5 tips to stay safe during severe winter weather

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Whether it’s power outages, freezing temperatures or icy roads, winter storms can put people in dangerous situations — and that’s why it’s always best to be prepared.

Ahead of last week’s second snowy forecast, we asked Chatham County’s emergency management director, Steve Newton, about how people can best keep themselves and their families safe during bad winter storms. Here’s what he recommended:

Create a family communications plan.

Bad winter storms can make roads unsafe for driving, strand travelers and — in extreme cases — knock out power, internet and telephone service for prolonged periods of time. Families might not be together when such weather hits, so it’s a good idea to have an emergency communications plan prepared just in case.

“Know how to communicate with each other,” Newton said, “(and) have a plan that, you know, ‘If I can’t get home, this is where I’ll be. This is where I’ll be safe.’”

Prepare an emergency supplies kit.

Severe winter storms can strand people in their homes or other buildings for days or even weeks, so make sure you maintain an emergency supplies kit.

“What do you need to survive on your own for at least 72 hours, if not more?” Newton said. “During winter weather, that may include having rock salt, sand and snow shovels … heating fuel, kerosene, something.”

The National Weather Service advised that people include these items in their emergency home kits:

• a flashlight and extra batteries

• a battery-powered weather radio and portable radio to receive urgent information

• water and extra food that doesn’t require cooking or refrigeration, such as dried fruits or nuts

• extra prescription medicine

• first-aid supplies

• heating fuel, plus an emergency heat source like a fireplace or wood stove

• fire extinguisher and a smoke alarm

Have a plan for staying warm if the power goes out — and make sure it doesn’t do you more harm than good.

Bad winter storms can knock out your power for days, especially if they bring large amounts of snow and ice. So, Newton recommended, prepare a plan for keeping warm if your power goes out.

In this situation, he added, a lot of people use kerosene heaters, which don’t require electricity, charcoal grills or electric generators — each of which carries its own risks if not properly used.

“Make sure you’re using the charcoal grills and even generators well outside the house, not in the garage,” Newton said. “The fumes that they put off are deadly. For prolonged power outages, almost invariably, we see some cases of that, or somebody has carbon monoxide poisoning from either a generator, more likely a charcoal grill, placed too close to the house.”

If you lose heat, you and your family can gather into one or several rooms while closing off those you’re not using to conserve warmth, according to the National Weather Service. Other methods to conserve heat include stuffing towels or rags under door cracks and covering your windows with curtains or blinds.

You should also drink non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic drinks to avoid dehydration and eat to provide your body with the necessary energy to produce its own heat. Dressing in warm, lightweight layers always helps, too.

Plan for your pets and animals.

Most animals like the cold just about as much as you do.

Once you hear a storm’s approaching, be sure to stock up on your pet’s food and medicine just in case roads become too slick for driving. Make sure your pet or animal has ID, too, such as a collar with a name tag, in case he or she gets lost in the storm or snow. During the storm, Newton said, you should ideally bring your pets and animals inside.

“If you’re cold out there,” he said, “they’re cold out there.”

Stay informed.

Knowledge and know-how saves lives. Be sure to follow the latest updates about nearby winter storms and weather as well as road conditions.

Chatham County’s emergency management department maintains a joint Facebook page with 911 emergency communications (username: @Chatham911). Besides publishing forecasts and safety tips a few days ahead of an expected storm, staff also share information about local weather impacts, including road conditions, during and after the storm.

“Really the most important thing is just (following) local, reputable sources, and so not necessarily a friend or a family member, but the National Weather Service, local news,” Newton said. “The national news typically doesn’t have the resolution that you need to see, you know, what is the threat to you and your neighborhood? Whereas, your local news will. Just make sure that you’re getting definitive information through them.”

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