We’ll it’s fall and for me (and you?) time to get ready for winter. I’ll guess that for a lot of you this isn’t much of a list—cover the pool, store the lawn mower and you’re done. But when you live in snow country and have to deal with freezing to subzero temperatures, are assured of at least 2 or 3 snowfalls of a foot or more (at least before global warming) each winter, and will at sometime have to drive on slick, icy roads, it helps to be prepared. Now I could just tell you to watch the Sunday newspaper for their annual fall list of what to do before winter, but my list is a bit different. Mine is based on what concerns Geezers and 60 years of almost always living in a frozen landscape for part of the year and observing or hearing about a lot of accidents (to older people) happening because people didn’t pay attention to newspaper articles. So here it goes:
- Don’t crash you car. Driving icy roads is always an accident about to happen. The list of possibilities included coming around a corner and hitting a sheet of black ice, trying to stop on ice before you hit the rear of another vehicle, going up or down a steep hill covered in glazed-over snowpack, or a sliding off the road and getting struck in the middle off nowhere. First, quip your vehicle with real winter tires. Those all-season tires you have on are good for all seasons except winter. You need tires with special rubber that will not get rock hard in the cold and will be better able to grip on snow and ice. Some drivers use studded tires, but they are noisy, tear our roads up (and so are illegal or restricted in many locales), and may no longer provide better traction than quality snow tires. If you buy a separate set of snow tires and wheels (inexpensive steel ones) you can easily change them out in the fall and later in the spring. Many tire companies make the switch for no charge if you buy the tires and wheels from them.
- Don’t freeze to death in your car. In the fall put in a few simple things to insure you can get yourself unstuck or survive a night out in the cold if you have to. The list includes warm clothing, a sleeping bag for each person, gloves, lights, a can of de-icer, shovel, car mats and cat litter (both to put under the tires) for traction, food and some way to melt snow for water. Booster cables, flashers, and a first aid kit are also good ideas. A candle (tea light type is good) is also a good idea in that it can keep a car’s interior somewhat warm so you don’t have to run the engine (ten minutes an hour is generally the maximum recommended). When running the engine always keep the exhaust pipe unobstructed by snow and a window cracked to eliminate the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning. On any given day, I see all kinds of people traveling the highways in winter with not even a sweater in the car. They feel that as long as they have a cell phone they have nothing to worry about—yea right.
- Don’t fall and break a hip. Right outside your door is the most dangerous spot in winter. I moved into a new house a few years ago and the first winter I feel three times on ice so clear you didn’t know it was there until you were horizontally floating in the air a foot above the cement. Luckily, I never broke anything, but it took a lot precautions before I felt comfortable on the stairs of my porch again. I ended up putting a shovel and snow melt at every door, put in wrought iron railings, and put gutters on the roof to keep melt water from dripping directly on the steps. Even then, if things look real bad, I also put on a pair of winter boots that I keep fitted with boot chains—they provide remarkable traction (but can destroy indoor floors). Owning a snow blower (or if you are in good shape, a good shovel) allows you to clear the snow before it turns slick or icy. Just remember all those stories after every major snow storm about Geezers who died from a heart attack while clearing snow. If you need to, pay someone to clear your walks for you (the money spent on a snow blower could also pay for someone to clear your walks and driveway following quite a few storms).
- Don’t freeze to death in your house. Sound impossible in this day and age—well it is probably pretty unlikely—but it is possible you might get hit with an electrical outage that last for more than a day or more under certain weather conditions (ice or wind storms). You say you would go to a friend’s house or check into a motel, well what if they too are without power? Even if I could find warmth elsewhere, I really prefer my water pipes don’t freeze and then burst. So I have an indoor propane heater that will provide a low level of heat if I need it. For safety, you need to make sure the heater is certified for indoor use and you also need have a carbon dioxide alarm as every heater puts out a bit of this deadly gas. I also have gas piped into my home and could use my gas fireplace or stovetop to provide heat even if I had no electricity. Again, you need to take precautions against a buildup of carbon monoxide. You should also have some candles, lanterns with a supply of batteries, a radio, and plenty of warm blankets.
Personally, a couple of severely bruised hips, a couple of uncontrolled car spinouts, and a night of driving 70 miles in an ice storm have left me with a very healthy respect for winter.