Winter is here!
ALONG WITH A PURE WHITE COATING OF SPARKLING LOVELINESS OVER EVERYTHING, AND THAT CRISP WINTER SMELL ON THE AIR, YOU CAN EXPECT BLACK ICE ON ROADS AND SIDEWALKS, FROSTBITE-INDUCING TEMPS AND POTENTIALLY PERILOUS EPISODES OF SNOW REMOVAL. SO IN THE INTEREST OF SURVIVING MICHIGAN’S FIERCEST SEASON, WE THOUGHT WE WOULD INCLUDE A FEW WINTER SAFETY TIPS
Shoveling can be hard on the heart. Even healthy people have been known to suffer heart attacks during shoveling. You may think using a snowblower is better, but it comes with its own set of risks. There are ways to prevent danger during snow removal, however. My favorite is to hire an experienced snow removal professional. But if you’re a DIY type, here are some best practices for shoveling and using snowblowers.
Shoveling is dangerous if you’re normally sedentary, because as with any other intense exercise, moving heavy snow can put a big strain on the heart. Cold weather can increase heart rate and blood pressure, making blood clot more easily. Cold can also constrict arteries, decreasing blood supply. Young or old, active or inactive, anyone intent on shoveling snow should treat the activity like any other workout.
Don’t shovel snow too soon after eating or while smoking. Just like with weightlifting, warm up before you shovel and don’t try to lift more than you can. Shovel snow before it builds up, if possible. Also, you don’t have to lift the snow with your shovel. You can push it off to the sides of your walkway or driveway. Or you can just skim the top inch or two with the shovel instead of trying to lift many inches at once. Use proper lifting practices, too. Lift with your legs to avoid putting strain on your back muscles and potential months of physical therapy. If you find yourself out of breath and feeling faint or tired, your body is telling you to stop. Listen to its wisdom!
What about snowblowers? Unfortunately, you can still strain your heart pushing a heavy blower. Also, if your blower is electric, you run the risk of electrocution. Your home must have up-to-date wiring, with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) on the outlet you plug the blower into (though it’s better to have the entire house grounded). Consult your electrician for more information. If your snowblower is gasoline-powered, you run the risk of breathing in deadly carbon monoxide fumes if you run it in an enclosed space, so turn it off and on out of the garage or shed where you keep it. Don’t leave it running unattended, and don’t pour fuel in when it is on. Snowblowers have moving parts that can cause injury. Keep your hands away from those. Turn it off if it jams.
You really don’t want to slip on the ice while walking, and the best way to prevent this is to wear slip-resistant footwear. Be aware that black ice can look like a puddle, so don’t assume that you’re just going to splash if you step into that wet spot on the sidewalk. Also, make sure to salt your walkway, driveway and especially your porch if you’re expecting snow.
Driving on the ice can be as bad or worse than walking on it. My house is on the top of a hill. Every winter, I have to remember to take a roundabout way through side streets to stay on the crest of the hill and avoid sliding down the hill, colliding with another car (or worse) and getting stuck in the ice and snow at the bottom. If you live in an area where the city does not come out and salt the roads, make sure you have a safe snow route.
Whether or not you drive on hills frequently, you need safe all-weather or winter tires in a Michigan winter. There should be enough grip in your tires to hold on when you go over a slippery patch of ice—which can be invisible.
Ask your mechanic, or better yet, go to a shop that specializes in tires, and make sure yours are in good working order before the first snowfall. Deep treads are the key to preventing spin-outs and ditchings. Deep means at least 1/16 of an inch—the deeper the better! Cold temperatures can also wreak havoc on tire pressure, so check them each time you get in the car to make sure they’re not deflating.
Other car issues can occur in the winter. For example, your battery power drops along with the temperature. Windshield wipers can wear out, and if wiper fluid is too low, you’ll end up with ice on the windshield—definitely a driving hazard. Wiper fluid should be rated for minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, even though it’s unlikely for temps to drop that much in the Lower Peninsula. (Of course, you never know what could happen in a polar vortex).
Another thing that can freeze is your gas line. During winter, make sure to keep your tank at least half full to avoid this problem. And don’t forget to keep an emergency kit in your car.
Here are the items your emergency kit should contain, according to the National Safety Council:
• An inflated spare tire
• Wheel wrench
• Tripod jack
• Jumper cables
• Tool kit
• Flashlight with batteries
• Reflective triangles
• Brightly colored cloth
• First aid kit
• Food (nonperishable)
• Drinking water
• Reflective vest
• Car charger for your cell phone
• Fire extinguisher
• Duct tape
• Rain poncho
• Snow brush
• Windshield wiper fluid
• Warm clothing
• Cat litter for traction
Living in Michigan, I think we can all relate to running late during the winter and neglecting to remove all the snow and ice from the car before starting out. However, better to be late than to be in an accident! Take the time to completely remove accumulation from the car—and that includes the infamous “car Mohawk” that you see on Monday mornings in the dead of winter. While the car is in motion, snow can fall onto the windshield and block your view.
Warm up the car before driving it, but make sure you do so OUT of your garage to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Even if the garage door is up, you could still be in danger.
Of course, if there’s a blizzard or “snowpocalypse” like our state saw back in the winter of 2013 with the polar vortex, stay in as much as possible!
But what if you can’t avoid driving somewhere? Know what your car’s built-in safety features are. Does it have anti-lock brakes, traction control or some other feature? Use safe driving practices. For example, steer in the direction of a skid, not away from it. Stay a safe distance behind other vehicles in case they slow down or stop— you don’t want to skid into someone’s bumper. Common sense says to baby your car in the winter. Don’t slam on the brakes or rev up from zero to 60. When going up a hill, don’t stop if you don’t have to. You might not have the momentum to make your way up the rest of the hill—I learned that one the hard way!
What if you’re out on the road and you get caught in a “snowpocalypse?” Pull off the road and wait it out. If you can help it, pull off into a parking lot, not the shoulder of the road. Someone else could have the same idea, and both of your cars will end up in the ditch. Make sure your exhaust pipe doesn’t get blocked. Put out flares and keep your hazard lights on. Make sure your phone is charged and that the phone charger in your car works. But try not to risk getting stranded in the first place. It may be clear in the morning but storms can blow in before lunch. Make sure you know the weather forecast before driving anywhere.
Remember, Michigan winters are unpredictable. We can have snow one day, ice the next and a flood of meltwater after that. The most important thing to remember for winter safety is to stay flexible and keep on top of the weather report. And just remember, spring is only a few months away!