What you need to know to stay safe during these winter conditions

By Rachel Lucas - Weekend Anchor / Reporter
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ROANOKE, (WSLS 10) - The big story at the beginning of the weekend started with snow, but now the focus has shifted to ice and cold temperatures.  Extreme cold combined with snow and ice left from Winter Storm Helena have created dangerous conditions in Virginia. The American Red Cross Virginia Region would like to encourage all residents to follow these steps to help protect themselves and their pets:

WINTER SAFETY TIPS

Most of Virginia is experiencing bitter cold temperatures along with ice and snow. People in those areas should keep these tips in mind:

  • Wear layers of clothing to stay warm, along with a hat, mittens and waterproof, insulated boots.
  • Be careful when tackling strenuous tasks like shoveling snow in cold temperatures. Consider your physical condition, the weather factors and the nature of the task.
  • Take frequent breaks to warm up and rest as needed.
  • Check on your neighbors, especially elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.
  • Don't forget your pets– bring them indoors. If they can't come inside, make sure they have enough shelter to keep them warm and that they can get to unfrozen water.
  • Watch for hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia symptoms include confusion, dizziness, exhaustion and severe shivering. Frostbite symptoms include numbness, flushed gray, white, blue or yellow skin discoloration, numbness, or waxy feeling skin.
PREVENT HOME FIRES

Winter storms and cold temperatures often bring a rise in the number of home fires. Follow these tips to help prevent a fire in your home:

  • Keep all potential sources of fuel at least three feet awayfrom space heaters, stoves, or fireplaces - paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs
  • Never leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure any embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.
  • Place space heaters on a level, hard and nonflammable surface(such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep children and pets away from space heaters. When buying a space heater, look for models that shut off automatically if the heater falls over as another safety measure.
  • Never use a cooking range or oven to heat your home.
  • Keep fire in your fireplaceby using a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
  • TRAVEL SAFETY

The best way to remain safe is to stay off the road until they are cleared if possible. If you have to drive before the roads are cleared, follow these tips about how to drive safely:

  • Make sure everyone has their seat belts on and give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.
  • Don't follow other vehicles too closely. Sudden stops are difficult on snowy and icy roadways.
  • Don't use cruise controlwhen driving in winter weather.
  • Don't pass snow plows.
  • Know that ramps, bridges and overpasses freeze before roadways.
  • DURING AND AFTER POWER OUTAGES
  • Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
  • Do not touch any electrical power lines and keep your family and pets away from them.
  • Report downed power lines to the appropriate officials in your area.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. First use perishable food from the refrigerator. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours.
  • Use food from the freezer first. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • Use your non-perishable foods and staples after using food from the refrigerator and freezer.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items.
  • Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.
  • Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!
  • Never taste food or rely on appearance or odor to determine its safety. Some foods may look and smell fine, but if they have been at room temperature too long, bacteria causing food-borne illnesses can start growing quickly. Some types of bacteria produce toxins that cannot be destroyed by cooking.
  • If food in the freezer is colder than 40° F and has ice crystals on it, you can refreeze it.
  • If you are not sure food is cold enough, take its temperature with a food thermometer. Throw out any foods (meat, poultry, fish, eggs and leftovers) that have been exposed to temperatures higher than 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more, and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture, or feels warm to touch.
  •                 EMERGENCY APP
  • People should download the Red Cross Emergency App for instant access to advice on what to do in emergencies and disasters like winter storms. You'll find tips on how to plan ahead in case heavy rain or a snow storm threatens. The app also contains weather alerts, life-saving information and ways to contact family and friends in one free, easy-to-use app for mobile devices.
PLEASE GIVE BLOOD

This latest round of severe winter weather could worsen the current severe winter blood shortage. The storm could force blood drives to be cancelled in the midst of the Red Cross' current emergency call for blood and platelet donations.

Hectic holiday schedules for blood donors along with snowstorms and severe weather contributed to about 37,000 fewer donations in November and December than what was needed. In December alone, almost 100 blood drives were cancelled.

Eligible blood donors are urged to schedule a donation today by using the Red Cross Blood Donor app, visiting redcrossblood.org or calling 1-800-REDCROSS (1-800-733-2767). Donors can help even more people by inviting a family member, friend or co-worker to donate too. The Red Cross encourages individuals to make a donation appointment and to complete a RapidPass online health history questionnaire to help speed up the donation process.

Individuals who are 17 years of age in most states (16 with parental consent where allowed by state law), weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood. High school students and other donors 18 years of age and younger also have to meet certain height and weight requirements.

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