Preparing Your Family for an Extreme Winter

Image by Jason Meredith via Fotopedia

Extreme winter cold snaps are getting harder to predict. Over the last ten years, many parts of the world that aren’t accustomed to extreme cold have been hit with abnormally harsh winters. An unexpectedly extreme winter can threaten the safety of families in nearly any zone.

If you are getting ready to face an extreme winter, prepare your house, car, and loved ones for the upcoming months.

Making Your House Winter-Ready

If you are building your home or have a chance to renovate, install quality insulation in all walls and attics of your house. But you don’t need to do a full renovation to make your home more efficient–new spray foams can provide extra insulation for corners of your house where air escapes in or out. Also, consider updating caulking around windows and replacing weather strips on your doors and roof top (if you have a chimney).

Take time to walk around your house. Are there trees or particular branches that could cause damage if they fell during a storm? Remove these each fall. Clean your furnaces and chimneys, too – if your furnace is more than 10 years old, think about replacing it with a more reliable, energy-efficient version.

In extreme temperatures, pipes can freeze and crack, causing your plumbing system to breakdown at the most inconvenient time of year. Keep faucets on a steady drip of cold water during the night to prevent freezing. Insulate pipes in the coldest areas with wrap-around insulation, heat tape, or even newspapers. Learn how to shut off your water supply if a pipe does freeze and burst. Show your family members where to find your house water valve so that everyone can shut off it off quickly if they notice flooding from a burst pipe.

When winter arrives, electric, gas and wood stove heating is vital, but home heating systems can also be dangerous. Vent any emissions to the outside air, no matter what device you are using. Keep space heaters several feet away from combustible materials, and buy a small fire extinguisher in case of accidents. If you use a fuel source like wood or gas, make sure you are well-stocked and refilled. Reverse your ceiling fan directions so they push warm air down and around your rooms.

Car Care and Winter Driving

Prepare your automobile for an extreme winter by inspecting key systems and ensuring proper function. Remember to check your battery regularly and keep your engines oil and antifreeze levels adequate. Replenish your brake fluid, too – brakes are especially important when it comes to driving in icy weather. A mechanic will be able to run diagnostics and test levels in one complete inspection of your vehicle, as well as offer advice on the best oils to use. Most oils work in all temperatures, but heavier oils are more likely to congeal in cold temperatures.

When driving in winter weather, always go slow and watch out for unexpected conditions, such as sudden blizzards or black ice. Keep your gas tank full to prevent fuel lines from freezing. Car heaters get heavy use during extreme winters, so test your auto heating system and inspect your exhaust system. If your car exhaust system is clogged or crimped, carbon monoxide could leak back into your vehicle. These leaks can make conditions inside the car more deadly than those in the cold outside.

Stay safe in the ice and snow by equipping your car with winter tires. Studded tires provide life-saving traction on treacherous winter roads. If you do not want to switch your tires on and off between seasons, carry tire chains you can attach in dangerous conditions.

During winter, getting stranded in your car is not only more likely, but also more dangerous. Put together an emergency kit of food, clothes, and medicine and store it in your trunk. Don’t forget a pack of signal flares and a flashlight. Consider investing in a a battery-operated radio for weather reports. Always coordinate trips and travel with family members so people know where you are.

Health and Personal Safety

Be sure to equip your family with warm clothing, protective gear, and shoes with excellent traction or cleats. And keep in mind that supply lines can be disrupted in severe weather conditions, making it difficult to count on medications or certain types of food. Keep your kitchen and cabinets well-stocked with any drugs or special meals that you may need.

Cold temperatures also pose the threat of hypothermia. Elderly people without adequate warmth, infants left in cold rooms, and people lost outside are the most likely to suffer from hypothermia. Avoid getting wet and moving into cold air – as the water evaporates, heat can leave the body very quickly. Immediate warmth, especially for the center of the body, is key to treating anyone suffering from signs of hypothermia.

Frostbite may also be a concern, especially for those lost outside in cold winds. Frostbite starts when numb skin turns waxy white or gray and swiftly leads to permanent, spreading damage. Cover all extremities well and avoid staying outside for long periods of time. You can warm areas in danger of frostbite, but the numb skin can be easily burned so stay away from heat lamps and furnace heat when recovering.

Additional Tips

  • Listen regularly to weather reports and news stations to stay informed concerning oncoming storms or especially bad driving weather
  • Keep driveways clear of ice by spreading rock salt
  • Keep a supply of nonperishable food and battery-operated lights handy in the event of a power outage
  • Put together family emergency kit with extra clothes, water, and survival gear
  • Keep a bright or neon cloth in your car to use as a signal in case you get stuck or lost while driving
  • Sprinkle sand on walkways around your house to de-ice (helps avoid salt-poisoning of soil)
  • If the winter is unexpectedly cold, remember to bring your pets inside, especially at night
  • Prepare yourself for heavy snow and ice removal by stocking up on snow shovels, ice scrapers, and a tough-bristled broom

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