The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services’ Acting Commissioner Jackie Bray on Monday urged all New Yorkers to prepare for extreme cold weather as temperatures across the state are forecast to drop well below freezing over the coming days.
For several regions across the state, especially those adjacent to Lakes Erie and Ontario, wind chills as low as minus-20 to minus-30 degrees are expected to begin later today and continue into Tuesday afternoon. This type of weather brings an increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite, and increases the risk of fire and carbon monoxide poisoning from alternative heating sources such as portable space heaters and fuel-burning appliances.
Several areas in Central New York and the North Country are expected to receive up to two feet of lake effect snow and winds gusting up to 40 mph at times through Tuesday. Travel conditions during heavy snow and high winds will be difficult at times, and roads may be slippery due to the mixture of blowing snow and below freezing temperatures.
“Weather conditions across the state will bring extreme cold until Wednesday, and many of the same areas will see dangerous travel conditions until tomorrow because of heavy snow, high winds and the dangerously cold temperatures,” Bray said. “I’m cautioning New Yorkers that extreme cold temperatures can cause frostbite to exposed skin in minutes, so limit your time outdoors and know where to take shelter if needed. If you are able, check in on neighbors and loved ones and make sure they are safe.”
For the most current weather warnings, watches and advisories in your area, New Yorkers can visit the National Weather Service Public Alerts website.
√ To avoid frostbite, stay inside during severe cold.
√ If you must go out, try to cover every part of your body: ears, nose, toes and fingers, etc. Mittens are better than gloves. Keep your skin dry and stay out of the wind when possible.
√ Drink plenty of fluids since hydration increases the blood's volume, which helps prevent frostbite. Avoid caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes – caffeine constricts blood vessels and prevents warming of extremities; alcohol reduces shivering, which helps keep you warm; and cigarette use shuts off blood flow to your hands.
√ If you suspect frostbite, until you can get indoors, don't rub or massage cold body parts. Drink warm liquids, put on extra layers of clothes and blankets, and remove rings, watches, and anything tight.
√ Once indoors, don't walk on a frostbitten foot – you could cause more damage. Get in a warm (NOT hot) bath and wrap face and ears in a moist, warm (NOT hot) towel.
√ Don't get near a hot stove or heater or use a heating pad, hot water bottle, or a hair dryer. You may burn yourself before feeling returns.
√ Frostbitten skin will become red and swollen and feel like it's on fire. You may develop blisters. Don't break the blisters. It could cause scarring.
√ If your skin turns blue or gray, is very swollen, blistered or feels hard and numb even under the surface, go to a hospital immediately.
√ Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures, especially in children and the elderly.
√ Watch for the following symptoms: inability to concentrate, poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, exhaustion, and/or uncontrollable shivering, following by a sudden lack of shivering.
√ If a person's body temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, get emergency medical assistance immediately.
√ Remove wet clothing, wrap the victim in warm blankets, and give warm, nonalcoholic, noncaffeinated liquids until help arrives.
Protecting Water Pipes
Prevent the mess and aggravation of frozen water pipes. Protect your home, apartment, or business by following these steps:
√ When it's cold, let cold and hot water trickle at night from a faucet on an outside wall. Open cabinet doors to allow more heat to get to un-insulated pipes under a sink or appliance near an outer wall. Make sure heat is left on and set no lower than 55 degrees.
√ If you plan to be away, have someone check your house daily to make sure the heat is still on to prevent freezing, or drain and shut off the water system (except indoor sprinkler systems).
√ If pipes freeze, make sure you and your family knows how to shut off the water, in case pipes burst. Stopping the water flow minimizes damage to your home.
√ Never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch.
√ Always be careful of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.
√ Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent.
Be ‘Fire Safe’
Heating equipment is among the leading causes of home fires nationally and in New York state. Take a few simple steps to significantly reduce the possibility of experiencing a heating related fire. No matter how careful you are with home heating, you and your family should be prepared in case fire strikes:
√ Buy and carefully maintain a quality smoke and carbon monoxide detector.
√ Inspect your home to eliminate or control fire hazards.
√ Install at least 5-pound A-B-C-type fire extinguishers in the home, and teach family members how to use them.
√ Establish a well-planned escape route with the entire family.
√ Hold practice fire drills until all family members are thoroughly familiar with plan.
√ If you have an older home, have the wiring checked by a qualified electrician to make sure it meets current building codes.
√ Have your chimney and fireplace cleaned and inspected yearly for creosote build-up, cracks, crumbling bricks or mortar and any obstructions.
√ Keep storage areas clean and tidy.
√ Keep curtains, towels and potholders away from hot surfaces.
√ Store solvents and flammable cleaners away from heat sources. NEVER keep gasoline in the house.
√ Inspect extension cords for frayed or exposed wires or loose plugs.
Maintain and Inspect Home Heating Appliances
Proper maintenance and an annual inspection of heat pumps, furnaces, space heaters, wood and coal stoves, fireplaces, chimneys and chimney connections by qualified specialists can prevent fires and save lives. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installation, venting, fueling, maintenance and repair. Review the owner's manual to make sure you remember the operating and safety features.
√ Space heaters – Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from furniture, window treatments, bedding, clothing, rugs and other combustibles. Avoid the use of extension cords with electric heaters. Always turn off space heaters before leaving the room or going to bed.
√ Fuel-burning appliances – Inspect the shutoff mechanism and wick for proper operation. Fill the tank with fresh fuel. Let the heater cool down before refueling. Adding fuel to a hot heater can start a dangerous fire.
√ Wood-burning appliances and fireplaces – Do not burn trash in the wood stove or fireplace. Burn only well-seasoned hardwoods. Be sure the fire you build fits your fireplace or stove, don't overload it. Be sure wood stoves are installed at least 36 inches away from the wall. Keep combustible materials well away from the fireplace, stove and chimney. Keep the area around them clean. Always use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from leaving the fireplace and starting a fire. Never leave a fire unattended.
√ Chimneys – Creosote accumulation is the leading cause of chimney fires. A chimney that is dirty, blocked or is in disrepair can inhibit proper venting of smoke up the flue and can also cause a chimney fire. Nearly all residential fires originating in the chimney are preventable. An annual chimney inspection by a qualified chimney sweep can prevent fire or carbon monoxide poisoning.
√ Ashes – Keep wood stoves and fireplaces free of excess ash buildup. Excessive ash buildup prevents good circulation of air needed for combustion. When removing ashes, use a metal container with a tight-fitting cover. Always place ashes in an outside location away from structures. Ashes that seem cool may contain a smoldering charcoal that can start a fire.
Carbon monoxide is produced anywhere that fuel is burned, and is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the U.S.
√ Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and invisible killer, and the ONLY safe way to detect it is with a carbon monoxide alarm.
√ Carbon monoxide alarms range in price from $20 to $50 depending on additional features.
√ Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include sleepiness, headaches and dizziness.
√ If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, ventilate the area and get to a hospital.
Other Heating Safety Tips
√ Make sure chimneys and vents are checked for blockages, corrosion, and loose connections.
√ Open flues completely when fireplaces are in use.
√ Use proper fuel in space heaters.
√ Never burn charcoal or a barbecue grill inside a home or enclosed space.
√ Never use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage or vehicle
√ Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even with the garage door open.
√ Never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
√ Never use the kitchen stove for heating a house.
√ Never run a gas-powered generator in a garage, basement, or near any overhang on the home. Keep it at a distance.
Transportation crashes are the leading cause of death and injury during winter storms.
√ Before getting behind the wheel, make sure that your vehicle is clear of ice and snow; good vision is key to good driving. Plan your stops and keep more distance between cars. Be extra cautious while behind the wheel and remember that snowdrifts can hide smaller children. Always match your speed to the road and weather conditions.
√ It is important for motorists on all roads to note that snowplows travel at speeds up to 35 mph, which in many cases is lower than the posted speed limit, to ensure that salt being dispersed stays in the driving lanes and does not scatter off the roadways. Oftentimes on interstate highways, snowplows will operate side by side, as this is the most efficient and safe way to clear several lanes at one time.
√ Motorists and pedestrians should also keep in mind that snowplow drivers have limited lines of sight, and the size and weight of snowplows can make it very difficult to maneuver and stop quickly. Snow blowing from behind the plow can severely reduce visibility or cause whiteout conditions. Motorists should not attempt to pass snowplows or follow too closely. The safest place for motorists to drive is well behind the snowplows where the roadway is clear and salted.
Some of the most important tips for safe driving include:
√ When winter storms strike, do not drive unless necessary.
√ Use caution on bridges as ice can form quicker than on roads.
√ Wet leaves on roadways can cause slippery conditions, making it important to drive at slower speeds when approaching patches of them.
√ Make sure your car is stocked with blankets, a shovel, flashlight and extra batteries, extra warm clothing, set of tire chains, battery booster cables, quick-energy foods and brightly colored cloth to use as a distress flag.
√ Keep your gas tank full to prevent gasoline freeze-up.
√ If you have a cell phone or two-way radio available for your use, keep the battery charged and keep it with you whenever traveling. If you should become stranded, you will be able to call for help, advising rescuers of your location.
√ Make sure someone knows your travel plans.
√ While driving, keep vehicles clear of ice and snow.
√ Plan stops and keep distance between cars. Always match your speed to the road and weather conditions.
About the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services
The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services provides leadership, coordination and support for efforts to prevent, protect against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorism, natural disasters, threats, fires and other emergencies. For more information, visit the Facebook page, follow @NYSDHSES on Twitter, or visit dhses.ny.gov.