A major winter storm is set to impact Eastern Pennsylvania this weekend. Heavy snow, ice, strong winds and bitter cold are all expected from Saturday into Monday.
Winter weather of this magnitude poses unique challenges. From stranded travelers to power outages, the American Red Cross has disaster workers and supplies on standby and ready to respond in case of such an emergency.
“The biggest winter storm since mid-November is heading our way and we have tips everyone can follow to stay safe,” said Dave Skutnik, Regional Director of Communications. “Whether trying to keep your home warm in the bitter cold or having to be on the roads or even outside shoveling in the storm, you can follow these steps to get through it and keep your family safe.”
HEAT YOUR HOME SAFELY
It’s that time of year when many people resort to space heaters and other sources to keep their homes warm. Home heating is the second leading cause of fires in this country. To reduce the risk of heating related fires, the Red Cross recommends these steps (More home fire safety information available here):
- All heaters need space. Keep children, pets and things that can burn (paper, matches, bedding, furniture, clothing, carpets, and rugs) at least three feet away from heating equipment.
- If you must use a space heater, place it on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs, carpets or near bedding or drapes. Plug power cords directly into outlets – never into an extension cord or power strip.
- Never leave a fire in the fireplace unattended, and use a glass or metal fire screen to keep fire and embers in the fireplace.
- Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
- Turn off portable space heaters every time you leave the room or go to sleep.
IF OUTSIDE DURING THE STORM
- Wear layers of clothing, a hat, mittens and waterproof, insulated boots.
- Be careful when tackling strenuous tasks like shoveling snow in cold temperatures. Take frequent breaks.
- Check on your neighbors, especially elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.
- Bring pets indoors. If they can’t come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
- Watch for hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia symptoms include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Frostbite symptoms include numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin.
Stay off the road if possible during severe weather. If you must drive in winter weather, follow these tips:
- Make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road.
- Don’t follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy roadways.
- Don’t use cruise control when driving in winter weather.
- Don’t pass snow plows.
- Ramps, bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways.
- If you become stranded, stay in your vehicle and wait for help. Do not leave the vehicle to search for assistance unless help is visible.
- Run the engine occasionally to keep warm. Turn on the engine for about 10 minutes each hour. Use the heater while the engine is running. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and slightly open a downwind window for ventilation.
- Use flashlights in the dark, not candles.
- Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will be congested.
- If you are using a generator be sure you understand the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning. Never use a generator indoors or in a garage. It must be kept outside in a well-ventilated area.
- Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items.
- Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment, including sensitive electronics.
- Turn off or disconnect any appliances (like stoves), equipment or electronics you were using when the power went out. When power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.
DOWNLOAD APPS People can download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to weather alerts for their area and where loved ones live. Expert medical guidance and a hospital locator are included in the First Aid App in case travelers encounter any mishaps. Both apps are available to download for free in app stores or at redcross.org/apps
BLOOD SUPPLY ALREADY LOW Winter weather also impacts blood and platelet donations. Right now, the Red Cross has less than a three-day supply of most blood types on hand, well below the ideal five-day supply needed to respond to emergencies and daily hospital needs. Every day in Eastern Pennsylvania, the Red Cross needs to collect nearly 800 units of blood and platelets — regardless of the weather — in order to meet the needs of patients. Prior to the storm, or when it’s considered safe to travel, donors of all blood types are encouraged to lend an arm to help ensure hospitals have an adequate supply of blood and platelets. To find a donation site near you, visit RedCrossBlood.org or call 1-800-REDCROSS.