Winter is coming: Tips to protect your home and family this winter

By: Eric Alves, Regional Communications Specialist, American Red Cross of Northeast Ohio

As the calendar turns to November, in Northeast Ohio we know this means winter in coming. With snow and bone-chilling cold just around the corner, it is important to plan ahead to ensure that you are winter ready.

Here are some tips from the American Red Cross to help you prepare before the cold and winter storms arrive:

North Dakota and Minnesota Floods

Protecting your family:

  • Winterize your vehicle before the winter storm season to decrease your chances of being stranded.
  • Have a mechanic check your battery, antifreeze, wipers and windshield washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster and oil.
  • Install good winter tires.
  • Service snow removal equipment before the winter storm season to ensure they are in good working condition.emergency prep kit
  • Items to keep in your vehicle all winter include a windshield scraper and a small broom, a small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels, matches in a waterproof container, a bright colored (preferably red) cloth to tie to the antenna and an emergency supply kit, which includes warm clothing.

Protecting your home:

  • Protect your pipes from freezing. To learn how to protect your pipes, click here.
  • Make sure your home heating sources are installed according to local codes and permit requirements and are clean and in working order.
  • Install storm windows and cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide an extra layer of insulation to keep cold air out.
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windowsills to add additional protection from the cold winter air.
  • If you have a fireplace, keep a supply of firewood on hand. Be sure the fireplace is properly vented and in good working order.

Don’t forget your furry friends:

  • Do not leave your companion animals out in the cold, bring them indoors. Ensure you have supplies for cleaning up after your companion animal—large plastic bags, paper towels and extra cat litter.
  • Create a place where your other animals can be comfortable in severe winter weather. Horses and livestock should have a shelter where they can be protected from wind, snow, ice and rain. Grazing animals should have access to a protected supply of food and non-frozen water.
  • Be aware of potential for flooding when snow and ice melt and be sure that your animals have access to high ground that is not impeded by fencing or other barriers.
  • Ensure that any outbuildings that house or shelter animals can withstand wind and heavy snow and ice.

Use the American Red Cross Emergency App for weather alerts and to let others know 10846-005.jpgyou are safe if severe weather occurs. Find this and all of the Red Cross apps in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.

To learn more about what you should do before, during and after a winter storm to keep you and your family safe, visit redcross.org for additional winter storm safety tips.

Cold Weather Injuries Are Not Cool

By: Doug Bardwell – American Red Cross Volunteer

North Dakota and Minnesota FloodsWinter is beautiful, provided you are inside looking out.  If you are outside, and can’t get in to get warm, you better be prepared.  Hypothermia, frostnip and frostbite are all possibilities, and all can be serious.

Hypothermia is the medical emergency that can result from losing body heat faster than it can be replaced.  Your normal body temperature is 98.6°F; but you can start to notice signs of hypothermia when your temperature falls below 95°F.  Typical causes are being inadequately clothed or exposure to extreme cold temperatures, like icy water. Avalanche victims often suffer hypothermia if not rescued quickly.

First aid varies with the severity of the frostbite, but generally, if the hypothermia is mild:

  • Call for help immediately
  • Move the person inside a tent or dry shelter to prevent further wind damage.
  • Remove wet clothing
  • Place the victim in a sleeping bag and cover their head
  • Do not allow them to sit or stand
  • If alert, a person may be given warm drinks like soup or hot chocolate – no alcohol or caffeine.
  • Build a fire to warm they gradually until a heated ambulance arrives.

For severe hypothermia, consider the situation life-threatening and seek medical assistance immediately.  Do not rub the person’s extremities, as that my cause ice crystals in the blood to rupture skin cells.  Even if the person’s pulse drops to 2-3 beats per minute, they may still be revived with expert treatment. Do not initiate CPR.

Frostnip is the least serious of the three, but must be treated properly. It occurs when noses, cheeks, ear lobes, fingers or toes are exposed to freezing temperatures and the top layer of skin freezes. The skin becomes white in color and feels hard to the touch.

First aid consists of:

  • Gently rewarming the affected area by holding it against non-freezing skin elsewhere on the person’s body or that of the rescuer.
  • Do not rub the skin for fear of rupturing the ice crystals in the cells.
  • Do not use hot water bottles, etc. that are drastically warmer than the skin’s normal temperature.
  • Frostbite can be caused by exposure to extremely cold temperatures or by contact with extremely cold objects. During frostbite situations, the tissue temperature dips below the freezing point and normal blood flow is obstructed. Symptoms of mild frostbite include slight pain, while severe frostbite can occur with no pain, or possibly a burning sensation resulting in visible blisters.

First aid is similar to hypothermia above. In addition:

  • Loosely cover the affected area with a sterile dressing.
  • Place gauze between fingers and toes to absorb moisture.
  • Again, do not rub the affected areas.

Prevention is obviously preferable to any of the above.  Keep all extremities protected when out in the elements, including your eyes if winds are extreme.  For more first aid hints, consult the Red Cross First Aid app available for both Android and iOS devices, or consider taking a Red Cross sponsored first aid class.

Frozen, But Not in a Disney Princess Sort-of Way…

True story: One frozen January day in 2013, I went to check on my parents’ home while they were out of town. As I entered the house, it was immediately clear that something was very wrong. I could still see the steam from my own breath even as I walked in to the living room. And there was a rushing sound coming from the back of the house, like I was standing at the observation deck overlooking Niagara Falls.
In their absence, my parents’ furnace had gone out and one of the pipes in the upstairs shower had burst in the frigid temperatures. Water was cascading through the ceiling of the kitchen, pouring out of the cabinets, raining through the overhead light fixture. The carpet in the dining room, just through the arched doorway, was soaked 4-feet out from the pool of water standing on the linoleum.
Everything had to be replaced.
Being prepared and informed may help you and your family avoid the messy and often expensive issue of frozen pipes. With today’s below freezing temperatures already causing concern, here is some information and suggestions around how to thaw  water pipes in the home if they do freeze and what you can do to prevent the problem.
frozen-pipe-ice.jpg
Why Pipe Freezing is a Problem:
Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the “strength” of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break. Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, kitchen cabinets – or bathrooms when the furnace has been not working for who-knows-how-long. Pipes that run against exterior walls (like my parents’) that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.
Here’s what you can do right now:
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes. Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.
To Thaw Frozen Pipes
  • If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Likely places for frozen pipes include against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation.
  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area. Running water through the pipe will help melt ice in the pipe.
  • Apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater (kept away from flammable materials), or by wrapping pipes with towels soaked in hot water. Do not use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device.
  • Apply heat until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you can not thaw the pipe, call a licensed plumber.
  • Check all other faucets in your home to find out if you have additional frozen pipes. If one pipe freezes, others may freeze, too.
Preventing Frozen Pipes today or tomorrow (or anytime this season):

Before the onset of cold weather, prevent freezing of these water supply lines and pipes by following these recommendations:

  • Drain water from swimming pool and water sprinkler supply lines following manufacturer’s or installer’s directions. Do not put antifreeze in these lines unless directed. Antifreeze is environmentally harmful, and is dangerous to humans, pets, wildlife, and landscaping.
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors. Close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs. Open the outside hose bibs to allow water to drain. Keep the outside valve open so that any water remaining in the pipe can expand without causing the pipe to break.
  • Check around the home for other areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage, and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated.
  • Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a “pipe sleeve” or installing UL-listed “heat tape,” “heat cable,” or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed pipes – even ¼” of newspaper can provide significant protection in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
Future Protection:
  • Consider relocating exposed pipes to provide increased protection from freezing.
  • Pipes can be relocated by a professional if the home is remodeled.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces. Insulation will maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • For more information, please contact a licensed plumber or building professional.

Let the Annual Weather Games Begin

May the forecast be ever in your favor….

If you like snow and cold, you are REALLY in luck this week. According to our partners at the Weather Channel, Northeast Ohio is in for some outstanding winter weather with snow giving way to freezing temperatures and then back to an icy, wintery mix over the next 10 days.

But we’ll leave the forecasting to the professionals.

Let’s chat about some things that you and your family can do to prepare for the winter weather that is upon us. But first, please remember your friends and neighbors – especially those who may have functional or access needs – and check on them. Help them get prepared as well, if you are able!

m16540227_wintershoveling

Smoke Alarms Installed Ahead of Holiday Cooking Time

With the holiday season in full swing we can not stress enough the importance of…

SMOKE ALARMS.

Let’s face it, winter in NEO is C-O-L-D! It’s prime time for home fires, between holiday cooking and trying to stay warm. And that’s why our Operation Save-A-Life program is so vitally important.

We applaud the volunteers and fire department personnel of Olmsted Twp. who braved our first real cold snap last Saturday to install smoke alarms in one Olmsted Township neighborhood. Through their work, we were able to install more than 320 smoke alarms in 130 homes!

(Click on the photo below to view our album on Flickr!)

Olmsted Twp Fire Walk

If you or someone you know need smoke alarms installed, please visit www.redcross.org/neoosal and click on your county to learn more about this free program.

What would you do if extreme weather forced you to stay in your car for hours?

Extreme weather can happen anywhere and at anytime. Typically, the public has advanced notice of extreme weather and can prepare for the event. But consider the ice storm that stopped Georgians in their tracks last January. Some travelers were stuck in their cars on the interestate for 12 or more hours.

So, what can you be prepared for the next #blizznado? (#winterblizz? #heckofalottasnow?)

A lot, actually! Be aware of the amount of gas you have in your car and never let it get below a quarter of a tank.

Pack a special Emergency Kit (Car Edition!) that you keep in your car. Include:

  1. Flashlight with extra batteries
  2. An extra Cell Phone Car Charger
  3. Blanket and/or emergency Mylar blanket
  4. Fleece Hat, Gloves, Scarf (one set for each traveler)
  5. Flares
  6. Folding Shovel
  7. Sand or Cat Litter
  8. Ice Scraper and Snow Brush
  9. First-Aid Kit
  10. Small battery-operated radio
  11. Emergency contact card with names and phone numbers
  12. Extra prescription medications
  13. Bottled Water (4 quarts per traveler – don’t forget pets!)
  14. High protein snacks such as nuts and energy bars; canned fruit and a portable can opener
  15. Maps
  16. Whistle
  17. Baby formula and diapers if you have a small child
  18. A baggie of pet food, if you frequently travel with your four-legged friends

Additionally, know the differences between winter storm outlooks, advisories, watches and warnings.

  • Winter storm outlook – Winter storm conditions that are possible in the next 2 to 5 days.
  • Winter Weather Advisory – Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life-threatening.
  • Winter Storm Watch – Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.
  • Winter Storm Warning – Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.
    • People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.