Winter storms can be deceptive killers

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By The Staff

Home is the safest place to be, but do you know what to do if stranded outdoors?

The mercury flirted with 70 degrees this week, making for an abnormally warm early-January week. Winter has been mild thus far, but conditions can change quickly and plenty of winter lies ahead. While no one can accurately predict what mid- and late-winter will deliver, it's wise to be prepared. Other areas of the state have felt winter's wrath and southern Indiana could be next.

Winter storms can be deceptive killers and most deaths are indirectly related to the storm, ranging from traffic accidents on icy roads to heart attacks caused by shoveling snow. Cold-weather exposure can lead to hypothermia, a life-threatening condition, and frostbite can damage fingers, toes and ears.

According to the National Weather Service, 50 percent of the Americans killed by winter weather are over 60 years of age. Three-fourths are men and only about 20 percent of deaths occur inside the home. Seventy percent happen in vehicles.

The best way to stay safe during winter storms is to stay indoors. Don't travel until after a storm has passed and roads are clear. When officials advise everyone stay home, listen. Don't risk injury or death.

If Stranded, Stay Put

If stranded by ice or snow in a car or truck, stay with the vehicle. Run the motor about 10 minutes each hour for heat, making sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow or ice. Leave a window open a little to allow for fresh air and to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide. Exercise occasionally by moving arms, legs, fingers and toes.

When running the motor at night, turn on the dome light so the car can be seen and tie a piece of cloth, preferably red, to the antenna or door. Once snow has stopped falling, raise the vehicle's to hood to indicate you need assistance.

Don't panic. An idling car uses only one gallon of gas per hour.

If caught outside during a winter storm, avoid exposing parts of the body to the cold and try to stay dry to reduce the chances of hypothermia. If there is no shelter available, attempt to build a windbreak or snow cave for protection. If possible, build a fire to provide heat and attract attention.

Winter Driving Tips

During the cold months of winter, driving conditions can change quickly depending on the weather. State police offer the following safety tips.

Be prepared:

Before traveling, check the forecast and let someone know your travel route.

Keep your gas tank full, if possible.

Drive according to road conditions:

Allow extra time to get to your destination.

Clear all windows of ice and snow and remove snow from the hood, roof, headlights and taillights.

Beware of bridges, underpasses, shaded areas and intersections where ice is slow to melt.

Slow down to increase traction; don't use cruise control on slick roads.

Avoid abrupt stops and starts, slow down gradually and keep wheels turning to avoid losing traction.

Use low-beam headlights to decrease glare from ice.

For information on Indiana road conditions between Dec. 1 and March 31, call (800) 261-7623 or visit the state police Web site at www.in.gov/isp.

More information is also available at www.weather.gov/ind or www.weather.gov.iwx