While other regions dealt recently with large winter storms and big piles of snow — several weeks ahead of official winter — we here in the Mid-Atlantic enjoyed, along with our turkey and stuffing leftovers, average to cool temperatures and light rain. But in preparation for what could come, Gov. Larry Hogan, alongside several state and federal agencies, proclaimed this week to be Maryland Winter Safety Week.
“Winters in our state bring frigid temperatures, intense winds, dangerous ice, and heavy snow, so I urge Marylanders to start preparing now,” Hogan (R) said in a press release announcing the official proclamation ceremony on Monday. “By being prepared, staying aware, and using common sense, we can all enjoy the winter season.”
According to the Maryland Department of Health, there have been 208 cold-related deaths in Maryland since the 2013-2014 winter season, including 61 in the 2017-2018 winter season and 54 last year. Nearly a third of the deaths occurred in Baltimore.
Among the several hazards that winter weather brings are the health risks posed by sustained exposure to extreme cold. It can lower body temperature, which weakens the immune system, and it can exacerbate chronic diseases like asthma, arthritis, diabetes, cardiovascular and lung disease and mental illness, among others.
Also, cases of carbon monoxide exposure peak during the winter, when people are more likely to use generators, stoves and home heating systems that may not be properly maintained.
All of that is to say, it’s worth preparing for winter and thinking about what is needed if the power goes out or you end up stranded on a dark, snowy road in frigid temperatures.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency, along with other state agencies, put together a list of winter preparedness and safety tips to get the ball rolling. Additional tips and ideas can be found at www.mema.maryland.gov, and the agency’s various YouTube and social media channels. Here are the highlights:
• When the temperature drops, check on family, friends and neighbors who are particularly vulnerable to cold and snowy weather.
• Build a home preparedness kit that includes winter supplies such as snow shovels, ice melting products, extra warm clothes and blankets, flashlights and batteries.
• Follow a trusted weather source, such as the National Weather Service and local news media, to be aware of any predicted snow or sleet or severe cold temperatures.
• Sign up for emergency alerts and determine how you will receive information if you are traveling out of town. Here in Charles County, the Citizen Notification System is a good one to start with: go to www.charlescountymd.gov/CNS to sign up. Also, visit ready.gov/alerts for more information on emergency alert options.
• Check and winterize your car or truck, including all fluids, wiper blades, lights and systems before the winter season begins. Have a car emergency kit stashed in the trunk or behind the seat, and keep the gas tank near full.
• Identify pets with up-to-date name tags and rabies tags; include cell phone numbers on the tag. Or get them microchipped. Most vets or animal control agencies can scan the chip to help locate the owner.
• Add to the insulation in your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
• Leave the heat on in your home and set the thermostat to no lower than 50° Fahrenheit while you’re away during cold weather.
• Consider using battery-operated flameless candles. They look and smell real, but eliminate the dangers of an open flame. For more on candle fire safety, go to www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/holiday.html.
Russell Strickland, MEMA’s executive director, put the message of the governor’s proclamation into a nutshell: “Our message is simple: Make preparations now so you can avoid the last minute rush for snow shovels, salt, and other winter essentials, but most importantly, be informed, and be prepared.”