In many parts of North America, classic Old Man Winter has ambled right on back. Snowstorms, freezing rain, sub-freezing temperatures, hail, sleet, and slush have moved in down the street and next door, camping out in driveways and rearing up in our front and back yards like snow tsunamis.
Weather withstanding, and though it may be tempting just to light a fire and hibernate under a favorite down comforter until spring, most of us do need to maintain our lives outside the home. Getting to work, school, meetings, grocery stores, health clubs, and more challenges us to arrive safely and on time, and to make sure others do as well. So how do we stay warm and protected from winter’s obstacles, which include icy sidewalks, frozen windshields, blinding effects of noonday sun on snow, and towering snow banks that hinder our vision. The following tips and precautions just may help:
Be Merry and Bright
According to statistics, pedestrians and cyclists who wear brighter, fluorescent, and/or reflective clothing–even just armbands–are seen more quickly by drivers in inclement weather or who might miss them due to the blinding effects of sun on snow. To that end, drivers should take care to wear sunglasses and routinely slow down, even to speeds below a neighborhood’s posted speed limit, in anticipation of sudden stops on slippery surfaces for those on foot.
Observe and Protect
Because snow banks from plowed snow can exceed the height of the average pedestrian by two or three times, especially in grocery store and shopping mall parking lots, anyone on foot should staunchly observe crosswalks no matter how far they have to walk to get to them. But because not everyone does, conversely drivers should bear in mind that visibility and the resulting ability to stop in time for those on foot is often impeded by these towering banks, so the passwords are “look carefully” and “slow down.” Additionally, driving and walking space is often diminished when plows pile masses of the white stuff along the sides of the road or lot, so always allow for narrower passageways.
Listen To What I Hear
While burying your head beneath a warm hat while crossing the street is one thing, plugging up ears with iPods and other listening devices, and further diverting attention by texting, can be the difference between life and death–literally. In winter, sensory alertness is the key to allowing for that snowplow to your left to pass, or certainly to hearing the skidding, screeching noise from an out-of-control vehicle heading your way on an icy road.
The Early Bird
In winter, always allow more time to get to your destination anticipating public transportation delays and/or traffic tie-ups due to snow and ice. Whether driving or on foot, black ice is among the season’s top offenders for broken bones, so again slow down. Small, deliberate, grounded steps rather than sprinting toward a departing bus so you can get to work on time can keep you out of the emergency room–from which you’d probably not get to work at all that day. Wear heavily treaded, flat bottom shoes and boots that grip, avoiding leather and plastic soles. Shoes lined with fleece or other insulating materials will help prevent cold or even frostbitten toes in extreme circumstances. If you have a choice, traveling in the afternoon may allow more time for rising temperatures and melting so roads and walkways may be safer to navigate.
Do You See What I See
For icy windshields, starting your prep work earlier to get to work or appointments on time can prevent rushed decisions and accidents that result from reduced visibility. Replace wiper blades each winter season for optimal function and make sure windshield fluid (do not use water, which can instantly freeze) is full. In addition to warming up your car a few minutes early and using the front and back windshield defrosters, most hardware and auto supply stores carry handy cans of windshield sprays that work in seconds to crack through accumulated ice.
Overall, a little extra time and planning can make a big difference in successfully negotiating winter’s wrath, making the first season of the year nothing but a slightly inconvenient prelude to spring!