Winter Preparedness

December 21 is the first day of winter. Will you be ready? With the beginning of winter and colder temperatures ahead, families are encouraged to take the precautions that will keep them safe.

Cold Temperatures and Wind Chill

The wind chill indicates how cold people and animals feel when outside. According to the National Weather Service, wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from skin exposed to wind and cold. As the wind increases, it draws heat from the body, driving down the skin temperature, and eventually the body’s internal temperature as well. If the temperature is at zero degrees Fahrenheit and the wind is blowing 15mph, the temperature with wind chill is –19F. Exposed skin can freeze within 30 minutes! The American Red Cross encourages the following precautions to be taken in severe cold:

• Dress Appropriately. Cold temperatures coupled with wind can cause cold emergencies like hypothermia and frostbite very quickly.

• Dress in Layers. Clothing can be adjusted to changing temperatures when layers are added and taken away as the temperature changes.

• Wear a Hat. Most body heat escaped through the head. Try and find something that covers the ears as well.

• Remember that mittens are warmer than gloves.

• Wear waterproof, insulated boots.

• Get out of wet clothes immediately when coming inside.

• Pay Attention to the Signs of Hypothermia. Confusion, dizziness, extreme exhaustion and sever shivering are all signs of hypothermia. Seek medical attention if you experience these symptoms.

• Recognize the Signs of Frostbite. Grey, white or yellow skin, numbness or waxy-feeling skin are symptoms of frostbite. Seek medical attention immediately if you see these signs!

People with disabilities are particularly susceptible to cold weather. Since some disabling conditions make maintaining body heat difficult, vigilance about staying warm is very important. Multiple layers, including scarf and hat, lined boots and two pairs of socks are important to maintain warmth. Thermal gloves under mittens are helpful for keeping hands warm as well. Wheelchair-bound individuals should keep a blanket wrapped around legs, tucking the edges under themselves. Pneumatic tires, salt and kitty litter will help with traction in the snow. And remember working assistance animals are susceptible to the effects of harsh temperatures as well.

Remember the Shoveling Snow is Very Strenuous

Shoveling snow is hard on the body. It is estimated that the energy used to shovel snow is equal to playing singles tennis or walking at 5mph. If there is any reason that this type if activity may be hazardous to you, be sure to check with your doctor before shoveling the driveway.

Emergency Supply Kit

Freezing temperatures can cause power outages, freeze pipe and impede travel. Be sure to have an Emergency Supply Kit on hand in the event that you are stuck in your home because of ice and snow. Supply Kits should include the following:

• A three-day supply on non-perishable food

• Three gallons of water per person per day.

• A battery operated radio

• Flashlight with extra batteries.

• First-aid Kit

• Extra prescription or over the counter medications

• Make sure if there is someone in your household with special needs, a plan is in place to care for them as well.

Home Heating

Remember that maintaining a home temperature of 65 degrees is the minimum. People with elderly neighbors should remember to check on them and make sure their homes are at least 65 degrees, since the elderly are more susceptible to hypothermia.

Space heaters can be used in case of emergency. If the main heating system in you home fails, these small heaters can provide warmth. Extreme caution should be exercised when using them, however. Overloaded circuits can cause house fires, so consult you local fire department on the appropriate use space heaters.

Federally funded crisis assistance is available to low-income residents who face difficulty adequately heating their homes. Local government agencies can help to obtain appropriate assistance information to those who need it.

Fire Safety

According to the National Fire Protection Association, the winter holidays mean more cooking, home decorating and entertaining. All this adds up to an increase of fire risk. NFPA reports that Christmas Day is the peak day of the year for home candle fires! Fire and Rescue Departments recommend the use of battery-operated candles and flashlights over open flame candles. If candles are used, the following precautions are recommended:

• Do not place candles near combustible material like upholstered furniture.

• Never leave children unattended near an open flame

• Do not place candles in windows or entryways. Drafts can fan the flame and catch nearby curtains on fire.

• Do not leave candles burning unattended. Blow them out before leaving or going to bed

• Use appropriate holders and place candles on protected, heat-resistant surfaces.

Alternative Heating Source Safety

Fireplaces and wood-burning stoves are good sources of alternative heat. An alternative heating source is recommended in the event of power outage or failure of primary source. Remember to use these sources carefully, though.

• Proper ventilation and at least three feet of clearance around the heat source is required.

• Always turn off alternate heat source before leaving or going to bed. Children and pets should not be left unattended near any type of alternate heat source.

• Generators should only be used as independent power sources. Keep them outside and run a cord inside. Never connect a generator to main service panels.

• A sturdy screen should be placed in front of a fireplace at all times to prevent sparks from flying on to combustible material. Remember to burn only clean wood.

• A 3-foot clearance free of rugs or exposed wood flooring should be established around fireplaces and wood burning stoves.

• Be sure the flue is open before lighting a fire, and never close the flue if the fire is still smoldering.

• Gasoline or lighter fluid should never be used to light a fire.

• Remember when lighting a gas fireplace, light the match before turning on the gas.

• Only dry, seasoned wood should be burned.

• Extension cords should never be used with a space heater.

• Proper ventilation is imperative when using a kerosene heater.

• Be sure to use only fluid recommended for your heater by the manufacturer. Refill outside and after the unit has cooled completely.

• Check wicks every few weeks. If the wick is dirty, clean according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Remember that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be placed in the sleeping areas and basement of your home. There should be at least one alarm on every level of the home. Batteries should be checked every six months.

Freezing Pipes and Plumbing

The following preventative steps should be taken to prevent pipes from freezing during the winter months.

• Locate and mark the main water cutoff valve in your home

• Make sure the faucets to outside water pipes are turned off and drained. Consider wrapping insulation around outside water pipes.

• Eliminate drafts in the home.

• Frozen water pipes should never be thawed with an open flame or torch

• If you will be away, set the thermostat at a temperature that will prevent freezing of indoor pipes.

Remember that if you are forced to vacate your home because of power outages, water should be turned off at the main supply source and all faucets should be opened to allow for expansion should the undrained water freeze. If you suspect your water meter is frozen, call your local water authority.

Road Safety

Remember to prepare for cold weather when traveling. The following are some road safety tips.

• Alert family members or friends when and where you will be traveling, as well as when you expect to return

• Fill the gas tank before leaving town, and refill frequently while on the road.

• Bring a winter travel survival kit on the road. Cell phone, blankets or sleeping bag, water and high-calorie foods as well as a flashlight and first aid kit are important when traveling in severe weather.

• If your car breaks down, pull as far off the road as possible.

• Stay in the car when visibility is poor.

Pet Safety

Remember that pets are susceptible to hypothermia too. Pets should be kept indoors during winter months, or provided shelter and warmth of kept outdoors. Insulated and heated shelter, a bed that is elevated off the floor and a door to keep out drafts need to be provided for you r pet. Remember that dogs lose their sense of smell in the cold, so they should never be let off-leash, and snow accumulation on pads should be cleaned off immediately to prevent frostbite. And if the temperatures become very severe, bring Fido in!

Source information adapted from the Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs. For more information, see their website  For more detailed emergency information, see the Fairfax County Citizens Corps Web page at


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here