Surviving Winter in Central New York: Tips For Recent Transplants

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New York State winters can be notoriously harsh, and this year seems to be no exception. Even long-time residents get sick and tired of the snow and slush after a few months. But if you’ve recently moved to the area, the hazardous road conditions and incessant storm warnings can all seem like a bit much. If you’re worried about surviving the rest of the season, you might want to keep these tips in mind.

Use Some De-Icing Tricks

When you wake up to what feels like sub-zero temperatures, the last thing you want to experience is shivering in an icy cold vehicle as you make your way to work or to school. If you have a remote starter for your car, you may be inclined to use it just about every morning. But keep in mind that manually keeping your car running to warm it up prior to leaving the house isn’t necessarily the best way to preserve the environment — or your personal property. If your driveway is easily accessible to others or you park on the street, you could be making yourself vulnerable to “puffer theft.” Car thieves may notice your idling vehicle and seize the opportunity to help themselves to it if no one is around. The less time you devote to warming up the car, the better; it’ll actually warm up more quickly as you drive it and there are other ways to melt the snow and ice that cover your windows.

If your car door lock is frozen shut and you still use a manual key entry, you can cover your key and the keyhole in a bit of hand sanitizer to melt it. Once a lock is thawed, spraying it with some WD-40 can prevent the problem from occurring again. Spraying your windshield with a bit of rubbing alcohol before an expected storm can keep ice from forming. You can also use rubbing alcohol and water to de-ice a windshield more easily, as long as you remove the excess to reduce the risk of damage to your car’s finish. Cover your windshield wipers and side mirrors with old socks to keep them from freezing or becoming iced over during the night. And you might want to consider keeping a chalk eraser and some non-clumping kitty litter in your car for emergencies. The eraser will quickly de-fog the inside of your windows, while the kitty litter can provide traction for your tires if you get stuck in the snow while trying to get out of your driveway (or anywhere snowy and slushy).

Learn How to Shovel Safely

A properly installed gravel driveway can last anywhere from three to 10 years with regular upkeep and maintenance — even with lots of snow and ice to contend with. But you might not last as long if you don’t know how to safely shovel all that white fluffy stuff. Shoveling snow, particularly in extremely cold temperatures, can put excess strain on the heart. In addition to being a concern for those with cardiovascular risks, shoveling after a storm can cause injuries to the lower and upper back, shoulders, and elbows. In fact, more than 110,000 people sought medical treatment at U.S. doctors’ offices and clinics for injuries sustained due to snow shoveling in 2016. That same year, as many as 28,000 went to emergency rooms to receive care for shoveling injuries. And of course, being out in the cold for a prolonged amount of time can leave you vulnerable to frostbite or even hypothermia.

To stay safe while performing the necessary-but-annoying task of shoveling snow, experts recommend that you warm up your body for about 10 minutes prior to heading outside with some light exercise. Don’t eat a big meal (or drink alcohol) beforehand, and make sure to bundle up with several loose layers, winter accessories, and water-resistant gear. You’ll want to wear boots that provide lots of traction, too. When you can, push snow out of the way rather than lifting it; when that’s not possible, always lift with your legs instead of your back. Opt for a smaller shovel and fill it only part way, rather than taking on loads that are far too heavy for you to handle. Instead of hurling the snow behind you or two the side, walk it to where you want to dump out the snow you’ve shoveled to prevent strain. Take breaks and pace yourself throughout the process, while remembering to put down salt and/or sand to minimize slippery walkways. If you feel any pain or discomfort (or feel short of breath, nauseated, or lightheaded), stop what you’re doing. You may even want to keep your cell phone in an insulated jacket pocket just in case you need to call for help. And if you can enlist others to share the chore of shoveling, all the better — as long as they know what to do to stay out of harm’s way. If all else fails, you can try out Plowz and Mowz, a new Uber-like app that connects consumers with professional snow plow drivers, to help you find someone who can clear out your driveway. Don’t forget to clear snow away from vents and fire hydrants, as this can keep your family and neighbors safe, too.

Conduct Proper Driving Prep

By 2021, more than 20 million vehicles navigating U.S. roads will be over 25 years old. But whether your car is old or new, you’ll need to make sure it gets through the rest of the rough winter. With many locations in New York State reporting well over 100 inches of snow already this year, it’ll pay off to be prepared before you set out for your destination.

In your car, you should have a small folding shovel, a basic tool kit, tow and tire chains, flares, road salt or kitty litter, an ice brush and scraper, a battery powered flashlight (and extra batteries), extra antifreeze and windshield wiper fluid, and jumper cables. You should also have a first-aid kit, a car cell phone charger, water, non-perishable food, blankets, and extra warm clothing. Although not every driver makes the decision to switch to snow tires, as they can be quite pricey, they can certainly provide better control and better peace of mind (especially for new residents who aren’t used to driving in the snow).

Speaking of which: if you aren’t comfortable driving in the snow yet, take things slow and don’t take any risks. Although there may be some born-and-bred New Yorkers who become impatient with you on the roads, it’s far better to be cautious and avoid getting into an accident than being overly confident and being sorry for it later. Always give yourself extra time to get where you’re going and avoid distracted driving behaviors at all costs. If you get stuck in the snow, put your hazard lights on and remain in your vehicle; if it’s possible, pull off the road or highway. Clear your tailpipe and conserve your car’s battery and gas levels. However, you should run your engine for about 10 minutes every hour to make sure it stays warm. You’ll probably want to invest in a roadside assistance membership, though you may need to contact 911 as well. Above all else, remain calm to avoid exerting too much energy.

Although the snow certainly is pretty, New Yorkers know it can be pretty dangerous, too. By taking the proper precautions, you’ll soon become used to the hazards that come with this season in no time. With any luck, it won’t be too long before the ice starts to melt for good.