Winter Weather Safety Tips

Snow covers road and trees.
Photo by Kassadee Paulo

OSWEGO COUNTY – It is no surprise that the Oswego County area faces cold and snowy winters, and so precautions should be taken each year to ensure safety until the end of the season.

Below is a compiled list of tips on how residents and visitors in the area can stay safe in winter weather. Information is from the National Weather Service, FEMA and New York State.

Driving in winter weather:

  • Have the following items available in your vehicle
    • Sand or cat litter for traction
    • Blankets
    • Flashlight
    • Snow brush/ice scraper
    • Hat/gloves and other warm layered clothing
    • Jumper cables
    • Rope for towing
    • Water and nonperishable snacks
    • First aid kit
    • Cell phone charger
  • Keep your gas tank at least half-full to avoid gasoline freeze-up.
  • Be wary of ice in cold temperatures. Do not speed or use cruise control.
  • Do not take turns too quickly and take precaution when stopping.
  • Turn your headlights on during precipitation.
  • Tell someone when you are going to drive in winter weather in case you face an emergency.
  • Use snow tires, all-season tires or tire chains.
  • Remember bridge surfaces freeze quicker than road surfaces.
  • Schedule extra time for winter travel.
  • If you become trapped in your vehicle, let your car run for short periods of time once an hour for warmth and turn the dome light on to signal help. In case of monoxide poisoning, make sure your tailpipe is not blocked by snow and keep your downwind window open. Hang a brightly colored item, preferably red, from the antenna or window to signal help. Move your limbs vigorously for blood circulation. 

Home safety in the winter:

  • Keep dryer and furnace vents clear of snow.
  • Keep natural gas appliance and chimney clear of snow.
  • If you smell natural gas (like a rotten egg smell), leave immediately and call your utility company.
  • Do not climb on your roof to remove snow. Use a long-handled snow rake or pole and be cautious of any electrical wires.
  • Have the following list of emergency supplies in case your heat and/or power goes out:
    • Flashlights and extra batteries
    • Battery operated radio
    • Non-perishable foods and bottled water
    • Extra blankets
    • One week supply of essential medicine and any prescriptions
    • First aid kit
    • Fire extinguisher
    • Emergency heating equipment, use properly.
  • If your heat is out:
    • Call your utility company.
    • Close doors to unneeded rooms to keep warm.
    • Turn on faucets slightly to avoid frozen pipes.
    • Keep your refrigerator and freezer doors closed to try and avoid food spoiling.
  • Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:
    • Do not operate generators indoors.
    • Do not try to heat your home using an oven.
    • Do not use charcoal to cook indoors.
    • Fuel space heaters should have necessary ventilation.
  • Fire safety:
    • Keep anything that can burn three feet away from any heat source.
    • Have a professional clean and inspect vents and chimney each year.
    • Store cooled ashes in a tightly covered metal container at least ten feet from any building.
    • Turn off space heaters when you leave the room or go to bed.
    • Sleep with doors closed to prevent fire from spreading room to room.
    • Do not overload extension cords or wall outlets.
    • Do not use an extension cord to plug in a heat producing appliance. Plug it in a wall outlet.
    • Test smoke detectors once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year. Replace the detector itself every 10 years.

Frostbite and hypothermia:

  • Frostbite can occur within minutes in certain weather conditions, especially to exposed skin and extremities. If you cannot avoid going outside in extreme cold, keep your skin dry and covered. Avoid wind. Drink plenty of water and avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes. 
  • Symptoms of frostbite include:
    • First degree – Ice crystals form on the skin.
    • Second degree – Skin begins to feel warm even though it is not defrosted.
    • Third degree – Skin turns red, pale or white. 
    • Fourth degree – Pain lasts for more than a few hours and skin may become dark blue or black. If you have these symptoms you should immediately seek medical attention. 
  • Frostbite First Aid
    • Get indoors as soon as you can.
    • If you cannot get indoors do not massage cold body parts; put your hands in your armpits; hold onto another person; drink warm liquids; put on more layers of clothes and blankets; remove tight jewelry.
    • When you get indoors take a warm bath. Avoid hot water and going near any hot heat source. Frost bitten skin can be burned without feeling it. 
    • The frostbitten skin will become red, swollen and feel very hot. Do not break any blisters that may form. 
    • If the frostbitten skin turns blue or grey, becomes very swollen, blistered or feels hard and numb even under the surface, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
  • Hypothermia occurs when your body temperature falls below 96 degrees and can happen even when the outside temperature in 60 degrees, especially in the water or when you are outside for a long time without being dressed for the weather. Seniors are among the most at risk of hypothermia.
  • How to prevent hypothermia:
    • Dress in layers and wrap up well when going outside.
    • Eat hot foods and warm drinks several times during the day.
    • Ask your doctor if any medications you take can increase your risk of hypothermia.
  • If you see/suspect someone experiencing hypothermia:
    • Call an ambulance.
    • Move the person to a warm area. Lie close to the person with heavy blankets over you both. Try to warm their center first. Do not rub them or handle them roughly.
    • If unconscious, administer CPR.
  • If your body temperature is under 96 degrees or you feel cold and sluggish or you are having difficulty thinking clearly, seek medical attention immediately.