As the area’s wind chill hovers at staggeringly low levels, local professionals are offering residents tips to weather this and future cold snaps.
It’s a matter of preparation and common sense in and out of the home, said Rachel Kinsman, Fulton County Health Department health educator. The best deterrent is simply to stay indoors.
“If you don’t have to go out, don’t,” she said.
But even remaining toasty at home requires certain steps, Kinsman said. Make sure pipes are insulated, and let faucets trickle to prevent freezing. It can help to open cabinet doors under sinks to expose the pipes to the heated air.
She also advised keeping the thermostat at a constant temperature, and to keep heating vents open and crawl space vents closed.
As for furnaces, don’t seal vents too tightly and keep them monitored, Wauseon Fire Chief Rick Sluder said. An overeager effort to ensure heat might result in dangerous carbon monoxide buildup.
Sluder said residents should refrain from drastic measures to thaw frozen pipes, such as using blowtorches or similar devices. In the case of mobile homes, never place kerosene heaters underneath the home to warm pipes.
He said the proper use of portable heaters makes them generally safe. That includes maintaining a three-foot empty space around a heater and keeping children and pets away. Sluder said to avoid possible circuit overload never plug a portable electric heater into an extension cord.
And stuffing a wood stove to keep the temperature up can cause the stove’s draft system to become clogged.
“Use due diligence. You have to be careful,” Sluder said. “There’s just a lot of mechanical issues that come about because of cold weather.”
If you plan to travel any distance, make sure the vehicle’s gas tank stays at least half full to avoid freeze-up, Kinsman said. And don’t use hot water to unfreeze vehicle doors, since the water will refreeze and worsen the problem, she said.
She advised storing a car “weather” kit inside that includes blankets, an extra coat, food, water, jumper cables, and a flashlight. Travel with a cell phone, and bring along a phone charger.
If a motorist slides into a ditch or gets caught in a snowdrift they should stay with the vehicle and avoid the temptation to find help on foot, Kinsman said. Keep the engine running for heat, and make sure the tail pipe is not blocked by snow.
“Stay put in this kind of cold,” she said.
If a person must be outside in the elements, make sure all skin is covered. Kinsman said in extreme cold signs of frostbite can appear within 10 minutes. They begin with redness or pain in an area of exposed skin, and continue with numbness, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, and the appearance of white or grayish-yellow patches.
If frostbite occurs, get into a warm room or shelter, remove wet clothing, warm up under layers of blankets, and place frostbitten areas of skin in warm water. Never use a heating pad or electric blanket to warm up, and don’t heat up too quickly or massage the affected areas.
In such cold weather, pet owners shouldn’t forget the welfare of their furry friends, said Tracey Wanner, cat intake coordinator for the Fulton County Humane Society.
“Preferably, animals should be in the house, period,” she said. When dogs need to go outside it should be for no more than five minutes, since their paw pads can quickly fill with snow and ice.
Wanner said some huskier dog breeds may be more suited to the outdoors, but in extreme cold they should be subjected to the same rules as all breeds.
Stray animals and those that typically remain outside should be given shelter in a garage or barn with dry bedding and, if possible, heat. “Wherever they’re being kept, if their water freezes it’s too cold,” Wanner said.
Signs of hypothermia in animals include a lowered body temperature, lethargy, and acting differently than normal. Under those circumstances, they require immediate attention. Severe cases of frostbite can make their ear tips and feet appear burned or painful.
County residents have brought stray cats to the Humane Society during the current chill but some have arrived too late. Wanner said one cat lost its tail to frostbite, and a kitten died of hypothermia despite attempts to save it.
“Their ears, their feet, parts of their face, and their underside aren’t protected,” Wanner said. “If at all possible, they need to get someplace warm.”
And, of course, Sluder said, keep all humans you care about in mind.
“If you’ve got vulnerable neighbors or friends or relatives, check on them. There’s a lot of preventative safety measures that go into situations like these,” he said.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.