Winter weather is settling in over Alaska. Are you ready? Here are tips for preparing your home and vehicle, and taking care of yourself during the winter months.
Protect water lines from freezing. Disconnect water hoses from the outside of your house and make sure outdoor water spigots are closed. Make sure you know where the shutoff valves are in your house, so if pipes break, you can turn the water off.
Winterize your home. Check for drafts around water and heating lines, and insulate if you need to. Make sure windows are well sealed. Now is the time to patch up any leaks and replace shingles or metal fasteners on your roof. Clean the gutters so spring runoff moves away from your home unobstructed.
(More information on home energy efficiency can be found online at Cold Climate Housing Research Center and Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Check out this interactive Northern homes page for more tips. Also, some Alaskans may qualify for AHFC's free weatherization program.)
Have maintenance and inspections done on your heating sources, like furnace and wood stove. Stock up on wood or other fuel.
Along with working smoke alarms, make sure carbon monoxide detectors are installed and have working batteries. Carbon monoxide is odorless and fatal and was responsible for the deaths of at least two Alaskans in the past few months in both Southcentral and the Interior.
The Alaska Department of Homeland Security recommends getting a seven-day emergency kit together for potential disasters, including winter storms that may knock out power.
The kit should include 1 gallon of water per person, per day; food with a long shelf life; flashlights; and first-aid kits. Also recommended are any medications your family needs; a battery-operated radio; a small tool kit, plus items like duct tape and rope; hygiene products, including some bags and a bucket for managing human waste; a heat source that's safe for indoor use; cellphone chargers; emergency blankets; a whistle and signal mirror; and a generator.
The agency also recommends having an emergency go-bag, which you can grab should you need to leave your home in a hurry. One thing that's often overlooked? Critical documents, such as birth certificates and insurance information. Having these on hand will speed up your recovery time, should you need to file claims after a disaster.
Lastly, make a plan with your family on what to do in case of an emergency, and afterward.
First, make sure your car is in good working condition. Check the oil and antifreeze. Put on winter tires if you have them.
Stock your car with emergency items in case you get stuck or your car breaks down: a cellphone and charger; ice scraper; jumper cables; flat-tire kit; basic tools; knife; flashlight; fire extinguisher; flares; small shovel; tow strap; and sand or kitty litter to help your tires get traction if your car gets stuck.
Also have items on hand to stay safe and warm, such as extra winter gear, a sleeping bag, fire-starting materials, hand warmers, food and water, a first-aid kit and plastic bags.
Keep your car's fuel tank full if you're traveling in stormy winter conditions in case you get stuck without a gas station nearby.
Alaska's long winters can be tough on the body and mind, but luckily, there are plenty of strategies to combat the stresses brought on by cold weather.
For your body: Regular exercise is the most common advice given by Alaska health care experts. Outdoor exercise is even better, because you can take advantage of winter sunshine. Taking vitamin D, and using a light to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder, are also common in Alaska. Limit your consumption of alcohol and try to eat healthful foods.
Prevent hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia starts with symptoms like shivering and slurred speech, and escalates to dazed consciousness, irrational behavior, decreased heart rate, dilated pupils and uncontrollable shivering in waves. Ward off hypothermia by staying hydrated and dry, and continuing to move your body. Wear layered clothing made of either wool or synthetic materials.
For your mind: Taking care of your body will promote positive mental health. Make plans with family and friends, even if you feel like avoiding social engagements. Identify activities that elevate your mood, and make time for them. And, take time to rest and get cozy.
What other tips do you have? Leave ideas in the comments below.
Sources: Alaska Department of Homeland Security; Anchorage Water and Wastewater Utility; Anchorage Emergency Management; Center for Disease Control and Prevention; Cold Climate Housing Research Center; Alaska Housing Finance Corporation; University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service; Alaska Public Lands Information Centers