University of Nebraska Medical Center

Winter Weather Safety (already?)!

GBsnowPublic Health in the National News – Did you know that Omaha averages 28 inches of snow per year, Des Moines averages 33 and Chicago 38? Going west Scottsbluff averages 40 inches, Denver 60, and Cheyenne 55?  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting that a ‘wavering’ El Nino will mean a warmer and drier winter for the Midwestern US. Good news, right?

It is good news, but don’t let this early prediction fool you. Ice and snow can be dangerous, and it’s a good idea to think about it before you run into bad weather. In fact, the National Weather Service recommends that we prepare well before the first snow starts to fall. Keep this in mind when you are planning travel for this fall if you’re headed to states that have white winters.

One way to stay safe and healthy this winter is to put a winter weather kit in your car. Start putting your kit together now, so you can spread the expense over several months. The kit should include:

  • Phone charger and/or an extra battery

  • First aid kit

  • Shovel and tow rope

  • Battery booster cables

  • Blankets, extra clothes, hats, mittens, etc.

  • High calorie, non-perishable food

If you should get temporarily stranded in your car, stay inside until help arrives (unless you are stalled in the middle of the street, of course). In most cases, you are safer staying in your car.

You should also have some supplies in case you get stranded at home.  Stock up on non-perishable food before the storm. And, be particularly careful with alternate heat sources like fireplaces and some space heaters. The risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning increases when these sources are used. Do NOT run generators in your house!

When the snow and ice stop and you can finally venture outside, be sure to stay as dry as possible; cover all exposed body parts and layer your clothing. Also, be sure to eat and drink enough to keep your energy and prevent dehydration.

The National Weather Service provides the latest weather forecast, including potentially hazardous conditions. NOAA has teamed with the Red Cross to provide a  preparedness guide for winter weather. Many state Departments of Transportation (or Department of Roads) also provide information on road conditions. Or you can call 511 in most states for information as well. There are also a multitude of weather-related phone apps that provide up to the minute forecasts and warnings.

Winter can certainly be a wonderland. Just be sure you don’t underestimate the power of ice, cold, snow and wind. Be safe and enjoy the season!

Keith Hansen, MBA, is the assistant director of the Center for Preparedness Education, a joint endeavor between the UNMC College of Public Health and Creighton University School of Medicine, and an instructor in the UNMC COPH Department of Health Services Research and Administration.

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