Update: January 7, 2014 4:12 p.m.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is reminding motorists who will be driving during severe winter weather to be aware of tips to stay safe in the event their automobile leaves them stranded for a period of time in freezing temperatures.
“We never expect to encounter automobile problems when we leave our homes to go to work, to the grocery store, or even to a doctor’s appointment,” said Dr. Letitia Tierney, State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. “But far too often, things just happen and we can become stranded. We need to be prepared and know what we can do until help arrives. This information can help save your life and prevent injuries.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the following tips to help you stay safe in the event that you become stranded in your automobile during the winter:
• Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers.
• Move anything you need from the trunk into the passenger area.
• Wrap your entire body, including your head, in extra clothing, blankets, or newspapers.
• Stay awake. You will be less vulnerable to cold-related health problems.
• Run the motor (and heater) for about 10 minutes per hour, opening one window slightly to let in air.
• Make sure that snow is not blocking the exhaust pipe—this will reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
• As you sit, keep moving your arms and legs to improve your circulation and stay warmer.
• Do not eat unmelted snow because it will lower your body temperature.
Before heading out in your automobile, take a few moments to prepare for potential problems before they occur. Make sure you have plenty of gasoline in your automobile. Wear a hat, scarf or knit mask, mittens or gloves, water-resistant coat and shoes, and several layers of loose-fitting clothing. If possible, bring a fully charged cellular phone with you. Always tell someone where you are going and if you do not arrive by a specified time, then they will know that something may be wrong.
Update: January 7, 2014 8:00 a.m.
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources is warning West Virginia residents about the dangers posed by freezing temperatures over the next few days. Serious health problems and even death can result from prolonged exposure to the cold including hypothermia and frostbite. Carbon monoxide poisoning and structure fires may occur when using unvented or unsafe heating practices.
“It’s imperative that every resident across West Virginia plans ahead for the colder temperatures that will be affecting West Virginia this afternoon and tonight,” said Dr. Letitia Tierney, State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health. “With the temperatures and wind-chill predicted for tonight and tomorrow, frostbite can occur in less than 30 minutes. Fingers, toes, earlobes and the tip of the nose are the most susceptible areas to frostbite.”
Extremely cold temperatures can also cause hypothermia that occurs at any time the body’s temperature drops below 95°F. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence and drowsiness. Tierney noted the temperature will be too cold for children to be playing outdoors and pets should be brought inside for tonight and tomorrow.
Carbon monoxide is another concern when heating with gas. Hundreds of Americans die each year as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by malfunctioning or improperly used fuel burning appliances.
“Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that, at high levels, can cause sudden illness and death within a few minutes,” said Tierney. “If residents are using natural gas, kerosene, wood or propane to heat their homes, they need to ensure their homes are well-ventilated and are equipped with a carbon monoxide detector.” Using a candle or Sterno (chaffing dish warmer) as a heating source is dangerous and should be avoided. Only use electric heaters in ways approved by the manufacturer and never operate them near curtains, blankets, or loose paper that could ignite. Do not use a gas oven to heat your home even for a short time. Do not sleep in any room with an unvented kerosene space heater.
Residents, who do not have a heating source in their home, need to contact the local Emergency Manager or the local health department to learn where the nearest shelter or warming station is located.
2014 Winter Storm Resources:
Extreme Cold Guide - information about preparing your home and car, developing a winter checklist, etc.
Winter FAQs - learn about hypothermia, frostbite, wind chill effect, getting stranded in cold weather, clothing, etc.