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Preparedness, awareness critical to extreme winter survival

Jeff Caldwell 01/06/2014 @ 10:22am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Wind chill readings south of -20 or -30 degrees Fahrenheit can make the easiest job outside on the farm a slow, painful slog. And a potentially deadly one at that.

Staying safe in extreme cold like that slamming the Plains and Midwest this week may seem simple and straightforward, but once you're out in the elements, haste can make it easy to forget about the simple things you need to do to protect yourself. There are a few things you can do and keep in mind at all times to make sure you're doing the right thing, says Purdue University Extension Disaster Education Network homeland security project director Steve Cain.

The dangers are worst for men 40 years of age or older, the age of the vast majority of farmers working outside during extreme temperatures like the ones this week.

"This can be due to several reasons, but an important one is heart attacks from straining to remove snow," Cain says in a university report. "Ask yourself if you want to risk a heart attack. Can someone else who is better prepared help remove snow?"

The precautions don't end with you and your body, though. Make sure your pickup and other vehicles are up to the challenge posed by subzero temperatures; that includes taking care of the machines and measuring your expectations for what you can get out of them in conditions like these.

"Make sure your vehicle is winter-ready, take your time, and most of all, don't go out into the storm if you don't have to," Cain adds.

The specialist also says it's important to keep your neighbors in mind. Especially on the farm where the nearest neighbor may be miles away, it's critical to ensure those nearby -- especially if they're elderly or have special needs of some kind -- are safe when the mercury disappears.

"I've read the devastating stories of people who needed help but couldn't survive the walk to their neighbor's or family's house during the worst of a storm," Cain says. "This often happens to the elderly."

A lot of farms are well-prepared for extreme winter weather. Preparedness doesn't mean much, however, if it's not executed properly when conditions call for it. That's exemplified when it comes to keeping power flowing to a home or building where electricity's been knocked out by either ice or high winds.

"Every year, I hear about someone running a generator in their garage thinking that fumes will not go back into the house," Cain says. "Unfortunately, that isn't true for almost all attached garages."

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