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NC winter storm survival guide: Tips to stay safe and warm when snow or ice are forecast

The (Raleigh) News & Observer logo The (Raleigh) News & Observer 4 days ago Korie Dean, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)

Jan. 12—When cold weather arrives in North Carolina, it's time to start preparing for winter storms.

Winter storms can bring a variety of dangerous conditions to the state, from snow and ice to freezing temperatures and strong winds. As a result, winter storms can knock out power — which means no heat or internet — and pose serious safety risks.

The National Weather Service has called winter storms "deceptive killers" — because injuries and deaths related to winter weather are often indirectly related to the storm itself: injuries and death arise from traffic accidents on icy roads, hypothermia from freezing conditions and an overall lack of preparedness for the storms.

So whether you're new to North Carolina or you've lived here for decades, it's important to be prepared for winter weather and for the emergency situations that can accompany it.

The News & Observer has compiled this guide, with tips from N.C. Emergency Management and the National Weather Service, to help.

Before a winter storm: Make an emergency kit

It's a good idea to keep a well-stocked emergency kit in your house year-round. Most items in your kit will be ones that you keep around your house, but you might need to buy other items specifically for your kit.

ReadyNC.gov, part of N.C. Emergency Management, recommends keeping the following items in your basic emergency kit at all times:

— Water (one gallon per person per day for three to seven days)

— Food (non-perishable and canned food supply for three to seven days)

— Battery powered or hand-crank radio, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio

— Extra batteries

— Cell phone with charger

— First aid kit

— Flashlight

— Manual can opener for food

— Wrench or pliers to turn off water

— Blanket or sleeping bag (one per person)

— Prescription medications

— Eyeglasses or contact lenses and solution

— Seasonal change of clothing, including sturdy shoes

— Toothbrush and toothpaste

— Soap

— Extra house and car keys

— Important documents, including insurance policies, a copy of your driver's license, Social Security card and bank account records. It's helpful to digitize these records and keep them on a flash drive for safe keeping and easy transport.

— Fire extinguisher

— Cash and change

— Books, games or cards

For winter storms, add these items to your kit:

— Rock salt to melt ice on walkways

— Sand to create traction on walkways

— Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment

— Warm clothing

— Extra blankets

You'll also want to have plenty of heating fuel.

— Store a supply of dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove, if applicable.

— If you heat with gas, refuel before you run empty. Fuel carriers may not be able to reach you during a storm, or even for days after.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you'll also want to keep these items in your kit:

— Face masks

— Hand sanitizer

— Sanitizing wipes

If you have a baby or small child, make sure to include items in your emergency kit for them, too:

— Formula

— Bottles

— Diapers

— Baby wipes

— Pacifier

— Soap and/or baby powder

— Clothing

— Blankets

— Canned food and juices

If someone in your family has functional needs, make sure to include items they might need, including:

— Container for hearing aid or cochlear implant processor (to keep them dry)

— Extra batteries for hearing aid or cochlear implant

— Communication card explaining the best way to communicate with the person

Don't forget your pets. Include these items for your furry friends:

— Canned or dry pet food

— Water for three to seven days

— Food dishes

— Collar, leash and/or harness

— Immunization records

— Identification tag (should contain the pet's name and your phone number)

— Current photos of your pets, in case they become lost

— Medicine your pet requires

— Pet beds and toys

— Pet carrier

Before a winter storm: Winterize your house

In addition to preparing yourself for a storm by packing an emergency kit, it will also be helpful to prepare your home for the weather.

ReadyNC.gov suggests winterizing your home by:

— Insulating walls and attics

— Caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows

— Installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic

— Clearing rain gutters

— Fixing any roof leaks

— Cutting away tree branches that could fall on your house or another structure during the storm

— Insulating pipes and allowing faucets to drip a little during cold weather (to keep the pipes from freezing)

— Having your heating equipment and chimneys checked every year

— Venting any fuel-burning equipment to the outside

— Having a skilled contractor check the structural ability of your roof to hold large accumulations of snow

Don't forget about outdoor structures. Make sure to also winterize any outdoor sheds you have, especially if they're being used to give shelter to people or animals.

Before a winter storm: Make a communication plan

Your family might not be together when bad weather strikes.

In order to get in touch with everyone, it's a good idea to make a communications plan.

In your plan, think about and answer these questions:

— How will you get in touch with one another? Do you have everyone's phone number written down, or stored in your phone?

— How will you get back together if you aren't together when the storm hits? Do you have a standard meeting place?

During a winter storm: Staying home

ReadyNC.gov recommends staying indoors throughout winter storms and extreme cold weather.

Other tips from ReadyNC.gov for staying home or indoors during a winter storm include:

— If you have to go outside, walk with caution on any walkways covered with snow or ice.

— If you need to shovel snow to clear a driveway or walkway, don't over-exert yourself. Doing too much snow shoveling has been linked to heart attacks, especially in men — seriously.

— Try to keep dry throughout the storm. If your clothes get wet, change them. Wet clothes can cause your body to lose heat.

— Keep warm by wearing lots of layers of thin clothes. Wear a hat to keep body heat in. If you get too hot, you can take off layers to stay comfortable.

— If you are running low on heating fuel for any reason, you can conserve the fuel by keeping your home cooler than normal. It might also help to close off certain rooms and only heat a limited number of rooms instead.

— If your pipes freeze, take off any insulation around the pipes. Wrap the pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets. Pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they are most exposed to the cold.

If you are going to be away from your home when winter weather hits, make sure to leave the heat on. Set the temperature no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Don't forget about your furry friends. Bring your pets inside during winter weather.

During a winter storm: Power and heat outages

Power outages are likely during winter weather, especially when large amounts of snow or ice are involved.

Keep these tips in mind if you lose power:

— If you have a generator, never run it inside your home or garage. Carbon monoxide fumes can build up and become deadly.

— You should also never use a charcoal grill or camp stove inside, for either cooking or heating. Like generators, the fumes they produce can be toxic.

— If you smell gas at any point during a power outage or otherwise, leave your home immediately and call your utility provider.

— During an outage, do not open refrigerators or freezers unless absolutely necessary. Cold air can escape, allowing food to thaw and spoil more quickly.

Remember to keep a battery powered radio and extra batteries in your emergency kit so that you can get emergency alerts even when your power is out.

Flashlights are also key so that you have a light source during power outages.

The National Weather Service recommends the following safety tips if you lose heat:

— Close off rooms that you aren't using to avoid wasting heat.

— Stuff towels or rags in the cracks under doors.

— Close blinds or curtains on your windows to keep in some heat.

— Eat and drink. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Drink lots of water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcoholic drinks to prevent dehydration. Cold air is very dry.

— Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Remove layers to avoid overheating, sweating and subsequent chill.

During a winter storm: Kerosene and space heater safety

If your power or heat goes out during a winter storm, you might use a kerosene heater — most of which don't require electricity to operate — to provide heat in the meantime.

But these heaters come with safety risks, including possible fire hazards, toxic fumes and burns, and it's important to operate them with caution.

Keep in mind these tips from the Insurance Information Institute:

— You can reduce hazards by closely following the recommendations from the manufacturer of your specific heater. Check on the packaging or in the manual that came with your heater for more information.

— Check the fuel gauge of your heater regularly. Most well-designed kerosene heaters put off no strong odors, but could emit a faint smell that's especially noticeable when you enter the house. A strong odor could indicate that the heater is out of fuel, so check the levels regularly.

— Make sure you have adequate ventilation and allow for the flow of fresh air in and out of your home by opening a door or window at least one inch. Kerosene heaters can emit toxic fumes, including carbon monoxide, and allowing fresh air in can reduce the risks of asphyxiation.

— You should always keep an eye on your heater when you're using it. That means it's a best practice to turn it off when you're sleeping.

— If you spill any kerosene, clean it up immediately. The fuel is a fire hazard.

— Keep the heater away from furniture, bedding, clothing, curtains, paper and other flammable materials.

— Remember that touching any part of the heater above the open flame can result in serious burns. Keep babies, toddlers, young children and pets away from the heater.

— Never refuel your kerosene heater inside, or while it's still hot. Wait for it to cool down first.

Many of these tips also apply to portable space heaters.

The National Fire Protection Association offers the following additional tips for portable space heaters:

— Keep the heater at least 3 feet away from anything that can burn, including people.

— Place the heater on a solid, flat surface.

— Make sure your heater has an auto shut-off feature to turn the heater off if it tips over.

— Never block an exit with a space heater.

— Plug the heater directly into the wall outlet. Never use an extension cord.

— Turn off and unplug the heater when you leave the room or when you go to sleep.

During a winter storm: Driving

ReadyNC.gov recommends only driving during winter storms if it's absolutely necessary.

The News & Observer has previously compiled information on driving during winter weather and safety tips if you happen to get stranded on the road (it's happened here before).

Key safety tips include:

— Keep an emergency kit in your car.

— Slow down and keep plenty of space between you and the car in front of you.

— If you start to slide on ice, don't panic. Avoid using your brakes if possible, but use them gently if you have to.

— If you get stuck in snow, don't spin your wheels.

— If there is an accident, alert N.C. Highway Patrol by dialing *47.

During a winter storm: Staying informed

It's important to stay informed during winter storms, so that you're aware of emergency alerts and changing weather conditions.

— Emergency messages are shared via TV, radio, NOAA weather radio and through internet and cell phone services.

— Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages will be broadcast on TV and radio stations. Only a few designated agencies — the National Weather Service, N.C. Emergency Management and state Highway Patrol — can originate EAS messages in North Carolina, so you know they're coming from important, trusted sources.

— Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) come directly to cell phones and other mobile devices. These short messages look like text messages and are accompanied by a unique alert tone. There is no need to enroll in these alerts, but there are options to change these alerts in your phone's notification settings. Leave them turned on in order to stay informed when emergencies happen. WEA messages are received if your phone is located in the warned area at the specific time of an emergency.

— Many counties and local emergency management offices operate local alert systems. You must opt-in, or sign up, for these services to receive emergency messages from your local government. Visit ncdps.gov/ncem/localEM for links to alert services offered by local governments in North Carolina.

— Local media, including The News & Observer and local TV stations, will cover winter storms and will bring you up-to-date information throughout the storms. Try downloading each outlet's app to your phone or bookmarking their websites for easy access.

During winter storms, you may lose power or internet access. It's important to have multiple ways to receive emergency alerts and information.

— Remember to keep a battery powered radio, along with extra batteries, in your emergency kit. Battery powered radios don't require power from your house to work, so you'll be able to use them — and hear emergency alerts — even if the power goes out.

— If you've cut the cord and no longer have traditional TV services, it might be helpful to keep an antenna around. Antennas will require your TV to have power, but they won't require internet like live TV streaming providers, such as Hulu or YouTube TV, making them useful if you lose internet access during a storm.

— You might be able to stream local news on your phone using your TV provider's app or a local news station's app. But remember: streaming will drain your phone battery, so make sure you only do this if you still have power or access to charging.

Additional trusted sources of information during winter storms include:

— North Carolina Department of Public Safety (NCDPS) — ncdps.gov; @NCPublicSafety on Twitter and Facebook

— North Carolina Emergency Management (NCEM) — ncdps.gov/ncem; @NCEmergency on Twitter and Facebook

— North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) — drivenc.gov; @NCDOT on Twitter and Facebook

— North Carolina State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) — ncdps.gov/shp; @NCSHP on Twitter; @NCHighwayPatrol on Facebook

— North Carolina 2-1-1 — nc211.org; @NC_211 on Twitter; @NC211 on Facebook

— National Weather Service — weather.gov; @NWS on Twitter and Facebook

After a winter storm

Even after the snow stops falling and it seems like the ice is gone, there are still risks you should be aware of following a winter storm.

The National Weather Service offers the following safety tips for after the storm:

— Check with your utility companies about when power, heat or water could be restored.

— Stay informed about road conditions by following local news. Black ice remains a hazard after storms, especially when wet roadways re-freeze overnight.

— Before you drive your car, make sure you clear off any snow from it, including in the exhaust.

— Leave extra time in your commute for any blocked roads or ice.

Additional resources for winter storms

— Stay up-to-date during winter storms and prepare for them beforehand by checking ReadyNC.gov.

— The National Weather Service provides winter weather safety and preparedness tips at weather.gov/safety/winter.

This story was originally published January 12, 2022 8:20 AM.

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