Winter Safety

It is important to be mindful of the following health concerns throughout the winter season.

Hypothermia and Frostbite

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body's stored energy, resulting in hypothermia or low body temperature. Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes. Severe cases of frostbite can lead to amputation. 

Hypothermia symptoms:

  • Shivering/exhaustion
  • Confusion/fumbling hands
  • Memory loss/slurred speech
  • Drowsiness
  • Bright red, cold skin
  • Very low energy

Frostbite symptoms:

  • White or grayish-yellow skin area
  • Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
  • Numbness

If you notice signs of hypothermia or frostbite, seek medical attention. If medical care is not available, begin warming the person by limiting exposure to external conditions or get into a warm room, and warm the affected area with body heat. 

Protect yourself against hypothermia and frostbite:

  • Stay inside if you can.
  • Make outside trips as brief as possible.
  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting clothing. Dress warmly and stay dry.
  • If traveling, let someone know your destination and when you expect to arrive.
  • Check and restock the winter emergency supplies in your car.
  • Avoid exertion because cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart.
  • Check on elderly neighbors to make sure they are safe and warm. 

Winter Emergency Supplies for your Home

  • One gallon of water per person per day for 3 days
  • A 3-day supply of non-perishable foods
  • First Aid Kit
  • Cell phones should be adequately charged in advance
  • Battery powered radio with extra batteries
  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • Manual can opener
  • Extra blankets
  • Moist towelettes or waterless handcleaner
  • Adequate supply of specific family necessities such as prescriptions, diapers, formula, etc.
  • Extra supply for those with special health needs such as portable oxygen tanks
  • Fill bathtubs with water to provide a means of refilling tanks for flushing toilets 

Winter Car Emergency Kit

Be prepared when you are traveling during winter.  Have these things in your vehicle.

  • Cell phone charger
  • Shovel
  • Windshield scraper
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight and batteries
  • Radio and batteries
  • Snack food
  • Matches
  • Hats, socks, mittens
  • Blankets
  • Emergency flares
  • Road salt, sand, or kitty litter
  • Distress flags

 If you get stranded in your car

  • Tie a brightly colored cloth/flag to your antenna.
  • Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
  • Wrap the entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
  • Stay awake.
  • Run the motor and heater for about 10 minutes per hour, opening the window slightly to let in air. Make sure the snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
  • Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body temperature. 

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention

Many Iowans still lack power in homes and may use alternative means for heating during cold weather. These alternative means of heating can be dangerous and cause carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. When power outages occur during emergencies such as winter storms, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating, cooling, or cooking can cause carbon monoxide to build up in a home, garage, or camper and poison the people and animals.

  • Generators, grills, camp stoves, or other gasoline, propane, natural gas, or charcoal-burning devices should never be used inside a home, basement, garage, or camper – or even outside near an open window.
  • Never use a gas range or gas oven to heat a home.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure.
  • Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine right outside an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area, such as a house.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • If conditions are too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.
  • Candles are not a safe source of light or heat.

Exposure to carbon monoxide can cause loss of consciousness and death. The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever having symptoms. If you experience these symptoms, go outside immediately and call your healthcare professional right away.

Frozen / Broken Water Pipes

Prevention: Protect your home or business from frozen pipes during the winter months.

  • Keep your home or apartment thermostat temperature set to at least 55 degrees. This applies to single-family homes as well as apartments.
  • Do not block heat to areas of your residence that contain plumbing or water fixtures. Keep doors open to bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, and cabinets that contain pipes, especially those located on the north side of the dwelling, to expose the plumbing to warmer air inside the house.
  • Prevent drafts of cold winter air by keeping windows and storm windows closed. Repair cracks or holes around doors and windows to keep cold air from blowing in.
  • Cover pipes in unheated areas with heat tape or pipe insulation (follow manufacturer’s instructions). Make sure heat tapes are properly installed and working safely.
  • If you plan to be away from your residence for an extended period of time, ask someone to check your house or apartment periodically. Show them what to do if water pipes freeze and where to locate your water shut-off valve in case of an emergency.

Thawing Frozen Plumbing: If you turn on a faucet and only a trickle comes out, suspect a frozen pipe. Locate the suspected frozen area of the water pipe. Likely places include pipes running against exterior walls or where your water service enters your home through the foundation. 

  • Keep the faucet open. As you treat the frozen pipe and the frozen area begins to melt, water will begin to flow through the frozen area and will help melt more ice in the pipe.
  • If your plumbing does freeze, try to thaw it naturally by turning up the thermostat in your home and opening doors and cupboards to circulate warm air. You should not apply direct heat to your pipes, but if necessary, a hair dryer, an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, wrap pipes with towels soaked in hot water, or another source of indirect heat could be used to help thaw frozen pipes. BE SURE the pipe is not broken and that there is no water near electrical devices.
  • DO NOT use a blowtorch, kerosene or propane heater, charcoal stove, or other open flame device. A blowtorch can make water in a frozen pipe boil and cause the pipe to explode. Open flames in homes present a serious fire danger and risk of exposure to carbon monoxide.
  • Apply heat to the pipe until full water pressure is restored. If you are unable to locate the frozen area, if the frozen area is not accessible, or if you cannot thaw the pipe, call a licensed or qualified plumber.

Broken Pipes: If you find a broken water pipe you need to take immediate steps to minimize water damage to your home.

  • First, make sure the main water supply coming into the home is turned off.
  • If the broken water pipe is still frozen and begins to thaw, wrap the broken pipe in towels to absorb water leaking from the pipe.
  • Call a licensed or qualified plumber to repair the damaged pipe.
  • If water from the broken pipe has leaked into your home, immediately remove any water soaked materials that you can (carpeting, clothing, furniture, etc) to minimize the risk of mold growth.
  • Walls, framing, and flooring materials that are saturated will need to be assessed for structural integrity by a qualified contractor.
  • Any porous, non-cleanable surfaces (drywall, insulation, carpeting, padding, etc.) that have been saturated with water should be discarded as soon as possible and replaced with new material AFTER the area has fully dried. This will minimize the risk of mold growth.

Food Safety Power Outage Tips

  • Never taste food to determine its safety.
  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed. Buy dry or block ice to keep the refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot fully-stocked freezer cold for two days.
  • You will have to evaluate each item separately. If an appliance thermometer was kept in the freezer, read the temperature when the power comes back on. If the appliance thermometer stored in the freezer reads 41° F or below, the food is safe and may be refrozen. If a thermometer has not been kept in the freezer, check each package of food to determine the safety. Remember, you can’t rely on appearance or odor. If the food still contains ice crystals or is 41° F or below, it is safe to refreeze.
  • Discard any perishable foods (such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and leftovers) that have been above 41 °F for 2 hours. If you plan to eat refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, it's important that the food is thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any foodborne bacteria are destroyed.
  • Frozen food can thaw if it is exposed to the sun's rays, even when the temperature is very cold. Refrigerated food may become too warm and foodborne bacteria could grow. The outside temperature could vary hour by hour and the temperature outside will not protect refrigerated and frozen food. Additionally, perishable items could be exposed to unsanitary conditions or to animals. Animals may harbor bacteria or disease; never consume food that has come in contact with an animal. Rather than putting the food outside, consider taking advantage of the cold temperatures by making ice. Fill buckets, empty milk cartons or cans with water and leave them outside to freeze. Then put the homemade ice in your refrigerator, freezer, or coolers. 

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