be smart and be prepared.
I always find it rather amusing the number of people who get all upset when the storm turns and goes out to sea. “They got us all worked up for nothing” some like to say. Well, if we did not get you “all worked up” and the storm did hit, you would complain about that. Nothing wrong with getting ready for a storm. I was a Boy Scout and I believe in being prepared in all situations.
With this in mind, I have posted a few tips for winter storm preparation, remember it is better to be prepared than not. We have time now to make the proper arrangements, and I am not talking about rushing to the store to buy milk and bread, but real preparation. The experts say you should be able to be on your own for up to four days after any kind of storm.
Before a Winter Storm threatens
- Know the terms used by weather forecasters:
- Winter Storm Watch – Be alert, a storm is likely.
- Winter storm Warning – Take action, the storm is in or entering the area.
- Blizzard Warning – Snow and strong winds combined will produce blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill. Seek refuge immediately.
- Winter Weather Advisory – Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, especially to motorists.
- Frost/Freeze Warning – Below freezing temperatures are expected and may cause damage to plants, crops or fruit trees.
- Everyone should have supplies which would prepared them to survive on their own for at least three days. There should be some non-perishable food, bottled water, flashlights and extra batteries around the house, along with a portable radio or NOAA Weather Radio in case of power outages or other emergencies caused by a winter storm.
- Additional items that should be included on your Winter Weather Supply List are a freshly-stocked first-aid kit, essential prescription medicines, non-perishable foods (those that require no refrigeration such as canned goods, dried fruits and nuts), a non-electric can opener, water (one gallon per person, per day), baby-care items, extra blankets, sleeping bags and a fire extinguisher.
- Have sufficient heating fuel, as regular sources may be cut off. Have emergency heating equipment and fuel (a gas fireplace, wood burning stove or fireplace) so you can keep at least one room livable. Be sure the room is well ventilated.
- Make sure your home is properly insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows to keep cold air out.
- Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide insulation.
- To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture.
- Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
- Know how to shut off water valves.
- If pipes freeze, remove insulation, completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they are most exposed to the cold. A hand-held hair dryer, used with caution, also works well.
- Suggested items for a Winter Emergency Car Kit include a flashlight with extra batteries, a basic first-aid kit, necessary medications, a pocket knife, booster cables, a blanket or a sleeping bag, extra clothes (including rain gear, mittens and socks), non-perishable foods, a non-electric can opener, sand for generating vehicle traction, tire chains or traction mats, a basic tool kit (pliers, wrench, screwdriver), a tow rope, a container of water and a brightly colored cloth to serve as a flag, if necessary.
- Ensure that your tires have adequate tread and keep your gas tank at least half-full. Plan long trips carefully, listening to the latest weather reports and road conditions.
- Travel during the day, and if possible, try to take someone along with you.
Winter Emergency Supply Kit
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Portable radio or NOAA Weather Radio with extra batteries
- First-aid kit
- Essential prescription medicines
- Non-perishable Food
- Non-electric can opener
- Water (one gallon per person/per day)
- Baby items
- Extra blankets and sleeping bags
- Fire extinguisher
Family Emergency Communications Plan
Develop a ‘Family Emergency Communication Plan’ in case family members are separated from one another during a winter storm (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), and have a plan for getting back together. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the ‘family contact’. After a disaster, it is often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone knows the name, address and telephone number of the contact person.
Winter Emergency Car Kit
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- Charged cell phone
- Basic first-aid kit
- Necessary medications
- Pocket knife
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Extra clothes (include rain gear, mittens, socks)
- High-calorie, non-perishable foods (dried fruits, nuts, canned food)
- Non-electric can opener
- Container of water
- Sand for generating traction
- Tire chains or traction mats
- Basic tool kit (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
- Tow rope
- Brightly colored cloth to utilize as a flag
Auto Safety Steps
- About 70% of winter deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles.
- Keep your gas tank full.
- Install good winter tires with adequate tread.
- Keep a windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal.
- Check your windshield wiper fluid and keep your gas tank at least half-full.
- Plan long trips carefully, listening to the radio or NOAA Weather Radio for the latest weather forecasts and road conditions.
- Travel during daylight hours, and if possible, take another person with you.
- If a blizzard traps you in your car, pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from your radio antenna or window.
- Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are more likely to find you. Do not set out on foot, unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
- Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open the window slightly for ventilation. Periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe.
- Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers.
- Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
- Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electricity energy needs: the use of lights, heat and radio.
- At night, turn on the inside light so work crews and rescuers can see you.
During a Winter Storm
- Dress for the season, wearing several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
- Mittens are better than gloves.
- Wear a hat; most body heat is lost through the top of the head.
- Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
- Be careful when shoveling snow. Over-exertion can bring on a heart attack – a major cause of death in the winter.
- Watch for signs of frostbite: loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in the extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove any wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages, if the victim is conscious. Get medical help, as soon as possible.
After the Winter Storm
- Roads to allow plowing operations to proceed smoothly.
- Help dig out fire hydrants and storm drains in your neighborhood.
- Avoid parking too close to corners, allowing Public Safety vehicles and plows to maneuver safely.
- Be aware of children playing in the streets, particularly climbing on or running out from behind large snowdrifts. Parents should remind their children to be aware of plowing operations and traffic.
- Clear exhaust vents from Direct Vent Gas Furnace Systems to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Never run automobile until exhaust pipe has been cleared of snow.
- Make sure backup generators are well ventilated.
- Take your time shoveling. Avoid overexertion.
- Use care around downed power lines. Assume a down wire is a live wire.