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Winter storms proliferate

Is the groundhog's "six more weeks of winter" prediction true? It looked that way.

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | February 3, 2004

It looked on Tuesday as if the groundhog's "six more weeks of winter" prediction was coming true with a vengeance as northwest North Carolina faced a possible half inch of ice, a few snow-weary Wisconsin cities declared states of emergency, and upstate New York continued to clear the 86 inches of snow it got blasted with last week.

The fact is North Carolina might have far more trouble with a half inch of ice which tends to take down trees and power lines than upstate New York is having with seven feet of snow.

"It's winter in upstate New York and people are dealing with it," said Dennis Michalski, spokesperson for New York State emergency management.

Parts of upstate New York got blasted with more than 86 inches of snow Thursday and Friday.

Some snow and ice damage can be prevented, according to the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS).

Preventing roof collapses is a priority during heavy snow accumulation. Protecting against leaks can also pay off.

IBHS recommended the following tips for mitigating against snow damage:

-- Keep gutters clear of leaves and debris to prevent ice dams.

-- Ensure that drains in outdoor basement stairwells and window wells are functional. If possible, remove snow from these areas after the storm has ended.

-- Consider removing outdoor window flower boxes and other non-essential exterior apparatus (unless permanently built in to the house with proper flashing details) on which snow may accumulate and melt against the building exterior.

-- Ensure that skylights and other roof openings have proper weather stripping or gaskets around the perimeter to prevent snowmelt from seeping through.

-- Remove icicles hanging from gutters and over walkways.

-- Install an emergency pressure release valve in plumbing systems to protect against the increased pressures brought about by freezing pipes. If extremely cold temperatures are expected and plumbing has no pressure/freeze protection system, let sink faucets drip or cut off the main water supply outside the house.

-- Pay close attention to snow accumulation on roof sections that are on the leeward (downwind) side of a higher-level roof, as blowing snow will collect here and create uneven loading conditions. For safe removal that won't endanger homeowners or damage roofs, consult a roofing contractor for a referral.

But there's one more elusive problem that's harder to combat, admitted Michalski: "People are going a little stir crazy."

As temperatures stayed low in several state, wind chill was also a personal hazard. Wind chill is often defined as how cold it "feels" outside. Forecasters measure wind chill by measuring the rate of heat lost by skin exposed to wind and cold.

A new Wind Chill Index was issued by the National Weather Service in November 2001. For the first time, the index includes a frostbite indicator.

When the National Weather Service issues a wind chill advisory, people need to take it seriously, said forecasters, because it means wind chill temperatures are potentially hazardous. A wind chill warning is issued when wind chills grow life threatening.

Exposed skin is susceptible to frostbite, or freezing body tissue. Particularly vulnerable are the ear lobes, fingers, toes and the tip of the nose. Symptoms include a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in the affected area. The area should be slowly re-warmed and those affected should seek medical attention.

Another hazard is hypothermia, according to the National Weather Service, which is an abnormally low body temperature - or a temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence and apparent exhaustion. Those affected should get medical attention immediately and begin warming the body slowly.

Simply dressing for cold weather can help avert bodily harm. The National Weather Service recommends people:

-- Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Trapped air between the layers will serve as insulation. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent and hooded.

-- Wear a hat since 40 percent of body heat is lost through the head.

-- Cover their mouth to protect lungs from extreme cold.

-- Choose mittens that are snug at the wrist since they are warmer than gloves.

-- Try to stay dry and out of the wind.

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