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Blizzard Readiness: A Consumers’ Research Guide

Winter Storm Stella is upon us, and it’s a big one, with the National Weather Service predicting what they call a “rapidly intensifying nor’easter,” with snowfall over a foot in New York and Boston, a mix of snow, sleet, and rain in Washington, D.C., and blizzard warnings in effect for areas of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine.

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, many 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 this storm. Many weather news outlets are advising that travel during the worst of the storm will be “impossible.” The D.C. metro area already experienced widespread traffic delays during the relatively light snowfall on the night of Wednesday, January 20th.

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 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 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.

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. 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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