As anyone who’s ever survived a severe winter storm knows, cold weather can wreak havoc. Unfortunately, "people usually prepare after a big event", says Jim Judge, preparedness advisor for the Scientific Advisory Council of the Red Cross. But if you prepare for adverse conditions when it's nice out, you’ll be able to do in an hour what might take you many hours to do in worse weather or what you might not be able to do at all.” Here's how.
You can contract hypothermia in nonfreezing temperatures if clothes or skin get wet. Children (and the elderly) are more prone to hypothermia because they don’t have much muscle mass to insulate them. Dress everyone in multiple thin layers, hats and wind-resistant jackets. And if they get wet, make sure they come inside and take their layers off as soon as possible.
Put together an emergency car kit.
If you must drive in severe conditions, bring along your cell phone, copies of personal documents and an emergency car kit that contains blankets, first aid supplies, water, nonperishable food, a flashlight, a hat, mittens, socks, a shovel, jumper cables, a windshield scraper, a distress flag, flares, extra oil and antifreeze, candles, waterproof matches, and a bag of kitty litter for traction, since it won't freeze like damp sand.
Get your car checked and keep your tank full.
Bring your car to a mechanic to check the steering, brakes, antifreeze levels, heater, defroster, oil, battery and hazard lights. And don't forget the exhaust system. With windows closed, even a small hole can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. In addition, check your tires frequently; they deflate in cold, increasing the chance of blowouts. Don’t forget to keep your gas tank full to keep the fuel line from freezing.
Keep antifreeze away from pets.
Ethylene glycol, an ingredient in many types of antifreeze, has a sweet taste that's irresistible to animals. Be aware that winter cabins occasionally put antifreeze in their toilets. It only takes a tablespoon of antifreeze to poison a cat, and a few big licks to poison a dog. If left untreated, kidney failure sets in within 24 to 36 hours. The first signs of poisoning: the animal seems to be drunk and drinks lots of water.
Get a carbon monoxide detector.
Never use a gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning device in a home, garage, basement or any partially enclosed area. Locate units away from anything that could allow carbon monoxide indoors. Install carbon monoxide detectors all over your home. If they go off, get to fresh air and then call for help. "We hear tragic stories of people dying in the night because they didn't have this little piece of equipment," says Judge.
Run water to keep pipes from freezing.
Even a trickle or slow drip from a faucet can help prevent pipes from freezing. And even if they do freeze, you'll have alleviated the pressure, and the pipes won't burst. Frozen pipes often burst when subfreezing temperatures hit normally warm areas, where pipes are more likely to be in unprotected, non-insulated areas. Pipes in unheated attics, in crawlspaces or on outside walls are vulnerable, so insulate any exposed pipes.
About the Author
Jake Kalish’s articles have appeared in Details, Maxim, Men’s Fitness and Epicurious, among other places, and his personal essays have appeared in New York Press and Ducts. His humor book, Santa vs. Satan: The Official Compendium of Imaginary Fights, was published in 2008.