The frigid temperatures last weekend were the first glimpse of winter in northwest Kansas. Should we fool ourselves that the worst is past and we’re ready for spring? No. There are still a few months of winter yet to come.
The Prepare Kansas campaign of K-State Research and Extension focuses on being prepared before disaster strikes. We shouldn’t limit our preparedness to tornado season in the spring — no, Kansas weather can surprise us with disasters any time of year.
In light of the recent cold snap, now is the time to make sure your winter emergency plans and supplies are in place. Follow these tips to be prepared for whatever the rest of Kansas winter might bring — extreme cold, heavy snow, damaging ice, power outage or the hazards of winter travel.
First, stock an emergency supply kit for at least three days of self-sufficiency. Include flashlights and extra batteries, candles and matches, battery-powered portable radio, sterno-type canned cooking fuel and some simple foods which can be eaten cold or with saucepan heating.
Gather emergency heating supplies such as extra firewood for a fireplace or fuel for other types of portable heaters. Remember to keep all heat sources at least 3 feet away from furniture and drapes, and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector whenever alternative heat sources are used.
Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. According to the American Red Cross, house fires pose an additional winter risk, when people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
People who depend on electricity to operate medical equipment should have alternate arrangements in place in case a winter storm knocks out the power for an extended period of time.
If a power outage threatens, make sure you have a cellphone with an emergency charging option — car, solar, hand crank, etc. Learn how to shut off water valves in case a pipe bursts in an unheated area. It also is helpful to know where the manual release lever of your electric garage door opener is located and how to operate it in case you lose power.
Put a thermometer in each freezer and refrigerator to monitor the temperature of food supplies. During a winter power outage, do not open the refrigerator or freezer door any more than is necessary. An unopened refrigerator will keep food safely cold for approximately four hours. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if half full.) A thermometer also will help you evaluate the safety of food supplies after the storm because you’ll know how warm refrigerated food became while the power was off.
Freeze large chunks of ice in clean plastic jugs or containers to place in freezers or refrigerators as needed. These quickly can be frozen outside overnight if you have the containers on hand. Obtain dry ice to protect stored food supplies if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time.
In the winter, it also is advisable to prepare your car — fully winterize your vehicle and keep the gas tank at least half full. Carry a heavy coat, hat, gloves and boots in the back seat where they are easy to reach. Assemble an extra emergency kit specifically created for your car including booster cables, a portable cellphone charger, ice scraper, blanket or sleeping bag, hand/foot warmers, sand for traction and a few nonperishable snacks.
On the Prepare Kansas blog early last year (blogs.k-state.edu/preparekansas), Extension specialist Elizabth Kiss cited research from the Centers for Disease Control which estimated nearly half of all American adults do not have the necessary resources and plans in place in case of an emergency. Don’t become a statistic. Take steps now to plan with your family and prepare for winter emergencies. You can find helpful reminders and resources at www.ready.gov and www.emergency.cdc.gov.
Linda K. Beech is Cottonwood District Extension agent for family and consumer sciences.