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State agencies prepare for extreme cold weather & potential snowstorm


Fri, Jan 14th 2022 05:40 pm

Wind chill warnings in effect through Saturday, With Wind Chills as Low as minu-20 Degrees in Western New York

√ Low-pressure system moving across country could deliver heavy snow & wintry mix across state Sunday night into Monday morning

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday directed state agencies to prepare emergency response assets as extreme cold temperatures and increasing winds push across the state today, dropping temperatures and wind chill values to dangerous levels tonight through Saturday.

Wind chill warnings are in effect from 7 p.m. Friday through 4 p.m. Saturday with wind chill values expected to drop as low as minus-20 degrees across Western New York and minus-40 degrees in the North Country and along Lake Ontario. Low temperatures will range from 10 to minus-20 degrees across the state. Emergency response officials are also monitoring a possible snowstorm that is forecast to begin Sunday evening and last into Monday, bringing heavy snow to several regions across the state and potential coastal flooding to parts of Long Island.

"New Yorkers should prepare now for a serious blast of arctic air tonight and Saturday," Hochul said. "Temperatures and wind chill values like these can be both dangerous and damaging, so limit your exposure and layer-up if you must venture outside, especially our Bills fans in Orchard Park Saturday night. Our state's Emergency Operations Center is also monitoring the forecast for a possible snowstorm that could hit Sunday night and last into Monday, and we stand ready to assist local governments should they need help."

Wind chill warnings and advisories are currently in effect across the state through Saturday morning. A winter storm watch has been issued for multiple counties in the Western New York, Finger Lakes, Central New York, Southern Tier, North Country, Mohawk Valley, Capital District and Mid-Hudson regions.

Forecasts call for a winter storm to impact the state on Sunday evening into Monday, but there remains uncertainty for precipitation types and amounts. New Yorkers are encouraged to monitor the forecast as details become clearer over the weekend. For a complete listing of weather advisories, visit the National Weather Service website.

Agency Preparations

•Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services: The New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services' Emergency Operations Center is activated and will closely monitor conditions, coordinate response operations, and remain in contact with localities throughout the duration of the event. State stockpiles are prepared to deploy assets to localities to support any storm-related needs, including pumps, chainsaws, sandbags, generators, cots, blankets and bottled water.

•Department of Transportation: The State Department of Transportation is responding to the current weather event in multiple regions with the following assets:

  • 1602 large snowplows
  • 323 large loaders
  • 150 medium-duty plows
  • 51 towplows
  • 39 snowblowers
  • 23 pickup trucks with plows
  • 19 graders

For up-to-date travel information, call 511, visit https://www.511ny.org or download the free 511NY mobile app.

•Thruway Authority: The Thruway Authority has 681 operators and supervisors ready to respond with 248 large snowplows, 116 medium snowplows, 10 towplows and 66 loaders across the state with more than 118,000 tons of road salt on hand.

Variable message signs and social media are utilized to alert motorists of winter weather conditions on the thruway.

The Thruway Authority encourages motorists to download its mobile app, which is available for free on iPhone and Android devices. The app provides motorists direct access to real-time traffic and navigation assistance while on the go. Motorists can also sign up for TRANSalert emails, which provide the latest traffic conditions here.

•Department of Environmental Conservation: DEC environmental conservation police officers, forest rangers, emergency management staff, and regional staff are on alert and monitoring the developing situation and actively patrolling areas and infrastructure likely to be impacted by severe weather. All available assets are positioned to assist with any emergency response. To ensure a safe and enjoyable winter experience, DEC advises visitors to the outdoors to plan ahead and prepare with proper clothing and equipment for snow, ice and cold.

•Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: New York State Park Police and park personnel are on alert and closely monitoring weather conditions and impacts. Park visitors should check parks.ny.gov or call their local park office for the latest updates regarding park hours, openings, and closings.

•Department of Public Service: New York's utilities have approximately 6,000 workers available to engage in damage assessment, response, and restoration efforts across New York. Agency staff will track utilities' work throughout the event and ensure utilities shift appropriate staffing to regions anticipated to be most impacted.

•New York State Police: State Police are prepared to deploy additional Troopers as needed to affected areas. All State Police four-wheel drive and specialized vehicles, including snowmobiles and utility-terrain vehicles, are staged and ready for immediate response, and all emergency power and communications equipment has been tested.

•New York Power Authority / Canal Corp.: The New York Power Authority and the Canal Corp. staff are performing preparations to ensure all facilities, assets and equipment are secured and ready. The Power Authority is prepared to support power restoration activities if needed.

Safety Tips

The governor’s office offered the following tips:

•Frostbite: 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. 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

The governor’s office said, “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 uninsulated 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 know 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. The governor’s office said, “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

The governor’s office said, “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

The governor’s office said, “Carbon monoxide is produced anywhere that fuel is burned and is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States.”

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. 

Winter Driving

The governor’s office said, “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.

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