A recent headline in The Washington Post warned, “The polar vortex has fractured, and the eastern U.S. faces a punishing stretch of winter weather.”
Following a bitter blast of arctic air in recent weeks, the Northeast has experienced dangerously low temperatures.
And some weather experts are predicting a higher than normal number of snowstorms in the coming weeks.
To find out the best ways to stay safe in the face of what is shaping up to be a brutal winter, the Independent reached out to the Hopkinton Fire Department for advice.
First among the winter pitfalls to be avoided, according to Deputy Fire Chief William Miller, is damage from frozen water pipes.
“Unfortunately, we don’t see those until the temperature gets above freezing,” Miller said.
He suggested a couple of ways to keep pipes from freezing.
“If you can afford it,” Miller said, “keep your heat at at least 60 degrees, even at night.”
Another tip, he said is to leave the water on just enough to trickle, since moving water is unlikely to freeze.
Worse than frozen pipes is the danger of fire. Miller referenced the following statistics from the FEMA website:
— 890 people die in winter home fires each year.
— $2 billion in property loss occurs each year from winter home fires.
— Winter home fires account for only 8 percent of the total number of fires in the U.S., but result in 30 percent of all fire deaths.
— Cooking is the leading cause of all winter home fires.
— A heat source too close to combustibles is the leading factor contributing to the start of a winter home fire (15 percent).
— 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. is the most common time for winter home fires.
To avoid chimney and wood stove fires, Miller recommended hiring a licensed chimney sweep to inspect and clean flues and chimneys.
Miller also was quick to point out the necessity of having sets of detectors for both smoke and carbon monoxide.
“And make sure they have fresh batteries,” he added.
Other suggestions include making sure the fire department has access to you home by keeping your driveway and any nearby hydrants clear of snow.
With the possibility of temperatures falling from 10 to 25 degrees below normal in the next few weeks, Miller referred to some of the following winter safety tips on the FEMA website:
— Keep an emergency supply kit in your home that includes a battery-powered radio with extra batteries, canned food and a manual can opener, flashlights and battery-powered lamps for power failures, wood for fireplaces, and rock salt to melt ice and sand to improve traction.
— Make sure your car is in proper working condition and includes blankets, warm clothing, booster cables and tools, bottled water, dried fruits and nuts, a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher, flashlights and batteries, a shovel and ice scraper.
— Wear layers to protect yourself from the cold. A hat, scarf and mittens are also essential protection against winter weather.
— Try to limit the amount of time your pets spend outdoors.
— Insulate with weather stripping around doors and window sills.
— Insulate pipes with plastic or newspapers.
— Learn how to shut off water valves if a pipe bursts.