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After a winter storm

A homeowner snowblowing his sidewalk on a cold wintery day

In many ways, the aftermath of a severe winter storm can be more dangerous than the storm itself, as heavy snowfall, ice and freezing temperatures can create additional problems for repair crews and rescuers. Here are some safety rules to consider.

At home

Once a storm has passed and officials have OK'd going outside, make sure you continue to take precautions:

  • Don't overdo it when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack, which is a major cause of death in the winter. It's a good idea to stretch beforehand.
  • Drink plenty of liquids to help prevent dehydration. When it's cold outside, people don't drink as much because they don't feel thirsty. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine though. Alcohol, while it may give you a feeling of warmth, actually increases the speed of heat loss in the body and caffeine can also hasten the effects of dehydration and lead to hypothermia.
  • Dress for the weather. Wear layers of loose-fitting, light-weight clothes, instead of one layer of heavy clothing, with a top layer made of tightly woven and water repellent materials. Wear a hat, mittens and a pair of water-resistant or waterproof boots with good traction. Cover your mouth with a clean scarf to protect your lungs from the cold air.
  • Keep your clothes dry. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly. If your clothes get wet, change out of them as soon possible.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite like the loss of feeling or a white or pale appearance in your extremities. If you experience these symptoms in your finger, toes, ear lobes or nose, seek immediate medical attention. You can also warm the affected region by soaking it in warm, but not hot water. Rubbing the damaged skin or submerge it in hot water can cause more damage.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia, including uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and exhaustion. If someone shows symptoms of hypothermia seek immediate medical attention. You also should get them to a warm location and remove their wet clothing. Put them in dry clothing and wrap their body in a blanket. Start warming the center of the body first with warm beverages (no alcohol or caffeine) if they are conscious.

If the power's out

If heavy winds or ice have knocked the power out, know that it may take awhile to restore power, as emergency crews have to clear snow and possibly remove downed trees or icy power lines. Keep safe while waiting for the power to be restored:

  • If you use a generator, follow the instructions and make sure you have proper ventilation. Never operate a generator inside a house, garage or other enclosed space and don't position it near doors, windows, or vents. Make sure you have a functioning carbon monoxide detector and get to fresh air immediately if you start to feel sick, dizzy or weak.
  • If your pipes freeze, remove any insulation and wrap the pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were exposed to the cold.

After a winter storm has passed you should also check on your elderly or homebound neighbors to make sure that they are alright and have power. Also, you may want to volunteer to clear their sidewalks and driveway, especially if you live in an area with snow removal laws.

If you have a claim, make sure you contact your agent or the number on your policy as soon as possible. In the meantime, take extra precautions when making temporary repairs and save any receipts to help the claim process.

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