Winter safety is concern despite ;br; warm weather

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 15, 1999

Oh, the weather outside is – well – not so frightful.

Monday, November 15, 1999

Oh, the weather outside is – well – not so frightful.

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Weather does happen in Minnesota. All kinds and anytime, or so it seems.

Bob Nelson, Mower County’s emergency preparedness director, wants all residents to know they must prepare for winter safety wherever they are: in their homes, in their vehicles and participating in recreational activities.

Even the Minnesota Department of Public Safety seems to understand the difficulty of promoting winter safety when the weather is so un-winter-like.

This year’s campaign is "Winter Happens! Be Ready!" and it focuses on preparing for winter hazards, but also preparing for the possibilities of breaks in services that may be caused by computer problems with the rollover into the new century.

"Winter safety and preparedness is a necessity for everyone in Minnesota," cautions Kevin C. Leuer, director of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s division of emergency management. "Unfortunately, many Minnesotans each year suffer needlessly, because they are unaware of the potential dangers of the winter season."

The goal of this year’s campaign is to increase awareness of winter hazards and to encourage people to take appropriate action to eliminate or reduce their vulnerability to winter dangers, while enjoying the pleasures of the winter season.

To that extent, the first advice to come from Nelson and the state Department of Public Safety is to be able to differentiate between a winter storm watch and a winter storm warning.

That includes keeping ahead of winter storms by listening for the latest weather statements, watches or warnings. That also means keeping vehicles winterized and keeping a winter survival kit in personal vehicles when traveling.

Also, homes should be winterized and it’s a good idea to stock extra batteries for radios and flashlights. An alternate heat source and a supply of fuel are also essential in all homes.

Arguably, the wind chill equivalent temperature table is considered one of the worst inventions ever. Why make one feel more miserable, when the winter weather does a satisfactory job of that?

The wind chill factor is about as popular as the "heat index" in the summertime. Who needs to be told it’s hot and humid and miserable?

Still, the facts suggest the wind chill factor can save at least suffering, and possibly lives if it is observed.

Last winter, 10 people died when they fell through the ice in Minnesota. Seventeen people died in snowmobile accidents.

Hypothermia and frostbite can quickly become life or limb-threatening when outdoors in the winter. But, winter pleasures can’t be denied children, who want to play outside all day and there are dangers lurking in the winter.

The latest data available (1997) shows emergency rooms treated more than 12,500 children ages 5-14 for injuries related to ice skating and more than 14,500 children for injuries related to sledding.

Exposure to cold without adequate protection can result in frostbite and children are among the most vulnerable.

The Department of Public Safety acknowledges that snowmobiling is a $1 billion industry in Minnesota and in Mower County over 200 miles of trails have been developed and groomed for the sport’s participants.

But the 17 deaths last year coupled with 293 injuries are reminders of the dangers inherent to the sport.

Operator error is the key cause of snowmobile crashes and the largest percentage occur when the driver is a male between the ages of 15 and 25.

If keeping warm in the winter is essential, fire safety is also necessary.

Heating fires cause 12 percent of the identified residential fires in Minnesota and have been the number one cause for the past decade.

Over one-half of all heating fires in Minnesota involve fireplaces or chimneys.

In addition, approximately 46 percent of all fire deaths occur between November and march and fire deaths in greater Minnesota outpace those in the metropolitan area by a rate of slightly over two to one.

A dry Christmas tree can be consumed by fire in an instant, while generating enough heat to ignite an entire room.

And, there is also the danger of carbon monoxide, the colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, resulting from incomplete burning of natural gas, oil, wood, kerosene, charcoal and other fuels.

Radon, the naturally occurring radioactive gas, is still another danger that shouldn’t go ignored.

On the road to grandmother’s house for a holiday celebration with winter weather swirling all around is another challenge.

During the winter there are many accidents involving the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s snow removal equipment. Other accidents can occur with county and even city snow clearing equipment.

The Department of Public Safety’s advice is simple: see orange, stay back, stay alive.

Traffic crashes claimed 6550 lives in Minnesota in 1998.

One of today’s popular business tools is quickly become one of the best safety resources as well. Cellular phones can help in an emergency and in some cases make the difference between life and death.

When on the road and faced with a winter driving emergency, the Minnesota State Patrol urges cellular users to pay attention to details that could help emergency responders locate them.