Winter is in full motion! With it comes winter storms and freezing temperatures, which create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion. Last winter, 75 people died from exposure to cold across Wisconsin. The number of deaths was 36% higher than average over the past few winters, likely due to the sustained extreme cold and higher-than-average snowfall seen across the state last winter. Below are tips on how to stay safe before and during a winter storm.
Be prepared for a winter storm
• Pay attention to weather reports. Sign up for the Eau Claire emergency notification system at (https://smart911.com/).
• Prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking, and weather stripping.
• Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Don’t forget the needs of pets. Have extra batteries for radios and flashlights.
• Create an emergency supply kit for your car. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water, and non-perishable snacks. Keep the gas tank full. (Learn more at www.ready.gov/car.)
Stay safe during a winter storm
• Stay off roads if at all possible. If trapped in your car, then stay inside it.
• Limit your time outside. If you need to go outside, wear layers of warm clothing. Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
• Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups. Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows. Never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven.
• Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow to reduce the risk of a heart attack.
• Check on neighbors. Older adults and young children are more at risk in extreme cold.
Signs and basic treatments for frostbite and hypothermia
• Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers, and toes.
Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.
• Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness.
Actions: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first – chest, neck, head, and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
Natasha Bentz is the emergency preparedness specialist at the Eau Claire City-County Health Department. She served six years active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and is currently a reservist in the aviation community. In her spare time she enjoys running and biking the beautiful trails of Eau Claire.