Official insights from Public Health – Seattle & King County staff

Another winter blast coming: Plan for medical needs

Just as we’re beginning to thaw out from the snow from Sunday and Monday, we’ve got a forecast for more snow into the weekend and perhaps into next week. While we can still get around on the roads, this is a good time to plan if you have medical needs.


Snow, road closures, and your health

When snow closes roads, it’s hard for people to get to their medical appointments or get crucial medical supplies. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead when you hear a forecast for possible snow or severe winter weather.

Things to consider if you depend on:

  • Oxygen tanks, medication prescriptions, or other medical supplies: Plan with your doctor, pharmacist, or medical service provider about what to do if they can’t be delivered or if you can’t get to the pharmacy. Ask your doctor and/or pharmacist if you can have a 3-day emergency supply.
  • Medical equipment powered by electricity (beds, breathing equipment or infusion pumps ): Check with your medical supply company and get information regarding a back-up power source such as a battery or generator.
  • Intravenous and feeding tube equipment: Know if your infusion pump has battery back-up, and how long it would last in an emergency. Ask your home care provider about manual infusion techniques in case of a power outage.
  • Dialysis:
    • Make back-up arrangements for transportation, such as asking a friend with an all-wheel drive vehicle to help you get to your dialysis appointment.
    • Get information about other dialysis facilities in your area. Find out if they provide the type of treatment you need.
    • Contact the facility to be sure they can treat you if an emergency occurs and you cannot use your regular facility.
    • Know what diet to follow if your dialysis must be delayed.

Bundle up

If you aren’t well protected from the cold,  you could be at risk for hypothermia, a potentially dangerous drop in body temperature. The very young and the elderly are especially at risk, so make sure everyone bundles up:

  • Wear warm, multi-layered clothing with good hand and feet protection.
  • Wear warm hats. This is particularly important since significant heat is lost through an unprotected head.
  • If possible, change into dry clothes whenever clothing becomes wet.

If your electricity goes out…

When icy conditions pair up with wind, power outages can happen, just when you need CO_flyer_ENGLISH[1]your heat the most. If this happens, find places where you can go to get warm, such as the home of friends and family whose homes have power, a coffee shop or a library. Cities may open centers where people can go during the day to stay warm. Check the King County Emergency News blog for updates.

NEVER bring a generator, portable propane heater, charcoal or gas grill indoors for heat or cooking. They release carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that can be deadly. Only use a generator outdoors and far from open windows and vents.

If you cannot get to a warm place and must stay at a cold location:

  • Wear several layers of light weight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Wear hats, mittens, and blankets indoors.
  • Close curtains and cover windows and doors with blankets. Everyone should try to stay together in one room, with the door closed, to keep in body heat.

Keep up on the weather

Of course, local news teams will be out in full force if there’s snow, their Doppler radars shivering with excitement. You can also get detailed weather information from the National Weather Service, and local information about weather impacts from the King County Emergency News blog and  Alert Seattle.

Please check on neighbors and loved ones if you think they might lose power or have trouble getting around, especially if they are elderly or have medical needs. Stay safe and warm!

Originally posted on February 6, 2019.

Posted by

I am a risk communications specialist at Public Health - Seattle & King County.

6 thoughts on “Another winter blast coming: Plan for medical needs

  1. These are some really great tips for dealing with the cold weather and power outages. Where I live, the power goes out often in poor weather and we have a generator and wood stove to help keep temperatures comfortable. When I was younger, my parents would put a bunch of mattresses in one room and that is where we would sleep- much like the recommendation to stay in one room and use body heat to remain warm. Growing up, I was taught to wear lots of wool and synthetic fibers when being exposed to the elements. These materials will keep you warm even if they get wet, so in inclement weather if you might be unable to change out of wet clothes, wear things like polar fleece and wool and avoid cotton to avoid hypothermia. Meredith mentioned to wear a hat too- this is something that I was taught to live by! After doing a little research, I found that your chest, head, and face are most sensitive to changes in heat and to feel comfortable it is important to cover them up. Overall, the advice given in this article to cover up all over is important- layering up can be really important in preventing hypothermia and in maintaining comfort. This is great advice, especially given that there is more snow in the forecast.

  2. Making sure to bundle up is so important! Growing up, I was taught to wear wool and synthetic fibers when going out into the wet. These materials will still keep you warm if they get wet so if you think you might get wet but be unable to change into dry clothes, make sure to choose these fibers before going outside and avoid cotton. I was told to put on a hat as a child in order to preserve heat and this article backs that up but after doing some very light research I found that our head/chest/face are more sensitive to changes in temperature but that it is just as important to cover up other parts of your body as your head to prevent heat loss. Make sure to cover up everywhere to stay warm and comfortable! When the power went out at my house when I was younger, my parents always brought our beds into one room. I can say from personal experience that because we pooled our body heat we were much warmer when we slept- great tip from the article. Over the recent snow days, it wasn’t safe to leave my house for 3 days at a time so make sure to stock up on your medical (and other essentials). This is great advice given that we may not have seen the end of the snow yet this season.

  3. This article has provided readers with great tips and tricks on how to prepare for the Seattle/King County snow. It is immensely important to ensure that precautions are made in order to provide safety in the worst situations. For my roommates and I, we made sure we knew where our flashlights were and that we had shelf-stable food options in the chance that we lost power during the snow. We made sure that we had a plan in case this happened because our downstairs can get extremely cold due to the large amount of windows that we had. Because of this, we discussed before the snow started how we would keep warm and stay in the inner most room of our apartment with all of our blankets and layers. We also made sure that we had charged our phones, flashlights and extra battery packs so that we would have some way of communication. We also worked to identify where our emergency kits were!
    This article clearly highlights importance of preparing whether that is to stay warm or sort medical supplies. This article also provides a great basis to creating an emergency preparedness kit for the future. Knowing where your medical supplies are ad having back-ups, making sure to have a checklist on what to cover in case of a future storm will make everything go smoother the next time that a storm hits the area. This will also allow for individuals to be able to be prepared and get to know your neighbors a little bit!

  4. This article was super informative and very easy to read. I admire the article’s ability to not only show the importance of preparing for the weather, but also how to prepare. Especially with the snow that Seattle/King County and surrounding areas got, we might not always be prepared because it is not normal weather for this area. Similar to what the article mentioned, my roommates and I had text thread on how we would prepare. We made sure that we knew where our flashlights were, where our blankets were and where we would go in case the power went out, but one thing that we forgot until the last minute was making sure we had shelf-stable food and our emergency packs were all stocked. Since our apartment has two floors, our downstairs will tend to get much colder due to the large window space that it has, so we made sure bring our blankets upstairs and near the room we would go to incase our power went out. We also went to the grocery store and stocked up on our normal grocery run, but also added in some shelf-stable items that didn’t need to be refrigerated or heated up just in case. We also gathered our emergency packs and stored through them to made sure we had our medicines and other emergency items.
    The article does a great job at explaining how to be prepared and dictating out how these are necessary. It also provides a great outline on how to prepare for the next storm that might happen in the future. Even if this storm has passed, there could always be another one in the future and if you have already prepared for this one, the list of things to do before the next won’t be as daunting.

  5. I think this was a very informative blog post. I think that since we live in Seattle, an area where we’re really only used to the rain, that when it snowed this hard, none of us really knew what to do or how to prepare for inclement weather. When it snowed, I wondered which places still needed to operate and continue being open; I wondered since the snow affected not only the students or even UW’s open campus, but everyone in the area. I assumed healthcare professionals and even the maintenance crews were also trapped and couldn’t drive in such conditions. While students got the days off because of the snow, I feel for the people who still had to work and leave their house to serve their communities. I volunteer for a blood bank and they still had to operate in usual hours because the need for blood doesn’t stop for anyone, and that blood supply (and other necessities) needed to be stocked up.

  6. Reading this blog post puts snow days into another perspective the average Joe does not consider. For individuals that rely on necessary medical equipment and interventions, snow days are not just a free day from school or work. This article shows us the important considerations families, individuals, caregivers, healthcare professionals, schools, institutions etc. should take during inclement weather. Currently, I work as a Certified Nursing Assistant at an Adult Family Home. We provide care to residents with a range of needs in a long term care setting. This snow day left our facility in sheer panic due to the threat of power outages. With a power outage, not only were we scrambling for providing meals, showers and electricity, we were panicking about the medical equipment that required power. Oxygen tanks, pacemaker machines, beds, recliners, pumps etc. are all devices we rely heavily upon! It is important to make sure that you have back up power sources to make sure that resident’s health needs are not comprised. This snow storm is a good reminder to make sure we have emergency supplies in check, that way we do not find ourselves in the midst of a medical emergency where access to travel is compromised. This article leaves us with great advice and the steps to take to ensure we are better prepared in the event of another Seattle Snowmageddon.

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