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Coping with winter: Uncle Sam states the obvious

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Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

It's cold and snowy as I write this. Thank goodness the federal government provides us with “helpful” winter tips (

Did you know, warns our government, that “(w)inter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days”?

News to me.

Or that “(m)any winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain”?

There's no reason to panic — so long as you follow government tips before, during and after a storm.

To prepare for ice, for instance, be sure to assemble an emergency kit that has “(r)ock salt or more environmentally safe products” that the government recommends at the Environmental Protection Agency website.

I'm happy to protect the environment, but I'm not terribly interested in whether or not the environment is offended by rock salt when the environment is trying to hurt me.

Our emergency kit should include sand, too, as it provides traction on slippery surfaces. It should include shovels or other snow-removal devices. My mother has one of those in her kit: my father.

Sometimes, things can get so bad in the winter, we are warned, that we may lose power and heat. If you have a fireplace, be sure to stock up on seasoned wood! (For the moment, the EPA still allows us to burn wood in our fireplaces.)

Once you have followed these groundbreaking government tips to plan for a storm, you need to learn what to do during the storm.

The first thing the government recommends is to stay inside! That makes sense to me. It's warmer and drier inside. We must fight the urge to lie in the yard in pajamas and get covered with snow.

If you must go outside, however, be careful walking “on snowy, icy walkways.” Snow and ice, apparently, are slippery.

The government warns us to not overexert ourselves while shoveling. That is sound advice. Overexertion while shoveling can, and does, lead to heart attacks, particularly in middle-aged fellows who are not in great physical shape.

Yet, every year, we men, fully aware of the risk, overexert ourselves while shoveling — and one or two of us have heart attacks and end up on the local news along with reports from medical experts who tell us we ought not overexert ourselves while shoveling.

Frostbite is a big worry. Symptoms “include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose.”

I am no expert, but another symptom is that YOU ARE REALLY COLD, so stop shoveling and go inside the house.

The government warns about hypothermia, too. Symptoms “include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion” — and a propensity to vote for politicians who are eager to bankrupt the country.

I am no expert, but another symptom is that YOU ARE REALLY COLD, so stop shoveling and go inside the house.

If you somehow manage to survive the storm, you are not out of the woods yet. After the storm passes, the governments warns you to stay indoors, if possible. If you must go outside, be sure to dress for the weather to protect against frostbite and hypothermia.

To the government's credit, it does offer a few useful tips to prevent your pipes from freezing, and on what to do if you are stranded in your car.

For the most part, however, if you need to rely on the government for obvious steps to take to deal with snowstorms, your worries are much greater than winter weather.

(One important winter tip the government does mention: Be sure to install carbon monoxide sensors near your furnace and elsewhere in your home. They are inexpensive and just might save your life.)

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. Visit him on the web at E-mail him at:

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