If we have learned anything from the bizarre weather over the last few years, it should be to be prepared. With the upcoming winter season, people should consider preparing themselves for severe weather.
Blizzards are the most dangerous of winter storms. They produce high winds and heavy snow throughout much of the United States from December to March.
They are most common in the northern Great Plains states -- South Dakota is sometimes called "the Blizzard State" -- but they also occur as far south as Texas and as far east as Maine.
Many blizzard-related deaths involve people who die of hypothermia in their cars, on the street or in wilderness areas. Sadly, most of these deaths could have been avoided with proper preparation. Blizzards also cause countless cases of frostbite, as well as damage to unsupported structures and homes.
Play it safe by preparing ahead for winter storms and blizzards. Remember, these storms can cause loss of electricity, heat, and telephone service and can trap you in your home for a few days. It's important to have ample supplies on hand in your home:
Flashlight and extra batteries.
Battery-powered NOAA weather radio and portable radio to receive emergency information. These may be your only links to the outside.
Extra food and bottled water. High energy food, such as dried fruit or candy, and canned food requiring no cooking or refrigeration is best.
Manual can opener.
Extra medicine and baby items.
Heating fuel. Fuel carriers may not reach you for days after a severe winter storm.
Back-up heating source, such as a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc.
Fire extinguisher and smoke detector.
Be sure to carry a survival kit in your car that contains:
Flashlight with extra batteries
High calorie, non-perishable food
A can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water
Extra winter clothes and boots
Other things you may want to keep in your vehicle during the winter: Jumper cables, a 12v tire inflater, 12v cell phone charger for your cell phone, a flashlight, a thermal blanket (especially for children), sand bags, and/or a small shovel.
Also, keep your vehicle's gas tank full in case you get stranded and to keep the fuel line from freezing.
Find a shelter out of the wind. Try to stay dry and cover all exposed parts of your body.
If you can't find shelter, prepare a lean-to, windbreak or snow cave for protection from the wind. Build a fire for heat and to attract attention. Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat.
Don't eat snow - it will lower your body temperature. Melt the snow first.
If you're in a car or truck:
Pull off the road and turn on your hazard lights.
Stay inside your vehicle. It's easy to become disoriented in the wind and snow. Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
Run the motor about ten minutes each hour for heat.
Open the window a crack to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow.
Exercise frequently to keep blood circulating and to keep warm, but don't overexert.
Huddle with other passengers and use your coat as a blanket.
In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering--anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.
Make yourself visible to rescuers:
Turn on your dome light at night, but only when running the engine. You don't want to wear down your battery.
Tie a distress flag (preferably red) to your antenna or window.
If you're in your home or a building:
If you must travel, do so during daylight. Don't travel alone. Stay on main roads, and tell others about your route and schedule.
Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your house cooler than normal. Temporarily shut off heat to less-used rooms.
When using alternative heat from a fireplace, wood stove, or space heater, use fire safeguards and properly ventilate.
If using kerosene heaters, maintain ventilation to avoid buildup of toxic fumes. Keep heaters at least three feet from flammable objects. Refuel kerosene heaters outside.
If there's no heat:
Close off unneeded rooms.
Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.
Cover windows at night.
Eat food to provide your body with energy so it can produce its own heat.
Keep your body replenished with fluids to prevent dehydration.