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We sometimes joke that meteorologists are among the only people who can be wrong so much of the time and yet still earn a paycheck every week.  It looks like they might be right on the money this time around, though.  Beginning about a week ago, forecasts began predicting extreme winter weather, including heavy snow and bitter cold for many of the Midwestern states starting last night and going through most of this week.

In visiting local grocery stores the last couple of days, it appears as though many people were taking the warnings to heart and stocking up on food and other necessities.  Snow and cold were frequently overheard topics of conversations.  Depending upon which source is consulted, experts are predicting up to a foot of snow in some areas, which will be followed midweek with wind chills south of -40°F.

The so-called “polar vortex” that is swooping down from the north is nothing new.  It is actually something that always exists near the poles.  It is merely an area of low pressure and cold air that swirls counter-clockwise, which is what keeps it near the poles.  But, as the northern hemisphere goes through the winter months, the vortex tends to strengthen, occasionally dipping down as far as the upper United States.

Here are some tips on dealing with severe winter weather.

Don’t Overdo It

Our bodies have to work harder in the winter weather and shoveling snow is no easy task.  Remember to lift with your legs, not your back.  Slow down and take frequent breaks.  Pushing snow is sometimes easier than lifting it.  If you can move it to the side of the driveway or sidewalk for now, then go back later and shovel it away, you might find the job easier in the long run.

Watch Your Footing

It can be very easy to get into a rhythm with shoveling snow and forget that there might very well be patches of ice hidden underneath.  There may be other obstacles under there, too, such as fallen branches, just waiting to trip you up.  Walk slowly and deliberately.  Apply salt or another de-icer as appropriate.

Dress Appropriately

Wearing layers is the best way to handle winter weather.  Avoid cotton as it is loses insulating properties when it gets wet, which is bound to happen.  Wearing layers allows you to adjust to your body temperature.  As you work, shoveling snow and what not, your body will warm up and you can shed a layer to help keep you from feeling overheated.  Sweating can lead to hypothermia as evaporation is a cooling process.  Once the work is done and your body cools down, bundle up again.

Stay Off the Roads

Avoid traveling if at all possible.  Keep in mind that if you end up in a ditch, not only are you endangering yourself and those with you but now other people have to risk their own safety to come out and rescue you.  In some areas, the weather can get bad enough that rescue crews can’t or won’t head out immediately.  You could end up sitting there for quite some time.  A far better option is to just stay home.

Drive Slowly

If you simply must be on the road during bad winter weather, take it slow.  Keep plenty of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you because sudden stops just won’t work out well for anyone.  Make sure someone knows where you are headed and when you expect to arrive.  If you are late, they should alert the authorities in case you were in an accident.  Stay off your phone while driving so you can concentrate on the road.  If the snow is blowing quite a bit, avoid using your high beams.  You’ll have better visibility with the low beams.

Winter Vehicle Kit

Keep some basic emergency supplies in your vehicle at all times.

  • Blanket, one for each occupant
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Charger and cord for your cell phone
  • Extra winter clothes (hat, gloves, scarf, socks, boots)
  • Booster cables
  • Small snow shovel
  • First aid kit
  • Bag of cat litter or road salt for traction
  • Water
  • Snacks

Find more information on making your own DIY emergency kit for your vehicle here.

Additional Resources

Keep up to date on weather forecasts, advisories, and warnings, visit the government’s weather resource page.

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