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Governor Wolf Urges Pennsylvanians to Take Precautions During Extreme Cold Weather
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Governor Tom Wolf and state officials today warned residents to stay safe while outdoors this week as temperatures are forecast to be below zero with wind chills making it feel like it is minus 35 degrees in many locations throughout Pennsylvania beginning overnight tonight through Thursday.
“As always, safety for Pennsylvanians and travelers to our state is my priority,” Gov. Wolf said. “And dangerously cold weather means staying inside as much as possible, paying attention to weather forecasts, and checking on friends and neighbors, especially the elderly.”
The current forecast predicts the winter storm to spread snow across the commonwealth starting today and lasting through Tuesday afternoon. After the storm, from Wednesday into Thursday, gusty winds and extremely cold temperatures will make for conditions that can cause hypothermia and frostbite in just a few minutes of being outdoors.
Hypothermia and frostbite are two dangerous, potentially fatal, conditions that can occur during extreme cold weather. Signs of hypothermia, an unusual drop in body temperature, include shivering, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color, most often in the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers or toes, and can permanently damage your body or lead to amputation.
“It is going to be dangerously cold this week, and you can get frostbite or hypothermia from being outside for just 10 minutes,” Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said. “Put staying safe and warm at the very top of your to-do list for the next couple of days. If you must be outdoors, know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia, and cover all exposed skin.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says wet clothing can accelerate a hazardous drop in body temperature. To protect against this and the extreme cold, know how to layer clothing properly.
The CDC says effective layering involves:
- Inner Layer: This layer goes against your skin and should hold body heat and not absorb moisture. Choose materials made of wool, silk or polypropylene instead of cotton.
- Insulation Layer: This layer retains your body heat to keep you warm. Fabrics which work best include natural fibers like wool or goose down. Synthetic fleece can also be effective. This is often known as a “soft shell.”
- Outer Layer: Think of this as your “hard shell.” It protects you from wind, rain, and snow. It should preferably be water and wind resistant to reduce the loss of body heat.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) is maintaining contact with county emergency management personnel to ensure that they have the resources needed to keep citizens safe. PEMA staff, along with personnel from other state agencies, are ready to provide any necessary state agency assistance when needed.
In anticipation of forecasted snow and extreme cold, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation issued road restrictions to increase safety, reduce accidents and allow PennDOT crews to maintain roads uninhibited. A map of current road restrictions can be found here.
To help make decisions regarding winter travel, motorists are encouraged to “Know Before You Go” by checking conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles, including color-coded winter conditions on 2,900 miles, by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information and access to more than 860 traffic cameras. Users can also see plow truck statuses and travel alerts along a specific route using the “Check My Route” tool.
511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website.
A vehicle emergency kit should be prepared or restocked containing items such as non-perishable food, water, first-aid supplies, warm clothes, a blanket, cell phone charger, and a small snow shovel. Motorists should tailor their kits to any specific needs that they or their families have such as baby supplies, extra medication, and pet supplies.
Motorists should be aware that all vehicles should be fully clear of ice and snow before winter travel. If snow or ice is dislodged or falls from a moving vehicle and strikes another vehicle or pedestrian causing death or serious bodily injury, the operator of that vehicle could receive a $200 to $1,000 fine.
When winter weather occurs, PennDOT urges drivers to be extra cautious around operating snow-removal equipment. When encountering a plow truck, drivers should:
- Stay at least six car lengths behind an operating plow truck and remember that the main plow is wider than the truck.
- Be alert since plow trucks generally travel much more slowly than other traffic.
- When a plow truck is traveling toward you, move as far away from the center of the road as is safely possible, and remember that snow can obscure the actual snow plow width.
- Never try to pass or get between several trucks plowing side by side in a “plow train.” The weight of the snow thrown from the plow can quickly cause smaller vehicles to lose control, creating a hazard for nearby vehicles.
- Never travel next to a plow truck since there are blind spots where the operator can’t see, and they can occasionally be moved sideways when hitting drifts or heavy snowpack.
- Keep your lights on to help the operator better see your vehicle. Also remember that under Pennsylvania state law, vehicle lights must be on every time a vehicle’s wipers are on due to inclement weather.
- In addition to driving safely around plows, motorists are urged to drive according to conditions. If motorists encounter snow or ice-covered roads, they should slow down, increase their following distance and avoid distractions. Last winter in Pennsylvania, preliminary data shows that there were 440 crashes resulting in 221 injuries on snowy, slushy or ice-covered roadways where aggressive-driving behaviors such as speeding or making careless lane changes were factors.
PennDOT has created a Winter Safety media center, including social-media-sized graphics highlighting winter driving preparations and operations at www.penndot.gov in the “Media Center” under the “About Us” footer.
For more information on safe winter travel, an emergency kit checklist and information on PennDOT’s winter operations including a video, visit PennDOT.gov/winter. Additional winter driving and other highway safety information is available at PennDOT.gov/safety.
To report an accident or other emergencies on the PA Turnpike, dial *11 on your mobile phone. If there is an accident, move the car out of travel lane and onto shoulder, if possible, and stay in the vehicle. For more information about PA Turnpike conditions follow the conversation by using paturnpike.com/travel/twitter. You may also see advisories by clicking on the travel ticker on www.PATurnpike.com.
Residents with low incomes are encouraged to see if they qualify for participation in the state’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program, overseen by the Department of Human Services, helps some families pay their heating bills. For more information and to apply visit the Department of Human Services at www.dhs.pa.gov.
Information about hypothermia and frostbite, as well as additional information on how to stay safe during and after a snowstorm, can be found on the Department of Health’s website at www.health.pa.gov or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
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