Winter weather safety awareness and precaution tips

By: 
Washington County Emergency Management Agency

We are in the Winter Season and with Extreme Cold Temperatures the need to be Prepared and take Precautions should be a high priority on your list of things to do. 

The Indiana Department of Homeland Security, IDHS PIO and Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson partner with Local Emergency Management Agencies to urging Hoosiers to take precautions against the extreme cold and keep safety in mind while using alternative heating sources or cooking.

Here are some good tips to put in place during the Winter Season. 

Always keep a Winter Emergency Kit in your vehicle.                                                    

Even with the best maintenance and cautious driving, snow, ice and freezing temperatures can sometimes still get the best of your vehicle.                                   

Being prepared to handle potential slide-offs, accidents, and car trouble in winter is a simple but crucial step to take in preparing for the next few months.

How to prepare a winter emergency kit for your vehicle. Supplies should include:

At least two blankets or a sleeping bag

Flashlight or battery-powered lantern and extra batteries

Booster (jumper) cables

Emergency flares

Extra clothing, particularly boots, hats and mittens

A steel shovel and rope to use as a lifeline

Bottled water or juice and nonperishable high-energy foods (granola bars, raisins, nuts, peanut butter or cheese crackers)

Thermos or container that won’t allow liquids to freeze

First-aid kit and necessary medications

Sand or non-clumping cat litter for tire traction if your vehicle gets stuck in snow or ice

A cell phone and charger which can be adapted to vehicle use

Ice scraper and snow brush

Tire repair kit and pump

Candle, matches, heat sticks/packs, lighters, hand-warmers, etc. (Be sure to crack the window if you are using a heat source inside the vehicle)

Lock your vehicle, even in bad weather. If locks freeze, heat the key. Do not pour hot water on the locks – they will refreeze.

You should also have essential items in the home in the event utilities are disrupted. Some supplies to gather ahead of time include:

Food and water for three days (include one gallon of water per person, per day)

Battery operated or hand crank all hazard radio

Flashlight

Extra batteries for radio and flashlight

Extra clothing, warm blankets, sleeping bags for insulation

Special items (baby formula, insulin, medications)

Extreme Cold weather puts extra strain on the heart as the body tries to keep warm. Anyone performing hard work in the cold should take breaks regularly. Because the body is already working hard just to stay warm, it is possible to be overheated as well.  Try to stay indoors when weather is extremely cold, especially if winds are high.   If you must go outdoors, make trips outside as brief as possible.

If spending time outside, wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing, and cover any exposed skin with a hat, scarf, and gloves.

Check on family, friends and neighbors who are at risk and may need additional assistance.

Pet owners should be especially sensitive to their animal’s limits when outside. Bring pets indoors or ensure they have a warm shelter area with unfrozen water. 

Travel Safely

Hoosiers should carefully consider if travel is necessary during winter weather conditions. Use a variety of sources to make an informed decision. One of those sources is the Indiana County Travel Advisory Map. It’s updated with information from the county emergency management agencies and describes the conditions for a travel warning, watch, advisory and caution. The map is available online at http://www.in.gov/dhs/traveladvisory/, or on your mobile device by downloading the Indiana Travel Advisory app for iPhone (https://appsto.re/us/QHVw4.i) in the App Store, and Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=gov.in.traveladvisory) in the Google Play Store.

 In addition to the Travel Advisory Map, keep an eye on road conditions and closures across the state at trafficwise.in.gov. A source for monitoring weather conditions is National Weather Service: http://www.weather.gov/.

Safe winter driving techniques

Before leaving home:

Find out about the driving conditions and pay attention to weather reports on the radio. 

Remove any snow on your vehicle’s windows, lights, brake lights and signals.

Check your vehicle’s tires, wiper blades, fluids, lights, belts and hoses.

Let someone know your destination, route and expected time of arrival.

Become familiar with your vehicle’s winter weather operating characteristics. Front-wheel-drive vehicles generally handle better than rear-wheel vehicles on slippery roads because the weight of the engine is on the drive wheels, improving traction.

On the road:

Keep your gas tank at least half full. Fill the tank before you park for lengthy periods. This will help prevent fuel line freeze-up.

Be cautious of black ice. Roads that seem dry may actually be slippery and dangerous. Take it slow when approaching intersections, off-ramps, bridges or shady areas.

Stay attentive and reduce speeds during times of limited visibility.

Give yourself space, remember it takes your car extra time to stop on slick and snowy roads

Understand your vehicles brakes and how they work. Brake early, brake slowly, brake correctly, and never “slam on the breaks.”

When driving on ice and snow, do not use cruise control and avoid abrupt steering maneuvers.

Be aware of what is going on a head of you because actions by other vehicles will alert you to problems more quickly giving you that split-second of extra time to react safely.

What to do if you become stranded 

If you are involved in an accident or slide-off, encounter vehicle trouble or become stuck in the snow it’s important to stay calm and take a few precautions to help you stay safe and help rescuers find you.

Remain calm. Chances for rescue are better if you remain calm and in your vehicle.

Do not leave your car, it is the best protection you have.

Run the engine for 10 minutes every hour to stay warm. An idling car only uses about one gallon of gas per hour.

If you don’t have a cell phone to call for help, tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna for rescuers to see.

Light a flare or turn on a flashlight to let others know you’re stranded in the vehicle

Keep the overhead light on when the engine is running so you can be seen (remember to keep the windows cracked).

Keep the exhaust pipe free of blockage to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Use floor mats, seat covers and blankets for added warmth. If you must leave your vehicle during a severe snow storm or blizzard, secure a line of rope or cod to yourself and the vehicle to avoid becoming lost or disoriented.

Keep bottled water in your vehicle emergency kit. Never eat snow. It will chill you and lower your body temperature.

Indiana State Fire Marshal Jim Greeson urges Hoosiers to “Home fires occur more often in winter than any other season, and alternative heating sources are one of the leading causes of home fires and fire-related deaths each year,” said Greeson. “Fires caused by alternative heating equipment account for 19 percent of home fire deaths in the United States.”

Hoosiers are encouraged to avoid using space heaters and other alternative heating if possible. Here are some other alternative heat safety tips to follow while cold weather continues in Indiana.

Alternative Heating

Keep at least a three-foot perimeter around space heaters at all times.

Space heaters should be kept away from loose or flammable objects such as clothing, curtains, bedding and furniture.

Only one space heater should be plugged into each electrical outlet. Never overload electrical outlets.

Do not leave space heaters on in unoccupied rooms.

If it is necessary to purchase a space heater, consider purchasing one with a built-in tilt sensor that automatically shuts off if tipped over.

Refuel kerosene space heaters outside the home in a well-ventilated area. Be sure to let them cool down first if they were recently used.

Appliances such as ovens should never be used for heating. Doing so can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Follow Washington County Sheriff Facebook page for Local Information and Updates   

For more information on winter weather preparedness and fire safety, visit GetPrepared.in.gov, follow Indiana Department of Homeland Security on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/IndianaDHS, or @IDHS on Twitter.

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