Winter storm safety tips

February 12, 2014 

Middle Georgians don’t see accumulations of ice, sleet or snow that often, so it helps to go over the basics when the prospect arrives.

Here are tips for dealing with winter storms:

Car care and driving in snow or ice

• Check all fluid levels, tire treads, lights and more before the storm arrives. Remember: Tires can lose pressure in extreme cold.

• Don’t drive in bad winter weather if you can avoid it. If you must drive, make sure someone is aware of your travel route. Allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

• Keep your gas tank at least half full to prevent the vehicle’s fuel line from freezing.

• Decrease your speed to make sure you have full control of your vehicle. Stay focused and limit distractions. Leave yourself plenty of room to slow down for traffic lights, turns or stops. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you. Avoid sudden stops and starts.

• If a traffic light is out, treat the intersection as a four-way stop.

• Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.

• Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.

• Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills. Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.

• Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Watch out for black ice. Roads that appear clear may be treacherous. Take it slow when approaching intersections, off ramps, bridges and shady areas. All of them are prone to black ice.

• If your rear wheels skid: Take your foot off the accelerator. Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right. If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.

• If you have standard brakes, pump them gently. If you have anti-lock brakes, do not pump them. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse; this is normal.

• If your front wheels skid: Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately. As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

• Carry a cellphone, and make sure it is charged.

• Carry emergency supplies. Besides the just-in-case items you should always have in your vehicle, such as jumper cables, tire-changing tools, a flashlight and a first aid kit, consider adding an ice scraper, blankets, flares or reflectors, windshield washer fluid and traction material.

• If you get stuck: Don’t spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper. Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way. Use a light touch on the gas to ease your car out.

In and around your home

• Running a small trickle of water through pipes -- both hot and cold -- will help keep them from freezing.

• Lower window shades and pull curtains shut to help keep out cold.

• Have flashlights ready, a battery-powered radio and fresh batteries.

• If you lose heat, shut off unused rooms by stuffing towels in cracks under the doors. At night, cover windows with extra blankets.

• If a storm is on the way that may bring loss of power, fill your bathtub and spare containers with water. Use that water for sanitation purposes only, not as drinking water.

• Have heating equipment and fuel (a fireplace, gas fireplace or wood burning stove), so you can keep at least one room livable.

• In the home, open cabinet doors to allow heat to get to piping under sinks and vanities near exterior walls.

• Keep exterior doors to unheated spaces closed as much as possible.

• Stock up on canned and dry goods -- nonperishable food -- that requires little to no preparation and can be cooked on a gas range, grill or in a fireplace. Also, get bottled water. Make sure you have a manual can opener.

• If the power goes out, avoid opening refrigerators or freezers. Food will stay frozen in a fully loaded freezer for up to 48 hours if the door is closed. In a half-full freezer, food will keep about 24 hours.

• Minimize the chance your pipes will freeze by insulating pipes in unheated areas and those that run along outside walls, floors and ceilings. Disconnect outside garden hoses and seal foundation cracks that can freeze pipes in crawl spaces.

• Don’t try to heat your apartment or home with the kitchen stove.

• Don’t overload electrical outlets with space heaters.

• Walk carefully on snow or ice. It’s easy to take a nasty spill and get hurt.

• If you see downed power lines, don’t go near them. Call your utility company to report the outage and get information on restoration.

• Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Also, don a hat (or other head gear), a scarf, gloves or mittens.

• If the power is out, use flashlights or other battery-powered lights instead of candles. If you use candles, put them in safe holders away from anything that could catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended.

• Leave one light on to help you know when your power returns.

• To report fallen tree limbs, dangerous road conditions or accumulation of snow, call your local Emergency Management Agency. In Macon-Bibb County, the number is 478-832-6300. In Houston County, dial 478-542-2026.

Sources: National Safety Council, AAA, FEMA, midstate law enforcement agencies

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