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Winter and Disaster Prep

Preparing to Face the Challenge of the Winter Chill

Photo: Courtesy of Craig Whitehead

When temperatures are much lower than normal, your body heat can drop much faster than you expect. Staying out in the cold too long can cause several serious health problems: Hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature, is a dangerous condition that can occur when a person is exposed to extremely cold temperatures. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. Frostbite is a bodily injury caused by freezing that results in loss of feeling and color in affected areas. Frostbite can permanently damage the body and severe cases can lead to amputation. Asthma attacks can be triggered by breathing in cold, dry air and may include coughing, chest tightness, wheezing and trouble breathing. Severe asthma attacks need treatment in an emergency department or hospital.

Pre-storm prep

Prepare your home in advance in order to protect yourself and your family from a winter storm. Also prepare your car for the possibility of a winter weather emergency in order to avoid dangerous winter travel problems. Use a checklist to help you keep track of everything you’ll need to prepare for a winter storm.

Weathering the storm indoors

Although staying indoors may prevent some winter hazards, there are risks you should be aware of indoors. Power outages or faulty heating systems can make your home too cold. Poorly maintained furnaces, space heaters, fireplaces and a home heated with a gas oven increases your risk of fires or carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning.

To help prevent indoor hazards, you should install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the CO detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.

Weathering the storm outdoors

Winter storms can make being outdoors dangerous. Extremely cold temperatures can cause hypothermia and frostbite; icy roads can increase your risk of falls or getting into a motor vehicle crash. While it’s best to stay indoors during a winter storm, if you must go outside, make sure to make trips as short as possible and learn how to protect yourself. For tips on how to stay safe outdoors this winter, check out Outdoor Safety During a Winter Storm.

Since winter storms can create a bit of a mess, be aware of any safety issues that might come up during your post-storm cleanup.

Power outage planning

Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use generators, grills, camp stoves or similar devices inside your home, basement, garage or camper and never heat your home with a gas oven. Only use generators outside, more than 20 feet away from your home, doors and windows. Learn more preparing for and coping with a sudden power outages.

Tesfaye Bayleyan, M.D., Senior Service Fellow, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, [email protected]

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