The south has experienced devastating winter storms this week and power outages caused by the storms have left people cold and in danger.
Much of the power has since been restored, but there are still places without any. Regardless, many places that are strangers to below freezing temperatures have yet to warm up.
And winter storms are still moving through the country as cold air remains. So people have been sharing tips to stay warm and keep safe across social media to help those who find themselves in tough spots.
But not all tips are safe.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of recommendations to follow during snow storms to stay safe indoors, and some of their tips include things to consider when losing power and heat.
Among the main guidelines, the website asks people to install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector to protect yourself and your family from CO poisoning, although every home should be equipped with a working one already.
This is an important first step because many devices that might be useful to you in a winter power outage release carbon monoxide, which is both colorless and odorless. That includes generators, gas ovens or ranges, grills and cars. The CDC says don’t run a car inside your garage, don’t run a generator in your home or even next to a window, don’t run a grill inside your home or garage, and don’t run a gas oven or range without proper ventilation.
HEATING YOUR HOME
The CDC strongly cautions against using a gas stove or oven to heat a home because it’s unsafe. The CDC adds that fireplaces or wood stoves should only be used to heat a home if they are properly vented to the outside and don’t leak gas from the flue or exhaust into the indoor air space.
As stated above, gas or charcoal grills shouldn’t be used indoors. Neither should camp stoves.
If you must use a kerosene heater, make sure you have proper ventilation. The CDC also recommends to use the fuel designed for the heater, don’t substitute it for something else.
In fact, electric portable space heaters are a good go-to when your home needs heat. The CDC stresses they should have automatic shut-off switches, non-glowing elements and are kept away from flammable materials.
It’s best to keep them uncovered and at least three feet away from drapes, furniture, bedding or water. Don’t leave them on top of furniture, don’t leave children unattended near a space heater, avoid using extension cords if you have the option to plug it in and make sure the cord is not in a place where it’s a tripping hazard or has to run under a carpet or rug.
It’s also important to prevent heat from escaping, especially if your access to devices that can warm you up is limited.
Keep yourself bundled with layers. A winter storm power outage is the perfect time to bust out extra blankets, sleeping bags and winter coats.
You should avoid unnecessarily opening doors and windows. In fact, you can stuff towels and rags underneath doors to better prevent heat from escaping. You should also close off unneeded rooms so there is a smaller space to heat.
Also, be sure to close draperies or cover windows with blankets at night to keep the heat in.
WHAT ABOUT MY CAR?
Many people have used their cars for warmth and a recharge during these winter storms. Never leave the car on in your garage if you plan to use it.
But even if your car is outside, keep your stays in it limited. Running the heater for too long still poses the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The CDC suggests running the motor and heater of the car for 10 minutes per hour and opening one window slightly to let in air. It also says you should double-check to make sure the exhaust pipe of your car isn’t blocked with snow. These tips are recommended for people stranded in their cars during a snowstorm to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, but it’s also good advice to follow if you feel forced to use your car for warmth.
North Dakota’s winter storm information guide warns you shouldn’t fall asleep with the heater running. It adds that your ventilating window should be on the upwind side of your car as a downwind open window could actually lead to exhaust blowing into your car. It also reminds you that car batteries are weaker in cold weather and repeatedly starting and stopping the engine will put stress on it and could repeatedly melt and refreeze snow over top of the engine. So keep in mind cold weather will pose risks to your car starting on top of the risks you may have of running out of fuel to keep it running.
HOW DO I MAKE SURE I CAN DRINK CLEAN WATER?
The CDC suggests that you don’t thaw frozen pipes with a torch. Instead, thaw the pipes slowly with warm air and an electric hair dryer.
You can work to reduce the likelihood of pipes freezing in the first place by leaving all faucets and water taps slightly open so the water is dripping continuously. You can also let more heated air get to the pipes by leaving the cabinets under your sink open.
That might still not be enough and your pipes may freeze anyway. If that happens, the best thing to do is rely on bottled water or get water from a neighbor.
But if those aren’t options, or if your city is issuing a boil water advisory, you’re going to have to get a bit more creative.
“As an emergency measure, if no other water is available, snow can be melted for water,” the CDC says. “Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most germs but won’t get rid of chemicals sometimes found in snow.”
When boiling water, the CDC suggests you keep it boiling for three minutes if your altitude is about 6,500 feet and you store in clear, sanitized containers after letting it cool. Note that the CDC mentions nothing about adding salt in the water to make it boil faster.
That’s because it doesn’t actually help speed along the process much if at all. Several school science experiment guides describe that salt raises the boiling point of water while also making it less heat resistant. Ultimately, your water needs just as long to boil but is now saltier.
That’s not entirely a bad thing in very limited quantities; however, the CDC says you can “improve the flat taste of boiled water by pouring it from one clean, disinfected container to another and then allowing it to stand for a few hours, OR by adding a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of boiled water.”
Boiling water may be harder if you are also suffering from a power outage. If you have appliances off of the grid to boil it, keep in mind the above guidelines not to use those appliances inside the house. If you use candles, never leave them unattended.
You can also freeze water in a container before the storm hits. Not only will that help keep your fridge and freezer cold for longer if the power goes out, but the FDA says this also gives you access to clean water once you melt it if the local water supply is contaminated.