When winter hits hard it can be surprisingly easy to become a sad news story, one with an even sadder headline like: "Man Dies Alone" or "Even Her Cats Couldn't Save Her." So instead of spending those last precious moments on earth wishing you'd changed the carbon monoxide detector or that you'd***image1*** saved that last can of Spaghetti-O's for an emergency (a hangover may seem like an emergency, but it's not), why not spend a few minutes preparing for the worst of winter? Because hey, you never know.
Before heading out to the store for supplies, there are a few things to check around the house. If you're planning to build a fire, or even if you'd only use your fireplace in an emergency, make sure the flue and chimney are in good working order. If they're not and you light a fire, the carbon monoxide just might kill you and all of your cats. Or worse-you could burn down your house and half of Santa Fe with it. So call Casey's Top Hat Chimney Sweeps (640 S. Jaguar Drive, 989-5775), Shawn's Chimney Sweeps (38 Apache Ridge Road, Suite 24, 474-5857), or another local fireplace expert (hint: Google "Santa Fe" and "chimney").
Speaking of heating up the house, things should get hot in bed (if you know what we mean…) but not so hot that the sheets ignite, right? So keep space heaters more than three feet away from fabrics and furniture. And covering that ugly heater with a quilted cozy won't give it a romantic glow, it'll just give it the fuel it needs to make the biggest bonfire the neighborhood has ever seen.
If there's a big blizzard and the power goes out, you should resist the urge to get into the camping gear and pull out the propane-powered lantern. Those fumes can be dangerous. Also, keep in mind that if the power goes out, your electric oven and microwave aren't going to work, so stock up on provisions that can be cooked in a kiva (read: marshmallows, hot dogs) and food you wouldn't mind eating cold, unless, of course, you've got a gas or charcoal grill out in the yard. Keep that propane tank full and store an extra few bags of charcoal in the shed. That way, if you're stuck in a blacked-out house for a few days, you can empty the freezer of veggie burgers, fire up some elk steaks, even cook up a pot of beans (on the side burner or using a cast-iron Dutch oven). But don't even think of bringing the grill inside or you'll be cooking up your last meal.
Check out the rest of these tips for surviving winter and implement them. Because we'd rather break the news that your band is signed to Geffen than that you burned your acoustic guitar in a last ditch effort to stay alive.
Facts adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Extreme Cold Guide (www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter).
How to Prepare Your Car for Winter
Before disaster strikes, you should definitely have the radiator system serviced, or check the antifreeze level yourself with an antifreeze tester. Add antifreeze, as needed. Be sure to replace summer windshield-wiper fluid with a wintertime mixture and check your tires. Replace any worn tires and add air as necessary. Pack up this winter survival kit for your car:
• First-aid kit
• A can and waterproof matches (to melt snow for water)
• Windshield scraper
• Booster cables
• Road maps
• Mobile phone and charger
• Tool kit
• Paper towels
• A bag of sand or cat litter (to pour on ice or snow for added
• Tow rope
• Tire chains (in areas with heavy snow)
• Collapsible shovel
• Container of water and high-calorie canned or dried foods plus a
• Flashlight and extra batteries
• Canned compressed air with sealant (for emergency tire repair)
• Brightly colored cloth (for attracting the attention of rescuers)
How to Prepare Your House for Winter
First, stock up on several days' supply of food that doesn't require cooking or refrigeration: bread, peanut butter, crackers, cereal, canned goods and dried fruits. Remember baby food and formula if you have young children. Also, store at least five gallons of water per household member in case the water pipes freeze and rupture. And ask your doctor to write an extra prescription for any vital medicines in the event you can't get to the pharmacy. You might also need some of these emergency supplies:
• An alternate way to heat your home during a power failure (dry
firewood for a fireplace or woodstove, or kerosene for a kerosene
• Furnace fuel (coal, propane or oil)
• Electric space heaters with an automatic shut-off switch and
• Warm, non-electric blankets
• Multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher
• First-aid kit and instruction manual
• Flashlight or battery-powered lantern
• Battery-powered or hand-crank radio
• Battery-powered clock or watch
• Extra batteries
• Non-electric can opener
• Snow shovel
• Rock salt
• Special-needs items (diapers, baby formula, hearing aid
batteries, medications, etc.)
What to Do If You Get Stranded
Staying in your vehicle is often the safest choice if winter storms create poor visibility or if roadways are ice covered. These steps will increase your safety when stranded:
• Tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna as a signal to rescuers
and raise the hood of the car (if it is not snowing).
• 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
• 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
• Huddle with other people for warmth.
Frostbite: It Blows
Whether you're stranded in a blizzard or just taking a long backcountry hike, you do not want to loose your toes. At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin-frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
• A white or grayish-yellow skin area
• Skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
A victim often often is unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.
What to Do
If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia (see following section). Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance. If 1) there is frostbite but no sign of hypothermia and 2) immediate medical care is not available, proceed as follows:
• Get into a warm room as soon as possible.
• Unless absolutely necessary, do not walk on frostbitten feet or
toes-this increases the damage.
• Immerse the affected area in warm-not hot-water (the
temperature should be comfortable to the touch for
unaffected parts of the body).
• Warm the affected area using body heat. For example,
the heat of an armpit can be used to warm frostbitten fingers.
• Do not rub the frostbitten area with snow or massage it at all.
This can cause more damage.
• Don't use a heating pad, heat lamp or the heat of a stove,
fireplace or radiator for warming. Affected areas are numb
and can be easily burned.
Hypothermia: Know It When You See It
Hypothermia can kill you; it can also make you appear dead when you're really not. That could be a real bummer, so here's how to recognize the signs:
Hypothermia in Adults:
• Shivering, exhaustion
• Confusion, fumbling hands
• Memory loss, slurred speech
Hypothermia in Infants:
• Bright red, cold skin
• Very low energy
Warm It Up!
If you notice any of these signs, take the person's temperature. If it is below 95 degrees, the situation is an emergency-get medical attention immediately. If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:
• Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
• If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
• Warm the center of the body first-chest, neck, head and
groin-using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-
skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing,
towels or sheets.
• Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature,
but do not give alcoholic beverages and do not try to give
beverages to an unconscious person.
• After the body temperature has increased, keep the person-
including the person's neck and head-dry and wrapped in a
• Get medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.