Thursday, January 16, 2020

20 Lessons from the Puget Sound Snowstorm

Today it was pouring snow in the Seattle/Western Washington area (as well as in many other parts of the country).  But while New England and the upper Midwest see these kinds of snow storms often, they are fairly uncommon in the Seattle area, happening once every few years or so.  So while friends and relatives endure the snow and ice, I am relaxing in the balmy Southwestern desert (and with time and distance, remembering semi-fondly such storms in the past).  Here are some lessons learned from this and other snow storms...

  1. Stay home if you can.  No sense driving on the icy roads if you don't have to (unless you are mandated to report to work, in which case, drive safely and allow plenty of time to get there).
  2. Prepare your vehicle in the fall for such a weather event.  Have chains on hand, four-wheel drive if it commonly snows where you live, and a fully-stocked vehicle emergency kit.
  3. If you do happen to end up in an ice/snow-related car accident, remain in your vehicle until help arrives if possible, call 911, and prepare to wait as first responders will be helping many other people because of the weather.
  4. Prepare your home ahead of possible winter storms so that you and your family will remain safe and warm, even in the worst weather.
  5. Have appropriate winter clothing if you will be braving the elements during a winter storm.
  6. If you are unfamiliar with driving in the snow and ice, find an empty parking lot to practice in before you hit the roads.  Never drive during a blizzard which is even more hazardous than driving in ice and snow.
  7. Similarly, if you will be walking or working outside either in your yard or elsewhere, prepare accordingly.  On a side note, I am a big fan of YakTrax if you need to be walking outside in the ice or snow.
  8. Some news reports today said that communities needed to improvise ways to get food to people who had been snowed in for five days.  Everyone should have enough food stockpiled to last at least two to four weeks without any outside assistance.
  9. Likewise, everyone should have enough water stocked for at least a couple weeks as well.  Melting snow can be used in an emergency and anyone who has an electric well pump should have an alternative, non-electric way, to access their well water if possible.
  10. Consider what you would do if the power went out for a week or longer.  A wood stove and a few cords of dried wood would be optimal for both heating and cooking.  A generator would be useful for as long as you have fuel for it.  A propane heater and extra fuel for warmth and a patio gas grill with extra fuel for cooking would be other options to consider.
  11. Have a plan to take care of your pets and livestock during extremely adverse weather conditions.
  12. Be aware of things falling from above during a snow/ice storm, including trees and power lines which are prone to collapse under the weight of snow and ice.  Falling snow and ice by itself can also be a hazard.
  13. If possible, have the means to remove downed trees that block roadways/your yard including having a chainsaw and other useful tools.  Note, save the big tree removal projects for the professionals!
  14. Follow your local emergency response agencies (police department, fire department, roads department, city hall/mayor, department of emergency management, local news stations, etc) on social media so you will be kept up to date on storm conditions, alerts, and warnings.
  15. Know what your work/children's schools' weather emergency plans are.  Optimally, you would be able to work from home and not be required to show up at work if the roads are bad and most school districts are pretty good about declaring snow days if it is unsafe for kids to get to and from school.  On the other hand, have a back-up childcare plan if the kids get a snow day but you need to be at work.
  16. When the opportunity arises, read about how others have survived in snow storms, like this guy whose cabin recently burned down in Alaska leaving him to fend for himself in winter weather for a few weeks until help arrived.  These kinds of stories will stick in the back of your mind and the knowledge may be helpful if you find yourself in a similar situation in the future.
  17. Have cash on hand.  You may live close enough to work to a store for supplies but if the power is out and all you have is a credit card, you may be unable to buy needed supplies; cash can be very useful in this situation.
  18. Consider canceling your travel plans if forecasters are saying a big winter storm will happen either where you live or at your destination.  Few things are worse than being stranded on the side of the road or in an airport for days until the weather clears.
  19. Know what your home and auto insurance will cover in relation to winter storms.  It's better to know this information before an event than afterwards.  Also, keep an updated home and vehicle video inventory on hand to use if you need to make an insurance claim.
  20. As with any other emergency, be prepared to take care of yourself for an extended period of time as help may not be quick in responding.  Have enough medications to last until you can get back to the pharmacy, if you or a family member requires regular emergent healthcare (are on a vent, need dialysis, etc) consider leaving the area entirely if possible, know that if you call 911, help that would usually arrive within minutes may not be able to respond for hours.

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