Experts offer winter weather safety tips

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published February 24, 2021

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ROCHESTER — As Michigan bid farewell to a winter storm that left an average of 6-8 inches of snow in most communities across southeast Michigan early last week, many residents were left to battle bitterly cold wind chills in the sub-zero range.

The city of Rochester declared a snow emergency on Monday, Feb. 15, asking motorists to stay off the roadways and temporarily halting parking on city streets to allow plows to clear the snow safely and efficiently.

“We got the weather that we were expecting — that 6-8 inches of snow, along with the very cold weather. It was 4 degrees below zero here at the fire station on Wednesday (Feb. 17) morning, so we’re glad to see that things have warmed up from that standpoint,” said Rochester Fire Chief John Cieslik.

The city of Rochester was prepared to battle the storm, according to Cieslik, and officials lifted the snow emergency the following evening.

“We ended up, in essence, having a normal day because we were prepared to handle it,” he said.

But with more winter weather and cold temperatures likely still ahead, Cieslik — along with the Michigan State Police — is encouraging people to make winter emergency preparedness a priority.

“The cold temperatures can cause serious injury and be potentially life threatening,” Capt. Kevin Sweeney, the deputy state director of emergency management and a commander of the Michigan State Police Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division, said in a statement.

Severe winter weather poses health and safety concerns from extremely cold temperatures — which can cause frostbite and hypothermia, along with creating hazardous driving conditions, freezing pipes, and causing propane shortages and power outages.

To stay safe during cold weather, experts recommend limiting your time outside.

If you need to go outside, you should wear layers of warm clothing and watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Signs of frostbite include: loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers and toes; numbness; white or grayish-yellow skin; and firm or waxy skin. Signs of hypothermia include: shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech and drowsiness.

To make sure your home is prepared for a winter storm, officials suggest creating an emergency winter preparedness kit that includes: at least 3 gallons of water per person; at least a three-day supply of nonperishable food per person, prescribed medications, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit, a whistle to signal for help, a complete change of clothing and footwear for each person, bedding, important family documents, and extra clothes and blankets.

To further protect your home, you can weatherstrip and insulate walls, attics and basements; insulate the pipes that run through walls and attics to prevent them from bursting; clean gutters to prevent ice dams from forming; and install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors near every sleeping area.

Having a backup heating source may prevent pipes from freezing and keep homes warm in the event of an outage, but Cieslik stressed that gas generators or fuel-based heating systems must be vented outside to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. He also reminded homeowners never to heat their home with a gas stovetop or oven, which can easily start a fire.

Carbon monoxide poisoning, Cieslik said, is most prevalent when furnaces are turned on to fight cold winter temperatures or when people rely on portable generators for electricity during outages.

“CO, right now, is becoming more and more of a silent killer,” he explained. “A very large portion of people who go to the emergency room during the wintertime are not sick from the flu or other issues, they have actually been exposed to CO and are having the effects of CO poisoning.”

To prepare for extreme cold temperatures, Michiganders should make sure to have sufficient fuel for cars and generators. They can weatherproof doors and windows to trap heat inside a home, and insulate pipes with newspaper or plastic to keep them from freezing. People should put warming supplies — such as gloves, blankets and hats — in cars in case they become stranded or extreme cold strikes while they are away from home.

Pet owners have a few more responsibilities to keep in mind, like making sure animals are indoors well before any cold weather hits and stocking up on pet supplies.

“For pets in particular, try to limit their time outside — just enough to go to the bathroom and get a little exercise,” Dr. Michele Schalow, veterinarian and a program manager in the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s Animal Industry Division, said in a press release. “For animals with short coats, you may want to consider putting clothing on them, if they will tolerate it — something that fits them well and doesn’t have anything loose that could get caught. With horses, you’ll want to blanket them, but check under the blanket to make sure their bodies are in good condition. They can lose weight in the wintertime.”

For more information on what to do before, during and after an emergency or disaster, visit www.michigan.gov/miready.

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