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Blizzard Readiness: A Consumers’ Research Guide

The northern and northeastern United States has resembled a frozen tundra for much of late December 2017 and early January 2018. New Years’ Eve in many northern cities was absolutely frigid. Now, a “bomb cyclone,” or an area of extremely low pressure developing in the ocean, is dumping heavy snow on New England and parts of the northeast and mid-Atlantic region.

In major snowfall events such as this, it is important to be prepared for all eventualities and most importantly, exercise caution. Consumers’ Research has prepared a quick reference guide:

Stock up. You may need certain items, some of which you may already have in your home. Check and see that you have enough of these goods: bottled water (in case of an interruption to your water service), canned food/fresh fruit, flashlights/candles (in case of interruption to your electricity and lights), sand/kitty litter (as a de-icing agent for your steps and sidewalk), batteries (to power flashlights and other items you may need in the vent of a power outage).

If you live in a free-standing house (rather than an high-rise apartment building, which has latent heat due to many units built next to one another) you will need to take steps to ensure that your pipes do not freeze. If you are out of your house for any extended period of time (more on that below) leave your heat on. You may want to run your faucets at a slight trickle as well, to keep water flowing through them.

When you’re outside, be careful. Vehicles might not be able to see you, and heavy snows often bring down power lines.

Traveling: it is not recommended to drive unless absolutely necessary during heavy snowstorms.

If you absolutely must drive:

  • Try to limit the distance of your trips. The highways will be especially hazardous since visibility will be low.
  • Exercise caution: accelerate and decelerate gradually to avoid spinning out or losing traction. Be careful as you would when driving in heavy rains: if snow accumulation looks heavy in a certain area, avoid it. Don’t get stuck. Stopping distances for braking will increase, and driving up or down a hill will present particular dangers.
  • Prepare your car: if you have winter tires or chains, put those on. If you have a rear-wheel-drive car and do not have snow tires accessible, put bags of a heavy material like sand, soil, or concrete in your trunk over your rear axles. The weight will give you increased traction. Be sure to pack an emergency supply kit with items such as water, blankets, flashlights, road flares, and emergency food such as nutrient bars in case you do get stuck or are in an accident.
  • A word to the wise: even if you do have all-wheel-drive, four-wheel-drive, or snow tires/chains, it is easy to get overconfident with these systems and equipment. The rules of winter driving always apply, even if you are in a 4WD-equipped SUV with snow tires and chains.
  • Even if you are cozy at home with plenty of food and power, there are still risks that come with a winter storm. According to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), “home heating is the second leading cause of U.S. home fires, deaths, and injuries.” FEMA recommends some tips for safe home heating:

  • Make sure your electric space heater has an automatic shut-off, should it tip over.
  • Use your fireplace safely; always use a metal or heat-tempered glass screen when operating your fireplace. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
  • Do not use your stovetop range as a heat source.
  • Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas created during the burning of fossil fuels, such as gasoline, wood, or propane. All fuel-burning equipment should vent outdoors.
  • Have operational, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms in your home.
  • Only run portable generators outdoors in well-ventilated areas. Keep them away from all doors, windows, and vents to indoor spaces.
  • Other tips: be careful not to over-exert yourself while shoveling snow at your home or to get a vehicle unstuck. During snowstorms, the rate of hospital admissions due to heart attacks goes up considerably. Be sure to bring any pets indoors. Besides snow and ice, flooding can occur (especially if you live near coastal areas). If your city or town has parking restrictions due to snowplows, make sure to abide by those to avoid a ticket (or a snowplow through your bumper!). Finally, have a game or book available in your home. If the power goes out, you don’t want to be stuck without entertainment!

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