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Blizzard 2013: Preparation & Getting Through It

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Updated: 5/08/2013 9:17 am

Feb. 7, 2013 --The major blizzard predicted to hit the Northeast and New England on Friday may dump as much as 2 feet of snow from New York City to Maine, the National Weather Service predicts. Winds may gust to 75 miles per hour.

If history repeats, major power outages, treacherous roads, and downed power lines are expected.

WebMD reached out to emergency experts and public health officials for information on blizzard preparation and getting through the blizzard safely.

Q: What should I do now to prepare?

Food and Water: Gather extra food and water. Get high-energy foods such as dried fruits, granola bars, and nuts, as well as food products that do not need to be cooked or refrigerated.

Get bottled water. Store it in a place you can get to easily.

Medications: Assemble medications you need on a daily basis. Put them in a backpack or easy-to-carry kit in case you need to evacuate.

Power: Have flashlights and fresh batteries available and other battery-powered items, such as radios, ready to use if the power fails.

Other: Update your list of emergency contacts.

If weather permits, go to the hardware or home improvement store for supplies, such as fresh batteries or a roof rake if you do not have one. A roof rake is designed to remove heavy snowfall from roofs and comes with a long extension. It could possibly keep you from climbing onto the roof.

Get an ice melting product to apply to slippery sidewalks.

Q: Do I need to take any precautions before shoveling snow?

Consider your heart health before deciding. The risk of a heart attack while snow shoveling may rise for some, especially those with existing heart disease, a history of stroke, or those in poor physical condition.

If you are at risk, let someone else do it.

If you can't find anyone, take precautions. Take frequent breaks. Don't eat a heavy meal right before or right after shoveling. Don't drink alcohol right before or right after shoveling. Use a small shovel.

Q: How do I prevent hypothermia/frostbite? What are the signs of frostbite?

Dress as warmly as possible. Know that it can come on quickly.  Recognize the first symptoms, such as a white or pale appearance in the toes, fingers, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose.

If you suspect frostbite, get medical help right away. Get to a warm area right away and remove any wet clothing. If that is not possible right away, warm the affected areas using body heat, such as by placing frostbitten fingers in your underarm.

If you are showing signs of a dangerously low body temperature, known as hypothermia -- shivering uncontrollably, slurring speech, having memory loss -- your body core (not arms and legs) should be warmed first. Get medical help ASAP.

Q: Once the power is out, how long will refrigerated foods last?

Refrigerated foods, once the power is off, will stay cold for about four to six hours. To increase the time, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed.

If a freezer is full, the temperature will be maintained for about 48 hours. If it's half full of food, figure 24 hours.

Q: What foods should be eaten first, after power is off?

Start by eating leftovers, meat, poultry, and any foods with milk, cream, soft cheese, or sour cream.

If frozen foods still contain ice crystals, they may still be safely cooked and eaten (or re-frozen, if power is restored).

Fruits that were frozen can be eaten if they still taste and smell good.

Vegetables that are completely thawed shouldn't be eaten, since bacteria multiply quickly.

If meat or poultry has thawed and has been warmer than 40 degrees F for two hours, discard it.

Discard melted ice cream.

Some foods typically refrigerated keep at room temperature for a few days. Among them: butter, margarine, hard cheese, fresh fruit, and vegetables (except sprouts or fresh, sliced fruit), fruit juice, dried fruits, or coconut. Opened jars of vinegar-based salad dressing, jelly, relishes, taco sauce, and barbecue sauce are typically also OK to eat. Mustard, ketchup, and olives generally keep at room temperature for a few days, too.

Q: Can I put food from the refrigerator and freezer out in the snow?

That's not safe. Frozen food can thaw if it is exposed to the sun's rays. That can happen even if the outside temperatures are very cold.

Q: What precautions do I need to take for medications that need refrigeration, such as insulin or reconstituted drugs?

If power has been out for a lengthy period, throw them out. However, if you have no way to obtain new supplies and the medicine is crucial, such as insulin, continue to take it until you can get fresh supplies.

Pills that have gotten wet should be discarded, as they could be contaminated.

Q: What about water? If we run out, what supplies can we tap?

Use ice, soft drinks, and fruit juices as water substitutes.

Check hidden sources of water: the hot water tank, or water in the plumbing. These water supplies need to be disinfected, though.

To disinfect by boiling, bring water to a rolling boil for one or two minutes, then cool.  •In an emergency -- if no other water is available -- snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most germs, but won’t get rid of chemicals sometimes found in snow.

Q: What is the best way to stay warm if there is a power outage?

Close off the unneeded rooms to preserve heat as much as possible. Stuff rags or towels in the cracks under your doors.

If you are using a fireplace or wood stove, be sure to ventilate it properly.

Dress in layers of loose-fitting but warm and lightweight clothing that you can add on or take off as needed.

Q: Is it OK to use a portable generator?

Generators should only be operated outdoors, as carbon monoxide can build up and cause lethal poisoning if used indoors. Only use the generator in a dry outdoor location, which may be impossible in the winter storm's aftermath.

Q:  How do I protect vulnerable family members, such as children and the elderly?

Remember that both the very young and the elderly, as well as nursing mothers, will need more water to stay hydrated.

You may need to soothe your children's fears. Keep your children to their regular routine as much as possible. Kids come to depend on those daily routines such as dinnertime.

Q: I am a shut-in. Who do I reach out to for help?

Check in with nearby neighbors or your family members to see if they can help you. Your local fire department may also be able to offer aid.

''Blizzard boxes" with nonperishable foods are sometimes available from local churches and the Meals on Wheels program.

Q: When is it safe to go outside?

Turn to local alerts and warning systems to get information and expert advice on conditions. Then decide if it is safe, based on that advice.

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The Health News section does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. See additional information.

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