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4 things to do now to prepare yourself and your home for extreme cold – The Washington Post

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An intrusion of polar air into the United States this week won’t just mean an extreme chill — along with it, damaging winds and white-out conditions are likely in many areas.
The weather system is forecast to drop temperatures as much as 30 degrees below normal across most of the contiguous states, and could produce blizzard conditions across parts of the Plains and Midwest. It is likely to make for treacherous travel conditions and produce widespread power outages in the days before Christmas.
To stay safe as the holidays begin, here are four things you can do before bad weather arrives.
The expected combination of gusty winds and frigid temperatures could make for a dangerous situation in the event of power outages, which federal data have shown are occurring more often and for longer durations as extreme weather stresses the energy grid.
Be sure to check that you have some emergency kit basics on hand: extra blankets, candles, flashlights and nonperishable food.
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Do what you can to keep cellphones and other electronic devices charged, and have a plan to recharge them should you lose power — whether via batteries, a vehicle or even a hand-crank weather radio. If using a portable generator, be wary of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning from its exhaust — and never operate it indoors or in a garage.
Given the severity of the cold descending on so much of the country, exposed plumbing could freeze quickly — plumbers say it can take six hours in freezing temperatures, but even less time in more frigid conditions for the pipes to freeze and burst. Parts of the Plains and Midwest are likely to remain at subzero temperatures for extended periods over the coming days.
Plumbers recommend leaving taps at a trickle to prevent standing water from freezing or, in the event of a power outage, even shutting off the water supply and letting taps run dry.
Here’s how to prepare your home for freezing temperatures and winter storms
The cold could catch many people off-guard, as it is not just the strongest blast of cold so far this winter but, for some parts of the country, the coldest December chill in decades. Anyone planning to venture out into the cold — or anyone who could find themselves stuck in, say, a broken-down vehicle — should be dressed to weather the elements for as long as possible.
To stay warmest, dress in multiple layers of loosefitting clothing, with moisture-wicking, non-cotton fabrics closest to the body and a layer that can block wind and precipitation on the outside. And don’t forget a hat, gloves and warm socks.
Extreme cold is an even deadlier hazard than extreme heat, federal health data has shown, because as temperatures drop, cold can quickly overcome the body’s ability to adapt. It can take a matter of minutes for hypothermia to set in, marked first by shivers, and then by exhaustion, confusion and drowsiness.
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More than 112 million people are expected to travel at least 50 miles from home between Dec. 23 and Jan. 2, according to AAA — with the bulk of them going by car or truck. Motorists should be aware of weather they could face on the road. Cars can become easily incapacitated because of extreme cold, while slippery roadways can trigger crashes.
Just as you should have an emergency kit for your home, keep important provisions in your vehicle, as well. That can include: blankets, a bandanna or bright cloth to serve as a distress signal, sand or cat litter for tires stuck in snow or ice, a windshield scraper and shovel, a flashlight, snacks and water. While drivers often store winter survival kits in trunks, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Homeland Security and Emergency Management suggests storing the items in the passenger compartment in case the trunk gets jammed or is frozen shut.
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And if your vehicle is stuck, experts recommend running the engine occasionally to keep warm — while also ensuring snow is not blocking the vehicle’s exhaust pipes, risking a buildup of carbon monoxide.
“It’s just about being prepared,” said Mike Griesinger, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Twin Cities forecast office in Minnesota. “The last thing you want to do is get stuck out somewhere where you’re unfamiliar and you have no idea when help may be able to come by.”

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