White, Wet Winter Predicted

By Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA

“Wintery, white and wet.”  That’s how The Farmers’ Almanac sums up its prediction for this coming winter in the northeast.

“We are red-flagging the first 10 days of January and the first week of February along the Atlantic seaboard for active wintry weather featuring bouts of heavy precipitation and strong winds,” said Caleb Weatherbee, a pseudonym used by the official forecaster for The Farmers’ Almanac.

Last winter, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) predicted a mild winter, while The Farmers’ Almanac accurately predicted a harsh winter.

What if The Farmers’ Almanac is right again this year?

The best way to manage risk and protect yourself and your family is to be prepared for whatever happens.  After last year’s “polar vortex,” those who failed to prepare, wished they had.  So what should you do to prepare for winter this year?

Protecting Yourself and Your Family

During cold winter weather, we are all more vulnerable to sickness, but also to frostbite and hypothermia.  Snow and ice also increase the likelihood of accidents, so it’s important to dress appropriately, pay attention to the weather and act safely.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older.  No one can predict how serious flu season will be or even which flu virus will be most prevalent, but a flu shot can provide good, general protection.  The CDC also recommends washing your hands frequently and, of course, staying away from people who are sick.

Dressing appropriately is also important.  When you are exposed to the cold, your body will work harder to keep you warm and you will be more vulnerable to infection.  In addition, exposed skin will be subject to frostbite, which can result in permanent damage to exposed body parts, including the amputation of affected toes or fingers.

Hypothermia, in which a person’s body temperature drops from its normal average of 98.6 degrees to as low as 86 degrees, can be fatal.  Fora person who has hypothermia, as body temperature cools, the heart and liver preserve heat to protect the brain, but they produce less heat for the rest of the body.

Seniors, infants and children are especially vulnerable to hypothermia, as are people who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, as well as those who work outdoors, and those who have diabetes or thyroid conditions.  Be certain to wear warm clothing and to stay indoors on the coldest days.  Also make certain your home is heated to a reasonable temperature.

Remember that pets are affected by cold weather, too.  They will burn more calories trying to stay warm, so consider feeding them extra food during the winter and keep them indoors on the coldest days.

Keep your driveway and any walkways free of snow and ice, and sprinkle sand or a commercial deicing product on icy areas.

Protecting Your Home

Failing to winterize can result in major claims on your homeowner’s insurance, which can result in higher premiums.  Winterizing can also keep you safe, help you save energy, and ensure that you’re warm and comfortable even when it’s bitter cold.

Your heating system has the greatest potential for life-threatening safety problems and major insurance claims.  Have your furnace inspected annually by a qualified technician.  Any malfunctioning furnace can pose a safety threat, but a malfunctioning gas furnace can cause an explosion, resulting in a potential loss of life and major damage to your home.

Make certain your smoke detectors have fresh batteries and are functioning properly.  Also consider purchasing carbon monoxide detectors, as carbon monoxide is created by burning fossil fuels, such as oil.

If you use your fireplace, make certain your chimney is clean, and free of animals and insects.  Also make certain the flue damper is operating properly, opening and closing easily and locking in either position as needed.  The bricks in your fireplace should also be in good shape.  If they are not properly mortared, fire can spread into the studs behind the bricks.

Bursting water pipes is another common winter nuisance that can cause damage that is expensive to repair.  Any pipes that are exposed to the cold should be covered with insulating material.  Also be sure to shut off water to exterior faucets and drain them.

To protect your property and keep your heating bills lower, consider insulating your hot water tank, your air conditioning units and your exterior faucets.  If your fireplace is not air tight, you can cover the opening with insulation when it is not in use.  Use weather-stripping to keep your doors air-tight and caulk for leaks around your windows.

It’s also important to keep your roof and gutters well maintained to avoid leaks and ice dams.  Ice dams, which form as water backs up and refreezes, are ridges of ice that form at the roof’s edge, preventing melting snow from draining off.  They can cause leaks and lead to damage in your home’s ceilings, walls and other areas.

To prevent ice dams, be sure that the hard-to-reach areas of your roof are as well insulated as the rest of your roof, and make certain you replace any missing or damaged shingles.  Also, use a snow rake to clear your roof when there is a large accumulation of snow.

Protecting Your Vehicles

What could be worse than being stranded on a highway in a vehicle that won’t start?

To avoid any winter problems, it’s worth having your vehicle tuned up before the season starts.  Replace old wiper blades, fill your windshield washer fluid and consider replacing your car battery if it is more than five years old.  Check your tire pressure often, as pressure drops when the weather gets colder; your tires will provide better traction if they are properly inflated.

In case you have to wait for help, keep emergency supplies in your car, including a blanket, gloves, an ice scraper, a flashlight, a small shovel, paper towels, jumper cables and a bucket of sand.  Keeping your gas tank full will help prevent your gas lines from freezing.

You’d probably rather not think about winter until it arrives, but preparing for the cold weather now can keep you and your family safe and warm this season.

Richard A. McGrath, CIC, LIA is President and CEO of McGrath Insurance Group, Inc. of Sturbridge, Mass.  He can be reached at rmcgrath@mgrathinsurance.com.

This article is written for informational purposes only and should not be construed as providing legal advice.