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Maryland leads the U.S. in many ways. Baltimore is home to one of the country’s best-known universities, Johns Hopkins University, and most respected hospitals, Johns Hopkins Hospital. It is no wonder that, from 2009 through 2018, Maryland ranked among America’s top states in the quality of its public education. Maryland also holds its place in American history, hosting the presidential retreat, Camp David, and the home of The Star Spangled Banner, Fort McHenry.

Maryland is also extraordinary in its geographic diversity. Although the country imagines mid-Atlantic states being uniformly cold and wet, annual snowfall in Maryland varies from about ten inches along the coast to over 80 inches in the western hills. However, even the coast is not immune to huge snowstorms. In 2016, Baltimore was hit with over two feet of snow in just 24 hours.

Snowstorms can strike quickly and unexpectedly. Knowledge can make a difference between experiencing a disaster and, literally and metaphorically, weathering the storm. Here are three steps to stay safe during snowstorms.

Prepare Before the Storm

As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It is often the preventative measures that you take that will have the most lasting effects. In fact, forecasts of disasters often create shortages of everything from bottled water to toilet paper. If you wait to prepare until a snowstorm is in the forecast, you may be unable to find any of the supplies that you need.

The American Red Cross suggests having enough food and water on hand for two to three days. Your emergency supplies should also include any necessary medications, flashlights, batteries, tools, first aid kits, and cell phones.

Also, remember to prepare with supplies for your family, home, and pets. You should stockpile diapers and pet food in case heavy snow prevents you from leaving the house. You will also need a source of heat, in the event that you lose access to electricity, natural gas, or heating oil during a blizzard. If you have a fireplace, you may want to stock up on firewood. If you do not, a generator and a supply of gasoline may be used to power an electric space heater during a winter emergency.

Speaking of gasoline, it may be worthwhile for you to keep your car’s fuel tank close to full. If you need to be evacuated or if gasoline deliveries are delayed by winter weather, you need to have enough gasoline in your tank for emergency situations. Keep in mind that you may use more gasoline than you expect during an evacuation due to heavy traffic. Inrix, a data company, has found that the average American commuter wastes 42 hours in traffic per year. This translates to $1,400 in wasted gas. If you face packed roads during an evacuation, you can be sure that you’ll use more gas than you do in your average morning commute.

Many cities have well-developed emergency plans. It may be worthwhile researching these plans and finding out where emergency evacuation centers are planned. These emergency centers can become places where you can find warmth, food, and shelter during a severe weather event, such as a blizzard or ice storm.

If you still find yourself on the road when the snow starts, seek out a member of your local law enforcement. About 72% of all state patrol vehicles have in-car video systems that can help keep a record of any emergency you have on the road. These videos can prove very useful if you seek insurance claims for car damages once the storm has passed.

Stay Inside During the Storm

During the storm, you will likely need to stay inside where you are sheltered from cold temperatures, wind, snow, and ice. Remember that even in cold weather, everyone, including your pets, need to stay hydrated and fed.

If you are having trouble keeping warm, watch for signs of hypothermia:

  • Shivering
  • Disorientation
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of coordination

In children and seniors, hypothermia can start and progress quickly because their bodies have more difficulty regulating temperature. If you or a family member experiences hypothermia, it is essential to warm up because continued loss of body heat can be fatal.

Conversely, if you do have a source of warmth that burns fuel, you need to be aware of signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. Specifically, if you are running a generator, burning wood, or using a propane or natural gas burner to keep warm, the combustion by-products can include carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause permanent brain damage or even death. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headaches, loss of consciousness, confusion, difficulty breathing, and blurry vision. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, make sure that any combustion gases are vented through a chimney, window, or doorway.

When you experience health emergencies during a major snowstorm, you may want to seek out an evacuation shelter if you cannot reach a hospital. In 2018, hundreds of volunteers and temporary employees were deployed by the National Disaster Medical System and the Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) to ten Health and Human Services regions across the country.

Clean Up After the Storm

After the storm has passed, some dangers will still remain. Storms can damage tree branches or weigh them down with snow and ice. Looking for broken trees and tree branches and cutting them down can reduce the risk of injury or property damage if they break unexpectedly. You may also want to inspect nearby power lines and utility poles and report any damage to your local utility company.

Similarly, ice and snow on your roof can create a risk of a cave-in depending on the volume and weight. Once the storm has ended, you can remove this snow and ice from your roof using a snow shovel, taking care to avoid slipping from the icy roof.

Likewise, sidewalks, driveways, and walkways can become slippery hazards from snow, ice, slush, and runoff. About 22% of slip and fall accidents are serious enough that the victim requires more than 31 days away from work. To reduce this danger, you can use ice-melting chemicals or a good, old fashioned shovel to remove snow and ice from pavement.

Surviving a snowstorm can be easy with a bit of planning. Prepare before the storm by stockpiling supplies and emergency items. During the storm, stay warm and make sure to vent any combustion gases. After the storm, clean up any broken or weighed-down branches and accumulated snow and ice on sidewalks and roofs.

Photo by yagisu

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