Winter Survival Guide
Staying Warm and Safe At Home and On The Road!
In New England, we can get clobbered by arctic temperatures and intense snowstorms. Staying warm and safe in the face of old man winter can be quite a challenge. Exposure to extreme cold, whether indoors or outside, can cause other serious or life-threatening health problems. Snow and ice storms can also bring power failures, icy roads and car problems.
Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions. By preparing your home and car in advance and by observing safety precautions during times of extremely cold weather, you can reduce the risk of winter-related health emergencies and disasters.
To keep you and your family safe, you should know how to prevent cold-related health problems and what to do when cold-weather emergencies arise. H.O. Services and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following actions to plan and prepare for the worst that winter can dish out at home and on the road.
- Preparing Your Home for Winter
- Preparing Your Car for Winter
- Indoor Safety
- Outdoor Safety
- A Few Words About Hypothermia
- A Few Words About Frostbite
Preparing Your Home for Winter
1). Make sure your home has these supplies on hand:
- An alternate way to heat your home during a power failure (dry firewood for a fireplace or wood stove, or kerosene for a kerosene heater)
- Furnace fuel (coal, propane, or oil)
- Electric space heater with automatic shut-off switch and non-glowing elements
- Matches or lighter
- Fire extinguisher
- First aid kit
- Battery-powered lantern
- Battery-powered radio
- Battery-powered clock or watch
- Extra batteries
- Non-electric can opener
- Snow shovel
- Rock salt
2). Keep several days’ worth of these items available:
- Food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, such as bread, crackers, cereal, canned foods, and dried fruits.
- Baby food and formula if you have young children.
- Water stored in clean containers, or purchased bottled water (5 gallons per person) in case your water pipes freeze and rupture.
- Medicines that any family member may need.
- Special needs items (diapers, hearing aid batteries, medications, etc.)
3). Additional Recommendations:
- Listen to weather forecasts regularly…and heed them.
- If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating, have your chimney or flue inspected each year.
- Install a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated.
- Test them monthly, and replace batteries twice yearly.
- Keep an eye on older family members. The ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age, and older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold.
- Place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently, and check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.
- Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your water supply will be less likely to freeze.
- Weatherproof your home by adding weather-stripping, insulation, insulated doors and storm windows, or thermal-pane windows.
- If you have pets, bring them indoors.
Preparing Your Car for Winter
Traveling in extreme cold can be hazardous. You should avoid travel during extreme cold weather if at all possible. If travel is absolutely necessary, you can avoid many dangerous winter travel problems by planning ahead.
Have maintenance service on your car as often as the manufacturer recommends, and perform the following every autumn:
- Have the radiator system serviced, or check the antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze, as needed.
- Replace windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture.
- Replace any worn tires, and check the air pressure in the tires.
- During winter, keep the gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
Winter Survival Kit for Your Car
Keep these items on hand in your car at all times:
- First aid kit
- A can and matches/lighter (to melt snow for water)
- Windshield scraper
- Jumper cables
- Road maps
- Mobile phone
- Tool kit
- Paper towels
- Bag of sand or cat litter (to pour on ice for added traction)
- Tow rope
- Tire chains
- Collapsible shovel
- Container of water and high-calorie canned or dried foods and a can opener
flashlight and extra batteries
- Canned compressed air with sealant (for flat tires)
- Brightly colored cloth (as a distress signal)
What to Do if You Get Stranded
- Staying inside your vehicle when stranded is usually the safest choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered.
- Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers and raise the hood of the car (if it is not snowing).
- Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
- Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
- Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
- Run the car’s engine and heater for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe.
- While sitting, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
- Don’t eat un melted snow; it will lower your body temperature.
- Huddle with other passengers for warmth.
- Use fireplaces, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space.
- Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
- Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.
- Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don’t substitute.
- Do not place space heaters within 3 feet of anything that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater.
- Never place space heaters on top of furniture or near water.
- Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
- Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
- Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
- If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
- Store a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
- Protect yourself from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning by installing a battery-operated detector.
In Case of Power Failure:
- Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles, if possible.
- Never leave lit candles unattended.
- Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors—the fumes are deadly.
- Never use an electric generator indoors because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Plug in appliances to the generator using individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords.
- Do not use the generator or appliances if they are wet.
- Do not store gasoline indoors where the fumes could ignite.
- If you don’t need extra ventilation, keep as much heat as possible inside your home.
- Avoid unnecessary opening of doors or windows. Close off unused rooms, stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors, and close draperies or cover windows with blankets at night.
Monitor Body Temperature
- Infants and senior citizens are much more sensitive to the cold and at risk for cold-related health issues. Provide warm clothing and try to maintain a warm indoor temperature.
- Check on babies and older people frequently during the day.
Monitor Pipes and Plumbing
Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home 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 warm.
- Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes. For example, open kitchen cabinet doors beneath the kitchen sink.
- If your pipes freeze, don’t thaw with a torch. Use a hair dryer.
- If you cannot thaw your pipes, or if they are ruptured, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor. As an emergency measure—if no other water is available—snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a boil for one minute will kill most microorganisms or parasites that may be present.
Eat and Drink Wisely
- Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer.
- Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages—they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly.
- Drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain your body temperature.
- Try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief as possible. If you must go outside, follow these suggestions:
- Dress Warmly: Adults and children should wear, hats, scarves, gloves, and water-resistant coat and boots. Be sure to wear several layers of loose-fitting, tightly woven clothing. Wool, silk, or polyester will hold more body heat than cotton.
- Stay Dry: Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.
- Don’t Ignore Shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.
- Avoid Exertion: Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold.
- Avoid High Winds: The Wind Chill Index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. It is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop and increasing your likelihood for weather-related health problems.
- Avoid Ice: Walking on ice is extremely dangerous. Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on ice-covered sidewalks, steps, driveways, and porches. Keep your steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping.
Be Safe During Recreation
- Notify friends and family where you will be before you go hiking, camping, skating or skiing.
- Do not leave areas of the skin exposed to the cold.
- Avoid perspiring or becoming overtired. Be prepared to take emergency shelter. Pack dry clothing, a two-wave radio, waterproof matches and paraffin fire starters with you.
- Do not use alcohol and other mood altering substances, and avoid caffeinated beverages. Avoid walking on ice or getting wet.
Be Cautious About Travel
- Listen for radio or TV reports of travel advisories issued by the National Weather Service.
- Do not travel in low visibility conditions.
- Avoid traveling on icy roads, overpasses, and bridges if at all possible.
- If you must travel by car, use tire chains and take a mobile phone with you. Let others know your destination and when you expect to arrive. Ask them to notify authorities if you are late.
- Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car before you leave.
- Never pour water on your windshield to remove ice or snow; it may shatter.
- Always carry additional warm clothing appropriate for the winter conditions.
A Few Words About Hypothermia
Prolonged exposure to cold temperatures causes your body to lose heat faster than it can be produced. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects and damages the brain, the nervous system and internal organs, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at temperatures in the 40-50 degree range if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water.
Victims of Hypothermia are often:
- Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating
- Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms
- People who remain outdoors for long periods
- People who drink alcohol or use illegal drugs.
Warnings Signs of Hypothermia:
- Shivering, exhaustion
- Confusion, fumbling hands
- Memory loss, slurred speech
- Drowsiness, very low energy
- Bright red, cold skin
What to Do About Hypothermia
If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an EMERGENCY…get medical attention immediately. If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:
- Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
- If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
- Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
- Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
- After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
- Get medical attention as soon as possible.
- A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
A Few Words About Frostbite
Frostbite is an injury to the skin and body caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage skin and body parts, and in severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
Warning Signs of Frostbite
A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
- A white or grayish-yellow skin area
- Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
What to Do About Frostbite
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious condition and requires emergency medical assistance.
If there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia, and immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
- Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
- Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes (this increases the damage).
- Immerse the affected area in warm—not hot—water (comfortable to the touch). Or, warm the affected area using body heat.
- Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all. This can cause more damage.
- Don’t use a heating pad, heat lamp, or the heat of a stove, fireplace, or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb and can be easily burned.