Cold and Dry Weather
The winter season has cooler temperatures, lower humidity and less frequent precipitation. Most of us in South Florida are not used to handling cold and dry weather, so the tips below can help to ensure that you stay safe when the temperature drops and the air becomes much dryer.
Most cold weather risk factors are the result of the measures that we take to keep ourselves warm and not the direct result of exposure to cold temperatures. This is especially true here in South Florida, where the temperature rarely drops below 60 degrees, even in the winter.
Statistically, even in colder climates, very few people freeze to death compared to the number of people who are seriously or fatally injured by fires that are caused by common winter heating methods.
The fact that we don't have to worry about brutal winter temperatures might be the very reason that we are so vulnerable to the effects of cold weather. Northerners are conditioned to switch into winter mode at the first cold snap and they are accustomed to dealing with the safety issues that go along with keeping warm.
In a way, South Floridians are at a disadvantage when we are faced with cold weather because we don't get a whole lot of experience with it. Winter weather doesn't have to be sub-zero to be dangerous; it just has to be cold enough to make us feel cold.
But don't worry, there's no need to pack up and move even closer to the equator. You just have to keep a few safety tips in mind. You can use the four P's to help you protect yourself and those in your care:
- Protect People: This includes yourself, but pay careful attention to children and the elderly. They are especially vulnerable to cold and the least able to protect themselves. Dress in layers of loose-fitting warm clothing. This will allow you to shed to the appropriate layer once the day begins to heat up. When outdoors, wear a hat that covers your ears. You lose as much as 40 percent of body heat through your head.
- Protect Plants: Bring potted plants indoors. Keep outdoor plants and trees watered. Remember that dry weather and wind create the perfect conditions for brush fires. If you live near heavily forested or undeveloped land, keep your property well-manicured and free of dry or dead vegetation.
- Protect Pets: Bring all pets indoors. Pets that must be left outside should have an enclosed shelter with the entrance facing away from the wind.
- Protect against fires in the home: This one of the most important winter considerations. Take the time to prepare and inspect heating equipment before using. According to the National Fire Protection Association, incorrect use of heating equipment is the leading cause of home fires.
Most home fires in the winter are associated with portable heating equipment which is poorly installed, poorly maintained or misused. Use central heating whenever possible, but if you must use a portable space heater, here are some safety guidelines:
- Choose electric space heaters and use only those that are UL approved. Look for models that include safety features such as an automatic shut-off when tipped over.
- Avoid the use of extension cords with space heaters, but if you must use one, make sure it is the proper size and length. Never run cords under rugs or carpets.
- Keep your heater at least three feet away from furniture, curtains and other flammable items.
- Install recommended smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries regularly.
- Never use charcoal or other fuel-burning devices indoors, such as grills that produce carbon monoxide.
- Make sure all equipment is clean and dust free.
- Never use your oven to heat your home.
- Keep a close eye on children and pets whenever a space heater is being used.
- Always turn off heaters when leaving home.
If you're still not convinced that cold weather in South Florida can be a threat, you should know that along with most of our cold fronts, Miami-Dade usually experiences a significant spike in fire calls, especially in residential occupancies.
Dry conditions and steady winds are the prime ingredients for potential wildfires. Residents should take extra measures to ensure their safety during the dry season. As seen in the past, in just a moment, a brushfire can go from a natural controlled situation to a major threat to life and property. Here are some tips:
- Shrubs, brush, wood piles and combustible debris should be removed within a radius of 30 feet from your home.
- The distance between your house and any nearby trees should be a minimum of 10 feet.
- Clear roof surfaces and gutters regularly to avoid build-up of flammable materials such as leaves and other debris.
- Place connected garden hoses at all sides of your home for emergency use.
- Store gasoline in approved safety cans, away from occupied buildings.
- Ensure that you and your family know all emergency exits from your home, and evacuation routes from your neighborhood.
- Around your home, make sure branches are cleared back a safe distance from any overhead power lines. If you think there's a problem, call your power company to clear the limbs.
- Never dispose of cigarettes anywhere but in an ashtray or other proper receptacle.
Wildfires can cause major environmental, social and economic damage. The loss of timber, wildlife habitat, homes and even lives may result from a devastating wildfire. For more information on wildfires, visit the Florida Division of Forestry website.