HANNIBAL — In 2018, 40 people in Missouri died as a result of low body temperatures due to prolonged exposure to cold weather, according to data from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. The deaths serve as a reminder of the absolute importance of taking precautions to protect against winter weather, particularly for extended periods of time.
With Missouri already experiencing abnormally bitter temperatures and significant winter precipitation, Monday, November 18 through Friday, November 22 has been designated as Winter Weather Preparedness Week by the National Weather Service, the State Emergency Management Agency, and Missouri's local emergency managers to encourage all Missourians to be prepared.
Twenty of the hypothermia deaths were people 65 or older, which calls attention to the importance of checking on elderly neighbors or family anytime temperatures plunge.
Winter roads are another area requiring additional attention. In 2018, there were 6,615 vehicle crashes in Missouri in which snow or ice was a factor, which resulted in almost 1,700 injuries and 28 deaths, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Avoiding non-essential travel during winter storms is one of the best ways to reduce the chance of becoming involved in a crash or becoming stranded. It also allows snow removal crews to clear the roads faster and first responders to get to crashes more quickly.
“Missourians should prepare their homes and vehicles now in order to be ready to take appropriate action during inclement weather and keep their families safe,” SEMA Director Ron Walker said. “Don't drive when conditions deteriorate if it isn't absolutely necessary. In February, a snow storm caused a 15-vehicle pileup of cars, trucks and semis on I-70 near Oak Grove, and 47 other vehicles were run off the road or damaged, resulting in one death and many more injuries. Even if you are not involved in a crash, you could be stranded for hours if an accident blocks the roadway.”
Missourians should consider these severe winter weather preparations:
Create a family emergency plan and an emergency kit. Emergency supplies should include bottled water, canned and dry foods, battery-powered radio, flashlights, extra batteries, manual can opener and a first-aid kit. When power outages are possible, charge cell phones and other devices in advance so you are able to communicate if power is lost.
Assemble a separate vehicle winter emergency kit. Include a blanket, radio with spare batteries, snacks or energy-type food, jumper cables, flares, shovel and sand or shingles to give tires traction.
Know the risks of exposure to cold temperatures. Protect against frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting clothing in several layers. Avoid alcohol, limit time spent outdoors in frigid temperatures and stay indoors, if possible. Alcohol and drug misuse are often a contributing cause in hypothermia deaths in individuals between the ages of 25-64.
Avoid driving whenever possible when conditions are poor. If travel is necessary, make sure an emergency kit is in the vehicle, that your gas tank is more than half full, cell phones are charged and emergency numbers are saved for fast dialing. Check on road conditions in advance on the Missouri Department of Transportation's Traveler Info Map: http://traveler.modot.org/map/. If your vehicle breaks down or slides off the road, stay with your vehicle and call or wait for help.
Make sure alternate heat and power sources, such as fireplaces, woodstoves, kerosene heaters and generators function properly. These sources can be dangerous and must be maintained and operated. Keep the correct fuel for each source on hand in a safe location. Proper ventilation is essential. Properly install carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home. Only operate generators outdoors.
Remember space heaters are dangerous and potentially deadly when misused. Space heaters account for about one-third of home heating fires and 80 percent of home heating fire deaths annually. These devices are supplemental heating sources and should be turned off when leaving a room or going to bed. Keep anything that can burn at least three feet from heating equipment. Never overload extension cords or electrical outlets. Spaces heaters should never be used in place of a primary heating system.
Find more winter weather information including safe winter driving techniques, avoiding injury when shoveling and other tips at https://www.mo.gov/winter-weather-safety/.
Always be aware of the latest weather forecast for your area and know the meaning of the terms NWS uses when issuing winter weather advisories:
Winter Storm Watch — Severe winter weather may affect your area within 12-48 hours.
Winter Storm Warning — Severe winter weather is in the area or is imminent and could be life threatening.
Ice Storm Warning — Ice accumulations of ¼ inch or more are expected in your area.