'Megastorm' storm to affect 100 million Americans

    Consumer Reports News: January 31, 2011 05:51 PM

    Residents from the center of the country to the mid-Atlantic are gearing up for a  "megastorm" that could affect 100 million people by the time it's done. The predicted mixture of sleet, snow and ice has weather forecasters worried. "Snow falling at freezing or slightly-above freezing temperatures tends to be heavier and wetter, so there's more chances for roof collapses and downed power lines," notes Christopher Vaccaro, a spokesman for the National Weather Service.

    The Centers for Disease Control, Federal Emergency Management Agency, and American Red Cross, among other agencies, are encouraging residents to be prepared. "We don't like to stop for anything, weather or otherwise," weather service meteorologist Edward Fenelon told MSNBC. "But this may be one of those storms best handled from the comfort of the great indoors."
    To ensure that comfort, make sure you have enough groceries, medications and other necessities like pet food and baby formula for at least three days. If you're lucky, you won't lose power. But just in case you should have on hand:

    • One gallon of water per person per day;
    • Food that doesn't require cooking or refrigeration;
    • A manual can opener;
    • A fully stocked first-aid kit;
    • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio;
    • Flashlights and batteries;
    • Fuel for fireplace, wood or pellet stoves.

    Backup power
    If you do lose power and have a backup generator, make sure to heed safety warnings. The biggest risks when using a portable generator are carbon-monoxide (CO) poisoning, fire, and electrocution. Never operate a generator indoors. You'll also need:

    • Heavy-duty extension cords to reach appliances;
    • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities and shut water pipes to avoid freeze-ups;
    • Working fire extinguishers and battery-powered smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

    Snow removal
    Here we go again. By now you probably have a sturdy snow shovel and maybe even a snow blower. Snow blowers have been selling out but if you find any, opt for a two-stage model, which our tests show move heavier snow better. You might also need:

    • Extra fuel for the snow blower;
    • Snow shovels with metal and plastic blades—use the plastic on porches and decks;
    • Rock salt, calcium chloride, or sand to melt the ice and snow;
    • A warm hat, scarf and mittens, which are warmer than gloves for working outside.

    Drive safely
    The Red Cross notes that most injuries during snow and ice storms result from vehicle accidents so stay off the roads if you possibly can. Keep a full tank of gas so your car is easier to start when you do venture out. Our Cars team recommends keeping the number for road-side assistance in your wallet and these essentials in your vehicle:

    • Warning lights, hazard signals or flares;
    • Jack and lug wrench;
    • Jumper cables or a portable battery booster;
    • Flashlight;
    • Small folding shovel;
    • Bag of cat litter—to help you get traction;
    • Blanket and winter hat;
    • Chemical hand warmers.

    You can track the storm on the website of the National Weather Service.

    —Reporting by Gian Trotta

    Aaron Bailey

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