For Release December 22, 1998

Plan Ahead for a Safe Christmas Holiday

by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent

It’s Christmas week. Many people will have an extra long holiday weekend making it even more attractive to "go home for the holidays" or at least go somewhere over Christmas. Just in time for all that holiday travel is a real winter cold blast, the likes of which we haven’t seen for three or four years. Which means that regardless of which direction you are traveling, you need to be prepared.

First and foremost make sure that your vehicle is ready for a trip in cold weather. Starting out in a vehicle that is in questionable condition is just asking for a disaster! There are plenty of qualified, reputable mechanics in this area, make good use of them. While you’re traveling, or even when driving locally, don’t go as long before fuel fill ups. If you’re down to half a tank, stop and refuel. That way if something does happen and you get stranded, you’ve got at least a half tank of fuel to keep you warm. Make sure someone knows your travel plans and check in periodically.

Speaking of keeping yourself warm, have plenty of cold weather survival gear in your vehicle for everyone on the trip. Have caps, gloves, coats, warm shoes or boots along. Your car may seem full, but you have to get these necessary items also. Stuff extra blankets into cracks and corners of the trunk and car. A few extra blankets can provide a lot of warmth. Never assume that you’ll make the trip without incident or that the car will keep you warm. If a blizzard comes up in a hurry, and they can, you can be stranded in your car without emergency personnel having a chance to get to you. You may have a cell phone and be able to call for help, but until the snow stops falling and the wind stops blowing they may not be able to get to you. Be prepared!

If you do get stuck stay with your vehicle. This can not be emphasized enough, especially during a blizzard. You can quickly become disoriented and you will probably be in unfamiliar territory. Only run the motor about ten minutes each hour for heat. Open a window a little to let in fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and check each time before starting the car to make sure that the exhaust pipe is not blocked. Exercise periodically by vigorously moving arms legs, fingers and toes. This helps keep blood circulating and keeps you warm. If you’re trying to get unstuck be very careful of overexertion. The combination of cold weather strain and labor can cause a heart attack, sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.

Take along some water and emergency food items, once again, just in case. Make sure your emergency kit includes a flashlight with fresh batteries and extra batteries. Food items should be high calorie nonperishable. The extra calories are what you need to help keep you warm. Chocolate and sports snacks (energy bars) are good examples. Fresh fruit is okay as long is it doesn’t freeze. Put some candles in a coffee can then have an extra coffee can or water tight metal container to melt snow in. A single candle in a coffee can will give off a surprising amount of heat and may be all you need to ward off frost bite in toes and fingers.

Clothing should be layered, loose fitting, light weight and warm. Make sure you have a hat or cap that covers your head and ears. Over half of your heat loss can be out the top of your head, even if you do have hair (it may be higher for others of us!) Use a scarf to cover your mouth and to protect your lungs. And while they may be difficult to do any work in, mittens will keep your hands warmer than gloves.

The bottom line is to be prepared and use common sense. If the weather is too bad just don’t go! You may want to be with family and friends for the holidays, but that desire isn’t worth dying for. The holiday season is special to everyone, let’s not mar it with a tragedy!


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