Winter storm tips

Friday, January 12, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:23 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008


  • “At night, there is a tendency for (everything) to freeze,” McNabb said. “Just because you drive on a road during the day does not mean it will be as safe at night.”
  • Although the snow might be gone, beware of black ice — a sheet of almost invisible ice that forms from the freezing of moisture on the surface of the road. Slow down when approaching shaded areas, especially, because the lack of sunlight means longer melting time.
  • Take extra caution when driving on overpasses and bridges, because the wind’s direct access to these structures causes the wind chill factor to increase and ice to form.
  • If you have a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, consider placing bags of sand or cat litter in the trunk to put more weight on the rear wheels of the car. If you start to spin or skid, remove your foot from the gas pedal and slowly steer in the direction you want the car to go. Do not apply pressure to the brakes. In a front-wheel-drive vehicle, remove your foot from the gas pedal, wait for your vehicle’s tires to develop traction with the road’s surface and slowly steer in the direction you want to go.
  • Compared to normal driving conditions, it takes twice as long to stop when driving on ice, so keep at least a three-car distance from other vehicles, and more when going up or down a hill.
  • Find out which type of brakes your vehicle has. With anti-lock brakes, you can put your foot on the brake because the system automatically pumps the brakes for you. Do not pump the brakes yourself. If you do not have anti-lock brakes, gently pump the brakes and do not keep your foot continuously on the brake because it could cause the wheels to lock.
  • If you have to drive uphill, find a path that will give you traction to avoid spinning your wheels.
  • Reduce speed when turning or driving on a curve. Also, remember that posted speed limits refer to normal conditions.
  • Keep these things in your car: battery jumper cables; a snow shovel; a first-aid kit; a toolkit; extra clothing; blankets; flashlights; a cell phone; and a bag of sand or cat litter. The car manual may provide specific details for battling different types of weather.


On chilly days like this, the most difficult thing for many drivers is simply to get into their cars. Mike Right, the vice president of public affairs at AAA, provides several useful tips to accomplish that mission and get on the road.

  • Check every door of the car: Moisture is often wind-driven. It may be possible to open the doors on the passengers’ side even if the driver’s side doors are stuck.
  • Prepare yourself with a deicer: It can be applied on the windshield and the outlines of the door. It is erosion-free and easy to use. To break the outlines of car doors, a frozen roll of newspapers may be helpful.
  • Treat the windshield carefully: Only use a scraper to hit the ice and let it gently detach. Don’t use water at any temperature — it will only worsen the situation.
  • Heat up your car key only when necessary: It is often a good idea to heat up the key when it won’t fit in the lock, but some keys contain electronic devices or chips that will break during the procedure.
  • Keep the gas tank at least half full: It may prevent you from an emergency such as an unexpected delay on the highway. Also make sure that your battery is properly maintained and your phone is sufficiently charged.


IF YOU LOSE HEAT: -- Close off unneeded rooms. -- Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors to conserve heat. -- Cover windows at night.

  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, and put on a hat. Remove layers to avoid overheating, perspiration, and subsequent chill.
  • Eat and drink. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Keep the body replenished with fluids to prevent dehydration. High energy food, such as dried fruit or candy, and food requiring no cooking or refrigeration is best.
  • Avoid alcoholic beverages. Alcohol causes the body to lose its heat more rapidly — even though one may feel warmer after drinking alcoholic beverages.
  • Fill any empty containers (pitchers, bottles, etc.) with water in case pipes freeze. To prevent pipes from freezing, let a small stream of water trickle from faucets. Running water is less likely to freeze.


  • When using alternate heat from a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc., use fire safeguards and properly ventilate the room to avoid poisonous fumes.
  • Do not operate generators, use charcoal grills or camping stoves indoors for cooking or heating. Charcoal produces deadly amount of CO which can claim victims in a matter of minutes. DO NOT or use gas ovens to heat your home. All of these produce carbon monoxide gas.
  • Do not use charcoal grills or camping stoves indoors for cooking or heating.
  • Do not start cars in the garage and leave them running because deadly CO can enter homes causing injury and death even with the garage doors open. -- If using candles and oil lamps, do so with the utmost care. Do not leave the candles or lamps burning when leaving the room or going to asleep. Also, do not have the candles or lamp near combustibles including, but not limited to bedding, drapes, papers, etc.
  • Be cautious when using generators. Do not attempt to hook the generator in line with the breaker/fuse box. This could result in serious problems in the home and for line workers.
  • Check that smoke detectors are in working order, and keep a fire extinguisher handy. In all cases, stay inside if at all possible.


    Power outages combined with frigid temperatures can leave your home’s pipes vulnerable to freezing and bursting. Here are some suggestions for avoiding the problem or dealing with it if it happens.

  • Turning faucets on to release just a trickle of water in most cases will prevent frozen pipes. Let warm water drip overnight, preferably from a faucet on an outside wall.
  • Open cabinet doors to let heat from your home get to uninsulated pipes under sinks and appliances near outside walls.
  • If you’re leaving your home, set the thermostat no lower than 55 degrees. Ask a friend or neighbor to check on your house to ensure it’s warm enough to prevent freezing. You can also shut off and drain your water system.
  • If your pipes freeze, take no chances. Leave faucets turned on and call a plumber. If your water pipes burst, turn off the water at the main shut-off valve.
  • Never try to thaw a pipe with a torch or an open flame. Hair dryers can succeed at thawing pipes, but don’t use electrical appliances in areas of standing water to avoid the risk of electrocution. Start by warming the pipe as close to the faucet as possible, working toward the coldest section of the pipe.


    The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services warns those who experience power outages to be careful with refrigerated and frozen foods.

    “If they have any doubt about the safety of their food, we want them to throw it out,” department director Jane Drummond said.

    Here are some food safety tips to consider:

  • Keep an appliance thermometer in the refrigerator and freezer at all times to see whether food is being stored at a safe temperature range (34 to 45 degrees for refrigerators; zero degrees for freezers). Most foodborne illness is caused by bacteria that multiply rapidly at temperatures above 41 degrees.
  • Leave the freezer door closed. A full freezer should keep food safe for about two days; a half-full freezer for about a day. Adding ice or dry ice will help maintain foods at safe tempratures. You can safely refreeze thawed foods that still contain ice crystals or that feel cold to the touch.
  • Discard perishable food that has been above 41 degrees for four hours or more and any food that has an unusual odor, color or texture.
  • Never taste food to determine its safety. Sight, smell and taste are unreliable indicators of whether food has been contaminated by bacteria.
  • Clean and sanitize. Refrigerators and freezers that experience extended power outages should be cleaned and sanitized prior to restocking. Wash their interiors with warm, soapy water, rinse with clear water then wipe them out with a mild bleach solution (1 capful of bleach to a gallon of clear water).
  • Call your doctor or local health agency if you experience symptoms that you feel are related to eating spoiled food.
  • SOURCES: The National Weather Service, the Columbia Fire Department, State Farm Insurance, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the New York State Emergency Management Office.

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