Surviving the Winter Chill

With winter upon us at Lake Tahoe, here are some tips for getting through a nasty stretch of cold weather, provided by Olivia Rahman with the U.S. Forest Service and the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team:

Personal Winter Safety:

  • Stay indoors during storms. If you go outside, be careful on snowy and icy walkways.
  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside.
  • Keep dry. Wet clothing loses its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite: If you experience loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities, seek medical help immediately.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia including uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. Get hypothermia victims to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Seek medical help immediately.

Home Winter Safety:

  • Clean out gutters, disconnect and drain all outside hoses. If possible, shut off outside water valves. If your house will be unattended during cold periods, consider draining the water system.
  • Insulate walls and attics and caulk and weather-strip doors and windows. Consider an insulated blanket for your hot water heater
  • Repair roof leaks and remove tree branches that could become weighted down with ice or snow and fall on your house or your neighbor’s house. Have a contractor check your roof to see if it would sustain the weight of a heavy snowfall.
  • Wrap water pipes in your basement or crawl spaces with insulation sleeves to slow heat transfer.
  • If you have a fireplace, keep the flue closed when you’re not using it.
  • Make sure your furniture isn’t blocking your home’s heating vents.
  • During cold spells, keep cabinet doors open to allow warm air to circulate around pipes, particularly those in the kitchen and bathroom.
  • Keep a slow trickle of water flowing through faucets connected to pipes that run through unheated or unprotected spaces. To thaw a frozen pipe, first check the pipe in the area of the freeze. Some plastic or copper pipes will split and flood the area when thawed. If the pipe looks broken or has a slit in it, call a plumber.
  • It is far better to heat the area around the frozen part with an electric space heater, a hand-held hair dryer, or a heat lamp in a reflector to prevent a fire.
  • Avoid ice dams by keeping water from melted snow from refreezing in the gutters and seeping under the roof and soaking interior walls. Here’s how:
    • Ventilate your attic. The colder it is the less melting and refreezing on the roof.
    • Insulate the attic floor well to minimize the amount of heat rising through the attic from within the house.
    • Consider having a water-repellent membrane installed under your roof covering.

Winter Driving:

Some 70 percent of winter storm deaths are auto-related. One in four of these deaths are the result of people caught in severe weather, so be prepared! Drive only if necessary, travel during the day, and don’t travel alone. Keep others informed of your schedule, stay on main roads, and avoid back road shortcuts. Top off the antifreeze, windshield wiper fluid, gasoline, oil, and other fluids and make sure your tires have enough tread. Consider snow tires. Clear the snow from the top of the car, headlights and windows. Keep bagged salt or sand in the trunk for extra traction and to melt ice. Program your auto club, insurance agent, and towing service phone numbers into your cell phone. In your trunk, keep a cold-weather kit containing a blanket or sleeping bag, gloves, hard candy, bottled water, folding shovel, first aid kit, flashlight, and car cell phone charger.

If you find yourself snowbound and trapped in your vehicle:

Keep calm and remain inside your vehicle. Rescuers are more likely to find you there. Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes every hour and make sure you clear any snow from the exhaust pipe to reduce the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep moving around to maintain heat and use what you have in your car to create insulation. It’s always a good idea to travel with food, water, and a warm sleeping bag in the winter. Take turns sleeping. Someone should always be awake to alert rescuers. Turn on the inside light at night so rescue crews can find you. If you’re stranded in a remote area, stomp “SOS” or “HELP” in the snow so rescuers may easily find you.

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