Bracing for winter’s chill

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

Old Man Winter will soon be knocking on Lawrence County's door and while his visit may be unavoidable, there are things residents can do to prepare for their uninvited guest.

Governor Bob Taft declared last week as "Winter Safety Awareness Week." In a press release from the Ohio Committee for Severe Weather Awareness, the governor urged people to take the proper precautions.

"Ohioans need to be prepared for severe winter weather and that's the message we're hoping to get across through Winter Safety Awareness Week," Taft said.

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According to the National Weather Service in Charleston, W.Va., residents may have more to prepare for this winter. While there is no way to predict weather for the coming months with absolute certainty, experts look to current trends and past records for more reliable forecasts.

"It varies as compared with last winter, but the confidence level is such that it's (this winter's forecast) looking a little bit colder and a little bit drier," said Meteorologist Tom Mazza.

Mazza pointed out that a drier forecast does not necessarily mean lower winter precipitation. The "drier" prediction only considers rain and doesn't account for possible snowfall amounts.

There doesn't seem to be a trend toward colder or warmer winters during the past few years, Mazza said.

"I would say pretty much that it (winter weather) fluctuates, both the temperature and the precipitation," Mazza said. "We may start to get a trend going and then it goes back the other way again so I would say there was no real appreciable trend one way or the other."

If the weather is frightful

Although winters tend to be somewhat milder in the Tri-State, the weather still plays a significant role.

To get ready for whatever Mother Nature sends this way, Don Mootz, executive director of Emergency Services for Lawrence County, offered area residents a few tips.

"Flooding is a common thing for us," Mootz said. "Heavy rain and flash flooding contribute to hazardous conditions in this area. We just went through some major flooding and an ice storm that are still very fresh in our minds right now."

Taking the proper precautions can minimize the effects of winter weather, Mootz said. For instance, having plenty of supplies beforehand, including food, fuel and medications, can prevent problems later.

"Always have what you need available," Mootz said. "You may not be able to go out and get additional supplies during bad weather."

Having a disaster kit on hand can also mean all the difference during a winter storm, Mootz said. The kit for the home should include plenty of drinking water, canned/no-cook food, a first-aid kit, a battery-powered weather radio, non-electric can opener, a flashlight with extra batteries, prescribed medicines and hygiene items.

Remember to include enough supplies to last several days for each member of the household as the effects of winter storms can sometimes last a long while.

A common problem Mootz said he sees is people running out of their medications or having inadequate fuel to heat their homes. He reminded residents that if they run out of oil or propane during a storm, they wouldn't be able to get additional fuel delivered right away.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recommends having an alternative source of heat, such as a fireplace, wood stove or space heater.

But people must take precautions when using heaters. Remember to keep heaters at least three feet from flammable objects and provide adequate ventilation to prevent buildup of toxic fumes. Make sure to have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home.

When venturing outside, residents need to take it easy, especially when shoveling snow. Cold weather places more strain on the heart. For those unaccustomed to the strenuous activity, the results can be deadly.

Dressing in layers keeps the body warmer than one heavy outer garment. The coat should be water repellent and hooded. Wear a hat and gloves to prevent body heat from escaping.

Overcoming the effects of winter weather can be easier when people work together. Mootz urged residents to check on neighbors during bad weather - especially the elderly or disabled.

"Sometimes we tend to worry about ourselves, but we need to put a little thought into the well being of others," he said.

While most might think snow and sleet are the biggest problems faced by drivers in the winter, this area is even more susceptible to the effects of rainfall.

Mootz urged motorists to exercise precaution during periods of heavy rain by reminding them never to drive through high water.

"We tell people to back up and turn around," he said. "It only takes a couple feet of water to carry a vehicle away. ŠWe don't want to see anyone drown," he said.

For more tips, contact Mootz at 532-0911 or 533-4375.

Dashing through the snow

Weather elements that paint the landscape with winter wonder are the same conditions that contribute to danger on the roadways.

According to AAA, sleet and snow contributed to more than 205,000 automobile crashes in 2002.

But being equipped for winter hazards can help motorists avoid becoming a statistic.

"It's important because if you have poor weather conditions and you're not prepared, then your chances of being involved in a collision are much greater," said AAA East Central Spokesperson Bevi Norris.

Norris offered area residents a simple plan to stay safe while traveling.

"There are three 'Ps' to remember for winter driving: Prepare, protect and prevent," she said. "The preparation involves maintaining your vehicle beforehand. Protecting means to make sure that you wear the proper restraints.

"Prevention means prevent crashes by slowing down and also avoiding alcohol, drugs and fatigue while you're driving. Those things are very important because of the added hazardous conditions when you're on the road."

Speeding and tailgating are hazardous year-round, but they can be especially dangerous in winter.

"It's important to leave enough extra time when you're traveling in bad weather so that you don't feel hurried or rushed," Norris said. "You want to leave more of a following distance when you're traveling behind other vehicles so that you have a safety cushion if you do have to slam on your breaks that you will be able to stop your vehicle in a timely manner."

AAA also recommends the following tips to ensure safe winter driving:

Check battery and charging system. "Cold weather places high demands on vehicle electrical systems so you want to make sure your battery is in good condition for winter," Norris said.

Get brakes inspected before the onslaught of winter weather.

Use snow tires with tread 30 percent deeper than standard tires and make sure to keep them properly inflated. For every 10-degree drop in temperature, air pressure in tires will drop 1-2 pounds per square inch.

Choose the correctly sized tire for winter driving. "Wide tires float on top of the snow while narrow tires cut through it for better traction. So, tires are very important," Norris said.

Keep the gas tank at least half full. Condensation can build up, causing the gas line to freeze in cold weather.

Use an engine coolant with adequate anti-freeze protection. Mixing equal parts water and antifreeze provides protection to -30 F.

Check windshield wipers and consider replacing them with winter blades that have rubber covers to prevent snow and ice buildup.

Remember to keep plenty of antifreeze washer solvent in the windshield reservoir.

"There's nothing worse than being out driving and running out of window washing fluid. It makes it very hard to see," Norris said.

Assemble an emergency kit and keep it in the vehicle. The kit should include the same items as a home emergency kit along with the following: Abrasive material such as salt, sand or kitty litter, a snow shovel, ice scraper, jumper cables, window washing solvent, roll of paper towels, traction mats and warning devices (flares or triangles).

For more information, visit AAA's Web site at

Not a creature stirring

Exercising caution at home and on the road is vitally important to keeping people safe, but Fido and Fluffy also need special attention during winter.

While it is best to keep them inside if possible, most pets can weather the chillier temperatures outdoors with the right care.

"Animals need shelter when it's cold outside," said Dr. Ruth Boll, a local veterinarian. "You have to provide an area that is large enough for the animal to fit inside, but not large enough that its body can't heat the area."

The shelter must be waterproof with warm bedding provided for the animal.

Pet owners don't really need to feed their pets more during the winter, Boll said. Activity levels generally decrease as the temperatures drop, meaning animals' caloric needs don't increase. But people do need to make sure animals have access to plenty of water.

"When it's below freezing, owners must provide water for their outdoor pets," she said. "Change the water several times a day. There are also heated water bowls available that can keep the water from freezing."

Basic grooming is also key - especially for longhaired dogs - to keeping the cold at bay. Matted fur doesn't help the dog stay warm at all, Boll said.

"A shaved dog is better than one with a heavy coat full of mats," she said.

Although frostbite is not really a big problem in this area, the age of pets contributes to more winter discomfort, Boll said. They have more difficulty dealing with the cold - even if they have lived outdoors all their lives. Arthritis can also cause painful bones and stiff joints.

"Basically, their body can't handle cold temperatures as well as in the past," she said.

The ASPCA also recommends the following pet tips:

Keep antifreeze out of the reach of pets. Its sweet taste attracts animals, but even a small dose can be fatal.

Wipe off pet's legs and paws after they go outside during inclement weather. Animals can ingest salt or antifreeze when they lick their paws. Ice and snow also make paws sore or cause them to bleed.

Tap the hood of a car before starting it in winter. Cats and other small animals often seek shelter there and can be seriously injured or killed by the fan belt when an engine is started.

Remember, puppies do not tolerate cold as well as their adult counterparts, so provide shelter accordingly.

By following these simple tips, pet owners can look forward to their pets living long, happy lives.

"Most of it is just common sense," Boll said.

For more information, visit

Let it snow

By taking the proper precautions, winter can be a glorious time for everyone in the family, including four-legged friends.

But being prepared isn't just for Winter Safety Awareness Week. Officials urge residents to make every day an occasion to be safe and to enjoy all the good things winter has to offer.

Story by staff reporter Beth Davis. She can be reached at 532-1445 ext. 14.