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  • Preparing Your Car for Winter Weather

    via Denver Post via Denver Post

    In many parts of the United States, the first snow has already fallen. In some places the storms were doozies: Parts of Reno, Nevada received 10 inches of snow on November 11 and Denver saw its first blizzard in five years on November 16.

    So, isn’t it time prepare your car for winter?

    First, make sure the car is running well, said Rolayne Fairclough, a spokesperson for AAA Utah.

    “Take it in and have a mechanic prepare it for the winter,” she said.

    Make sure the battery is fully charged, because it’s weaker in cold weather. Mechanics can test it or some car parts stores will test it for free, according to an article in Kiplinger.com, a financial planning site. If you know your battery’s powering down, you can replace it at your convenience and at a better price, the site said.

    Make sure hoses and belts aren’t cracked, Fairclough said. Winter can increase cracks and cause breaking. Also make sure the exhaust system is leak-free so carbon monoxide doesn’t fill your car.

    Whether you choose all-season or winter tires, make sure they’ve got enough tread, Kiplinger.com said. The web site for The Tire Rack, a tire vendor, demonstrates a coin-based way to check the tread.

    Its site points out that at 1/16 of an inch, the minimum tread required by law in most places, “resistance to hydroplaning in the rain at highway speeds has been significantly reduced, and traction in snow has been virtually eliminated.”

    Winter TireYou may have been told to under-inflate tires to give them more surface area. That only helps if the snow is deep and soft, said the Kiplinger.com story. On a normal drive, under-inflated tires act more like hydroplaning tires because they don’t grab the pavement as well as fully inflated tires. Also, remember tires lose a pound of pressure for every 10 degrees Fahrenheit temperature drop.

    Make sure your brakes are in good condition.

    Check windshield wipers and wiper fluid too. Windshield wiper blades have a lifespan of about a year, according to the Kiplinger.com story. In places that get especially cold, put an antifreeze solvent in windshield washer reservoirs, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation.

    Putting windshield wiper fluid in a car. Don't forget the antifreeze!

    Make sure all the fluids are full and clean, especially antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid. If you live in a really cold area, make sure the antifreeze solution is good for temperatures 40 degrees Fahrenheit below zero, according to the North Dakota Department of Transportation site. Car parts stores carry an antifreeze tester that’s less than $10, according to Kiplinger.com.

    Check to make sure leaves and debris haven’t filled the opening below the hood and windshield: they can block water flow, according to Kiplinger.com. Also make sure nothing under the car is loose or hanging down so it doesn’t get torn out if you drive over deep snow. Finally, clean and wax headlights.

    The second step is to make sure you’ve got an emergency kit, Fairclough said.

    Keep cold weather gear like blankets or a sleeping bag, boots, a coat, and gloves in the car, she said. Aluminum “space blankets” can fit in a glove compartment.

    Bring a power source for cell phones, a radio, and a flashlight with extra batteries.

    Believe it or not, a candle can heat a whole car’s cabin, Fairclough said. Carry matches too, because extreme cold can freeze some lighters.

    Add water and a metal container for melting snow or drinking. Also bring high-energy food like candy, raisins, nuts, dehydrated fruit and jerky. Don’t forget toilet paper.

    Auto Kit Keep an auto emergency kit in your vehicle, just in case.

    Finally, take tools and equipment for the car: signaling equipment like bright cloth or flares, chains, booster cables, a nylon rope, and a shovel, and sand or kitty litter for traction.

    In a pinch, you can use the car’s floor mats for traction, Fairclough said.

    “A lot of people just don’t put a shovel in their cars,” she admitted.

    Third, take a few minutes to prepare before you go anywhere. Dress for the weather. Carry a cell phone and charger and make sure to tell someone your departure time, route and expected arrival time, suggests the North Dakota Department of Transportation. Check road conditions before you leave.

    Keep the gas tank more than half full, Fairclough said.

    “If you’re detoured, you have some flexibility and don’t have to worry about running out of gas,” she said.

    Finally, drive for the conditions. Although winter months see fewer fatal crashes, they see more small ones, Fairclough said. Typically they’re from people driving too fast and too close together.

    You can find detailed hints for what to do if you get stranded in winter at the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s web site.

    Have a safe winter!

     

    How is your car prepared for winter weather?

     

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  • Tornadoes Don't Just Hang Out in the Alley

    Tornado Alley Tornado Alley

    My family used to live in eastern Colorado, on the western edge of Tornado Alley. Every year we’d get many tornado watches and a few tornado warnings. So we were prepared. We had emergency supplies ready to grab and go, a NOAA radio on the counter and shelter plans with our children. Both my husband and I were trained EMTs and participated in a community-wide disaster exercise.

    None of that helped on the day I cowered in the basement of the hospital, an hour after giving birth to my daughter, while a tornado passed nearby. Or when the same thing happened right after my son was born. I’m choosing to not consider those events omens.

    Every state and nearly every county in the United States has seen tornadoes. Texas sees the most tornadoes per year, mostly due to the state’s sheer size, while Florida sees the most per area, according to NOAA. Even Alaska gets them.

    Not Tornado Alley The Delta Center (home of the Utah Jazz) was hit by a tornado in Salt Lake City in 1999.

    Tornadoes can cross rivers, hills and cities. Numerous tornadoes have crossed the Mississippi River. An August 11, 1999 tornado in Salt Lake City crossed a canyon and hit the basketball arena for the Utah Jazz. Fortunately, no one was there.

    Elevation doesn’t matter. A hiker photographed a tornado at 12,000 feet in Sequoia National Park, Calif., on July 7, 2004. Tall buildings won’t stop tornadoes, either. Downtown St. Louis has seen at least four tornadoes, according to NOAA. The Los Angeles Basin sees as many weak tornadoes per tens of square miles as the Great Plains.

    Tornadoes mostly occur in the spring and summer. However, they hit every month of the year. “Tornadoes are like snowbirds — they winter in the South,” according to an April 22 article in U.S. Tornadoes.

    Parts of southern California and Arizona see more tornadoes in the autumn and winter because of the seasonal monsoon. Florida gets many, in part because hurricanes can bring tornadoes. Mississippi holds the sad distinction of hosting the most deadly tornadoes in each winter month: December, January and February, according to U.S. Tornadoes.

    The most important way to prepare for a tornado is to learn when one is coming. A NOAA weather radio can post updates on all kinds of weather. If you're looking for a good emergency weather radio, the Kaito Voyager Pro is an excellent choice.

    On average, the National Weather Service issues tornado warnings 13 minutes prior to a hit, but warning times vary greatly. Therefore, the NWS emphasizes knowing the signs of a tornado. The following signs are taken directly from the NWS.

    • Tornado Alley Warning SirensStrong, persistent rotation in a cloud base. (A cloud base looks like a rotating cylinder of clouds that descends below a storm.)
    • Whirling dust or debris on the ground under a cloud base – tornadoes sometimes have no funnel.
    • Hail or heavy rain followed by either dead calm or a fast, intense wind shift. Many tornadoes are wrapped in heavy precipitation and can't be seen.
    • Day or night – Loud, continuous roar or rumble, which doesn't fade in a few seconds like thunder.
    • Night – Small, bright, blue-green to white flashes at ground level near a thunderstorm (as opposed to silvery lightning up in the clouds). These mean power lines are being snapped by very strong wind, maybe a tornado.
    • Night – persistent lowering from the cloud base, illuminated or silhouetted by lightning – especially if it is on the ground or there is a blue-green-white power flash underneath.

    Know how to take shelter. Indoors, avoid windows, get to the lowest, most central part of a building like a bathroom or closet, crouch down and cover up with a mattress or sleeping bag. Glass and flying debris are the major causes of injuries in tornadoes. Don’t take time to open windows. As the National Weather Service pointed out, the tornado will do that for you. Get out of a mobile home and go to the nearest permanent structure.

    In a vehicle, if a tornado is visible, far away and traffic is light, drive at right angles to the tornado and look for shelter. If you get caught, park the car – out of traffic lanes, stay seated with the seat belt on, put your head down below the windows and cover your head with whatever you can. Don’t park under a bridge – it’s not safer than the open road and can create a traffic hazard.

    Beyond that, preparation for a tornado is the same as for any other disaster: have emergency supplies for a few days, have important documents on hand, and have a family plan. Then hope a tornado takes place where all of that can do you any good and when you’re not doing something like having a baby.

  • Fun in the Sun: Keeping Summer Safe

    Fun in the Sun: Keeping Summer Safe

    This is an actual photo of my two-year-old’s legs after only one month of summer. I’m finding that with kids, “summer legs” has almost nothing to do with the shape or shade of my own appendages, and lots more to do with the bruises, bumps, and bug bites that decorate the little legs at our house as soon as the weather’s warm enough to wear shorts.

    We know that summertime holds its own particular hazards: incidents of drowning spike in the summer, and almost nobody loses a finger to fireworks in March. But even the little things—like a nasty sunburn from a fun day on the beach, or getting mosquito bites on your favorite hike—can add up to a seriously unpleasant season, both for you and your little people’s legs.

    Fortunately, we’ve got you covered. Actually, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC have you covered, and we’re right there with them! Each organization releases an annual tip list to help families focus on summer safety. Both are organized by category (bugs, fireworks, water, heat, and sun), and the AAP’s list even includes things that might not first jump to mind when we think of summer, like bicycle, skateboard, ATV, and lawnmower safety.

    You can find their respective lists at the links below.

    While a whole lot of this is common sense, a few of these tips were news to me. Like the fact that sparklers can reach past 1,000 degrees F bright or floral prints can attract bees and wasps, and children under 12 shouldn’t operate walk-behind mowers (there goes my four-year-old’s summer job!).

    I like lists like these that give me quick, handy reminders. But if I need more in-depth information on summer-specific solutions, I go to articles, like these

    Whatever your summer plans, please build in some safety prep! We want those little legs in working order come fall!

    What do you do to stay safe in the summer?

    -Stacey

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