How to keep yourself, home, car safe when temperatures plummet

Saturday, January 4, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CST
Drivers travel through the slushy aftermath of snow Thursday on Broadway in Columbia. The Public Works Department had cleared and treated first and second priority roads early Thursday morning and moved onto residential streets by 7:45 a.m.

COLUMBIA — Temperatures in Columbia are expected to drop significantly in the coming week. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy and keep cars and homes working properly during the extreme cold.

Andrea Waner, spokeswoman for Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department, advises that residents:

  • Don’t ignore shivering. “Shivering is a sign that your body is losing heat, if you start shivering, go inside, bundle up and get warm.”
  • Stay dry to minimize heat loss, and wear layers when outside.
  • Limit time spent outdoors. Parents should monitor the time their children spend in the snow.
  • Make use of Columbia warming centers and shelters if needed.
  • Remember that January is part of flu season. The best ways for individuals and families to protect themselves are to get vaccinated, wash hands regularly, and avoid contact with sick people.
  • Keep all pets indoors.

Black ice

Black ice refers to a clear, thin layer of ice formed on the road’s surface. It's especially dangerous because it blends in with the road.

Boone County Fire Protection Battalion Chief Gale Blomenkamp warns drivers to expect black ice whenever the temperature is below freezing or the sun is not shining on the road.

It is most commonly found in shaded areas, on elevated roads, and on corners or curves, he said.

Holly Dentner, Missouri Department of Transportation customer relations specialist, said travelers should check road conditions before leaving. Conditions are reported on the MoDOT traveler's map. If it’s possible, travelers should change their plans if there is black ice, she said.

If drivers are on roads with black ice, it's important to “slow down, leave plenty of space between you and the car in front of you, and break and accelerate more gently,” Dentner said.

Car maintenance

Drivers can take steps to maximize car performance during the winter season. Walt Shoupe, owner of the Columbia auto repair shop Walt Service Inc., recommended the following tips for car care:

  • Warm car engines for about five minutes before driving in the cold, especially if planning on entering the highway. Failing to do so can cause additional wear to the engine. “Your motor and transmission will not work properly if you don’t warm your car."
  • Never pour hot water anywhere on your car, especially in cold temperatures. “In below freezing temperatures, the water will freeze on contact with everything it touches.”
  • Clear snow off the entire vehicle before driving. “You shouldn’t drive you car unless you can see out of all your windows.” This includes clearing snow off your headlights to maximize visibility.
  • Check the car tire pressure at least once a month, especially when temperatures drastically change. When temperatures drop, the pressure in car tires also drops. “You can crash your car because of a low tire.”

  • Make sure wipers are not frozen to the windshield before using them.

Housing tips

Joe Callahan, who owns Callahan and Galloway Property Management, recommends that his tenants leave the thermostat at 65 degrees and make sure the storm windows are closed if they expect to be out of town for a few days.

If plumbing fixtures are on an outside wall, some extra precautions can be taken to prevent the pipes from freezing.

“Leave cold water dripping, and open the cabinet by the pipes to let warm air in,” Callahan said.

Those looking for ways to keep warm without raising the thermostat can put towels under doors and windows or use a space heater.

Space heaters are much safer these days, he said, but should not be left on when no one is in the home.

Supervising editor is Zachary Matson.

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