Long traffic jams that left motorists parked on highways for hours and hours, coupled with the recent wave of power outages in local communities, repeated near-freezing temperatures this season and winter storms that dumped several feet of snow on our Mahoning Valley – creating many dangerous or even impassable roads – remind us of the importance of being prepared when Mother Nature strikes.
According to the National Safety Council, severe winter weather events hit Ohio 2,708 times between 2014 and 2020, resulting in at least 42 injuries and 17 potentially preventable deaths in our state.
What might be most surprising is that, according to the NSC, the type of weather-related event that caused the most deaths nationwide in 2020 (the most recent year for data from the NSC), was not tornadoes or hurricanes, but winter weather at 85. death. A close second in 2020 was tornadoes with 77 fatalities and floods with 63 fatalities. Other types of weather events tracked by the NSC included high winds, thunderstorms, heat, hurricanes, wildfires and more.
The good news, according to the NSC, is that while the number of all weather-related events increased by 8% in those years, weather-related fatalities decreased by 12%. However, weather-related injuries still appear to be on the rise, increasing by approximately 9% over this seven-year period.
And with the highest number of winter weather incidents in Ohio occurring during the month of February, we all know we’re not off the hook just yet.
The National Safety Council, billed as America’s leading nonprofit safety advocate, has been around for more than a century. It focuses its efforts on eliminating the major causes of preventable death. Here are some tips the NSC offers for winter safety:
Before leaving, motorists must be prepared.
Test your vehicle’s battery; remember that battery power decreases as the temperature drops. Check your vehicle’s cooling system and check tire tread. Replace all-season tires if the tread is less than 2/32 inch. Regularly monitor the tire pressure because it also drops with the outside temperature. Check the wiper blades and fluid which should be rated for minus 30 degrees. It is also very important to keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent the gas line from freezing.
NSC suggests cleaning your car’s external camera lenses and side mirrors.
To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never leave a running vehicle in the garage, even with the garage door open.
When traveling, always share your travel plans and winter itinerary with someone before you leave.
The AAA Automobile Club recommends against using cruise control in winter conditions. Always steer in the direction of the skid; accelerate and decelerate slowly; and increase the tracking distance to 8-10 seconds. Also, if possible, do not stop when driving uphill on poor roads.
If visibility is limited due to snow, pull off the road in a safe place and wait. Avoid using the shoulder of the road unless it is an absolute emergency.
The simple task of clearing snow can also become dangerous, even deadly.
The American Heart Association warns that shoveling snow can put some people at risk for a heart attack from sudden exertion. Moving hundreds of pounds of snow after being sedentary for several months can put significant strain on the heart. Associated with cold weather, heart rate and blood pressure can increase, causing clots or constricted arteries.
Avoid shoveling after eating or while smoking. Stretch first and go slowly, only shoveling fresh, lighter powder snow. Push the snow, rather than lifting it, and use a small shovel or only a partially filled shovel. Lift with your legs, not your back, and don’t go past the point of exhaustion.
When using a snow thrower, always keep hands away from moving parts. If it gets stuck, turn it off immediately. Be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide in enclosed spaces and add fuel outdoors before starting the machine. Never add fuel while it is running.
Simply put, the key to staying safe when venturing outdoors in winter is to be prepared.
Wear several layers of loose clothing. Mittens are generally warmer than gloves. Cover your head and ears with a warm hat and/or scarf, and make sure you have warm, dry socks.
And if you suspect frostbite, get to a warm place and see a doctor. The NSC advises removing wet or constricted clothing and using warm (not hot) water to warm the skin. Elevate the frozen area.
Ultimately, the cold can be dangerous for anyone who spends time outdoors for work or play. Please be aware of the risks.