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Winter is on its way - be prepared!

Winter landscape
Marie-Pier Arseneault/Getty Images/iStockphoto

As we close out the fall season, we are looking forward to the festive holidays. But, that also can bring severe weather. While hurricane season winds down by the end of November, we move into the beginning of the cold winter in Delaware. According to the Center for Environmental Monitoring & Analysis (CEMA), January is the coldest month and February typically has the most snowfall at all stations across Delaware. (CEMA, n.d.). On average, Delaware gets 45 inches of precipitation a year, with average snowfall of 20.20” at Wilmington Airport, 13.20” in Dover and 10.50” in Lewes (CEMA, n.d.). While Delaware is not the coldest nor the snowiest state, we certainly get our fair share of winter weather events that can best be managed with some preparedness.

Older adults face unique challenges and risks with cold weather and winter storms. Snow, ice and wind can lead to power outages. Loss of power to a home in the winter months impacts the ability to keep the home heated and adequately lit. This can be particularly dangerous for older adults. As we age, the ability to sense changes in skin temperature decreases. In response to cold environments, this means a reduced ability to both generate and maintain body heat, subsequently increasing risk for hypothermia and frostbite. Age-related vision changes include increased difficulty seeing clearly in lower light settings and with light and dark adaptation, such as transitioning from a brighter room into a darker room. Inadequate lighting may increase fall and injury risk.

Loss of power due to a winter storm can also impact refrigerator use for medications and the continued operation of any powered medical equipment. A portable residential generator is one option to be considered when sheltering in place, but does come with pros and cons. A portable residential generator supplies backup power typically to between two and four appliances via the use of extension cords. Setup and use require transporting the generator to a safe location, filling with gas, connecting the extension cords, starting the generator and maintaining it throughout the time of use, which may include multiple refills dependent upon how long the power is out. This also may require storing large quantities of gasoline for use with the generator during the event, as there may not be access to a gas station during the actual power outage. It is recommended to locate the portable generator on a flat surface within ten feet from the house in order to decrease risk of carbon monoxide entering the home. Other considerations are run-time, noise and of course, price.

Winter storms may bring ice and snow. Icy and snowy conditions increase the risk for slips and falls, as well as the possibility of overexertion and/or injury when shoveling. Other common risks during the winter months are fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. Heat sources such as fireplaces, wood and gas stoves need to be properly vented, cleaned and used to decrease chance of leaking carbon monoxide. Additional care and consideration also need to be taken when using any of these heat sources, including space heaters, as they can be a fire hazard. Make sure that you have working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to help you to stay safe.

Making a plan, making a kit and staying informed are the three essential preparedness steps to maximize your safety and wellbeing while sheltering in place during the winter or in any emergency. Find some tips for dealing with the cold at https://videos.aarp.org/detail/video/6117168068001/how-to-protect-yourself-from-cold-weather

Detailed information can also be found on PrepareDE.org, however, here are some basic tips:

Stay informed – make sure you can receive emergency alerts and have a way to monitor the weather.

Make a Plan – Help reduce your risk!

  • Have a list of important phone numbers and keep it by your phone.
  • Have family members check in on a regular basis – schedule it! (see Preparedness Buddy in the resources) If this isn’t possible, check if your community has a senior roll call program.
  • Have people you can call to help with snow removal, etc.
  • Every year nearly 12,000 people in the US are treated in emergency departments for injuries related to snow shoveling.
  • Arrange to have your stairs, walkways, and driveways cleared of snow and ice.
  • Limit travel during severe weather and icy conditions

Make a kit - https://www.preparede.org/make-a-kit/

  • Make an emergency kit with supplies in case you need to leave your home.
  • Keep your kitchen stocked with non-perishable food and water.
  • Have a supply of prescriptions and other medications in case you can’t leave the house for a few days.

Be prepared for power outages by keeping electronic devices charged, having flashlights, and backup batteries. If you require specialized medical equipment, consider having an emergency generator.

Know where you can go or what to do to safely stay warm if you lose heat due to a storm. Make sure that you have warm clothing, blankets, etc. as well.

If you need help with home energy bills, including help to pay for home heating both routinely and/or during an emergency, the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) administers the Delaware Energy Assistance Program (DEAP) which can help.  Go to https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dssc/liheap.html or contact your local State Service Center to learn more.

References & Resources

Center for Environmental Monitoring & Analysis (CEMA). (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2021, from CEMA: Center for Environmental Monitoring & Analysis (udel.edu)

Preparedness Buddy: https://www.dhss.delaware.gov/dhss/dph/php/preparednessbuddy.html

Guest writers:

Debra Young, Disability & Preparedness Specialist, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) & Wanderly, embedded within Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, Division of Public Health, Office of Preparedness

Jeff Sands, Community Relations Coordinator, Delaware Emergency Management Agency (DEMA)

 

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