Cold weather safety: What you need to know

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- As we experience dangerously cold weather in the metro, here's what you need to know to stay safe as the temperatures drop.

Limit exposure


Avoid travel & stay indoors! The Douglas County Health Department is asking you to plan ahead and avoid traveling or being outdoors if possible. If you must travel, tell friends your planned route — and keep a cell phone close and keep it charged.

What to wear: If you must brave the elements, limit your time outdoors, and be sure to dress in layered — preferably loose-fitting — clothing. It is essential to cover the ears, face, and hands. Wear a hat and use thermal socks or two pairs of socks, with waterproof boots to protect your feet.

The elderly and infants are most susceptible to suffering serious injury from the cold, so please check on them.

FROSTBITE
Frostbite is a real danger. To protect yourself act quickly if:

  • You see any signs of redness or experience pain in any skin area.
  • You see white or grayish-yellow skin area with an unusual feel.
  • Pay attention if someone points out those conditions.

If you suspect frostbite:

  • Do not walk on frostbitten feet or toes if at all possible
  • Use body heat to warm fingers and hands
  • Use warm but not hot water
  • Do not rub injured areas with snow or massage them at all as that can cause more damage.

HYPOTHERMIA
Hypothermia may result from exposure so seek medical attention if:

  • You or someone you see experiences shivering, exhaustion, confusion, or fumbling hands.
  • Slurred speech and drowsiness are other symptoms, and babies may have bright red skin.

Remember: Hypothermia is a serious medical condition that requires emergency medical assistance.

Household safety


Beware of creating fire hazards while trying to keep warm. Avoid portable heating devices that are powered by combustible fuel.

Check outlets and extension cords to make sure they aren't overloaded. Don't use power or extension cords that are frayed or damaged, and don't run them under rugs or carpets.

Be careful with space heaters. Follow these tips from OPPD to make sure keeping warm doesn't create a fire hazard:

  • Select a space heater with a guard around the heating element. This will help keep children, pets, and clothing away from the heat source.
  • Choose a heater controlled by a thermostat. This avoids wasting energy and overhearing a room.
  • Place the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic.
  • Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.
  • Place the heater on a level surface away from foot traffic. Be especially careful to keep children and pets away from the heater.

Warming centers and shelters

To help residents stay warm, The Salvation Army in Omaha and Council Bluffs are staffing warming centers this week.

Omaha Kroc Center at 2825 Y St. [MAP] will be open:

  • 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday
  • 6 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday
  • 1-6 p.m. Sunday

Citadel Corps at 3612 Cuming St. [MAP] will be open 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.

North Corps at 2424 Pratt St. [MAP] will be open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

Council Bluffs Salvation Army will be operating a warming center 9 a.m.-3 p.m. through Friday at its Lakin Campus office located at 715 N. 16th St. [MAP]

Back-up Council Bluffs location: Officials have also placed a shelter on standby in case there is a need for a community shelter to open. Mohm's Place, 1435 N. 15th St. [MAP] will be open 24 hours to assist those who need shelter as well.

Pet safety in the cold


Dog and Cat
With the sub-zero plunge on tap, the Nebraska Humane Society is reminding pet owners to make sure their animals are safe and warm.

The best option is simply allowing your pets indoors during cold weather. If this is not an option, here are some helpful tips:

  • Dog houses should be solid wood structures with a flap on the opening. Plastic kennels do not keep the cold air out.
  • The flap to the dog house should face away from the wind.
  • Straw or hay provides warmth in doghouses. Do not use blankets as they become wet and moldy when the weather warms up
  • Water bowls freeze during cold weather. If possible, use heated water bowls during below-freezing temperatures; or be sure to check them multiple times a day.

More info: Get more cold-weather safety tips from the Nebraska Humane Society

See an animal in distress? If you suspect an animal is suffering in the cold weather, call the Nebraska Humane Society at 402-444-7800, Ext. 1. Animal Control Officers will respond immediately.

Road safety


AAA offers the following advice for drivers during cold weather:
  • Keep at least half a tank of gasoline in your vehicle at all times.
  • Pack blankets, gloves, hats, food, water, and any needed medication in your vehicle.
  • Make sure you have roadside help contacts saved in your phone.

More info: AAA winter driving tips

Nebraska State Patrol posted an alert for motorists traveling in extremely cold conditions.

  • If you travel, use well-traveled routes and give yourself plenty of time to reach your destination. Let others know where you are going, your route, and when you will arrive.
  • If you become stranded, stay in your vehicle until help arrives. Wind chill and freezing temperatures can be life-threatening.

Eppley Airfeld issued a travel advisory on Tuesday urging travelers to check with airlines about the status of Wednesday and Thursday flights.

Power outages


High winds could cause power outages, which can be extra dangerous with the extremely cold temperatures.

Visit the OPPD website to check outages or report an outage. You can also call 1-800-554-OPPD.

School closings


As with the falling snow, metro school officials have their eyes on falling temperatures this week to decide whether classes will be called off.

OPS says they would likely cancel school if they are seeing "dangerously cold temperatures — temperatures that would cause concern for frostbite, typically within 15 to 20 minutes."

Watch the video above for a closer look at the OPS winter weather game plan.

BOOKMARK ALERT: If schools do decide to cancel, that information will be posted ASAP on our closings page. Organization cancellations and business closings can also be found here.

Protect your pipes


The American Red Cross has tips for preventing problems associated with frozen pipes:
  • Remove, drain, and store hoses used outdoors.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces in order to maintain higher temperatures in these areas.
  • Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a "pipe sleeve," heat tape," "heat cable," or even newspaper on exposed water pipes.