Editorial: Beware - winter's on its way
Ready or not, here comes one of the more challenging seasons. The Wisconsin Division of Emergency Management wants the public to be prepared, offering some winter awareness advice.
Storms occur year-round, but winter storms are considered particularly deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. For example, motor vehicle crashes during the winter months have averaged 50,000 in the state in the last five years. An average of 45 people die and over 5,000 are injured on icy or snow-covered roads.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is also a danger, for instance. The Centers for Disease Control indicate carbon monoxide is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the U.S., with more than 20,000 people visiting the emergency room and nearly 500 killed annually from overexposure to the gas.
Now is the time to winterize both car and home, gather items for an emergency kit in the car and make sure to have a NOAA Weather Radio with fresh batteries. Carry that winter storm survival kit in the back seat of the vehicle (in case the trunk jams or is frozen shut) including: blankets or sleeping bags; extra hats, socks and mittens; flashlight with extra batteries; first-aid kit; shovel, booster cables and windshield scraper; water and high-calorie non-perishable food; sand or cat litter to use for traction; and cell phone adapter.
Plan travels and check the latest weather reports to avoid winter storms. Learn the latest road conditions by visiting the Wisconsin Department of Transportation travel information website at www.511wigov or by calling 511.
Know the various storm warnings and watches issued by the National Weather Service. A “Winter Storm Watch” means winter storm conditions (heavy snow, sleet and freezing rain) are possible within the next 36-48 hours. A “Winter Storm (or Ice Storm) Warning” means a significant winter storm is occurring or will begin in the next 24 hours. The combination of snow, sleet, freezing rain and moderate winds will impact travel and outdoor activities. For ice storms, warnings are issued after mostly freezing rain is expected with ice accumulations of one-quarter-inch or more within a 12-hour period.
A “Blizzard Warning” means a dangerous storm is pending with winds of 35 mph or greater in combination with falling and/or blowing snow reducing visibility to one-quarter-mile or less for a duration of at least three hours. A “Wind Chill Advisory” is issued for bitter cold wind chills and a “Wind Chill Warning” is issued when frostbite is possible when outside for 10 minutes or less.
Some of the dangers associated with winter storms include loss of heat, power and phone service, and a shortage of supplies. To help protect the family, now’s the time to put together a disaster supply kit. Include the following: flashlights and extra batteries; battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and a commercial radio; bottled water and non-perishable food requiring no cooking, first-aid supplies; fire extinguisher, smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector; if appropriate, extra medications and baby items; if having an emergency heating source such as a fireplace or space heater, make sure to have proper ventilation; and make sure pets have shelter along with plenty of food and water.
To protect the family from carbon monoxide, follow these simple safety tips: make sure to have working CO detectors; have the furnace or wood-burning stove inspected annually; never run a gasoline or propane heater or a grill inside a home or unventilated garage; never run a car in an enclosed space; and generators should be run a safe distance from the home.
With just three simple steps, families can protect themselves from costly damage as a result of frozen water pipes. Remember FOAM, DOME and DRIP. For FOAM, insulate pipes exposed to the elements or cold drafts. For DOME, place an insulating dome or other covering on outdoor faucets or spigots. For DRIP, drip the faucets to reduce the build-up of pressure in the pipes. Even if the pipes freeze, the pressure from the water system has been released, reducing the likelihood of a rupture.