By Eva Potter

There’s something exciting about a good winter snowstorm that produces postcard-perfect landscapes and smooth slopes waiting for fresh tracks. But, winter snowstorms can also be quite dangerous in ways you may not realize.

Pre-storm preparation, active storm safety and post-storm smarts are essential to gliding through the snow blasts expected in Ellicottville this winter.

An Ounce of Prevention

You know it’s going to snow — it happens every year. And every year, whether we look forward to it or dread it, we don’t believe it’s coming until the white stuff is swirling in the air. A bit of smart prevention is worth a lot of savings.

For starters, it’s always good to get your chimney cleaned regularly if you are burning wood in a stove or fireplace to prevent a fire caused by creosote buildup.

Take a walk around your home or rental unit and inspect external vents to ensure they are clear of lint, leaves and other debris. External vents for clothes dryers, pellet stoves, gas fireplaces, boilers and furnaces all need access to unobstructed airflow. Large snow accumulations can block these vents, creating the potential for carbon monoxide poisoning, which can be deadly.

Winterize your vehicle. A good set of snow tires is priceless life insurance in this area. Be sure to top off your windshield wiper fluid and take care of other maintenance to keep you safe on the road.

Warnings, Watches and Advisories

Do you know the difference between a winter storm warning, winter storm watch or winter weather advisory?

A winter storm warning means it’s time to take immediate action, because stormy weather is imminent or happening right now. It’s smart to stay home or find a warm, safe place to ride it out.

A storm watch tells you that there is the strong potential for a hazardous weather event to take place. It may or may not actually happen, but since it’s possible, be smart and do a little homework.

A weather advisory alerts you to weather conditions that are expected to create inconveniences and that you should use caution.

Pre-Storm Prep

There are a few simple things you can do in advance to prepare for a winter storm that will make toughing it out a lot easier. So stock your home and office with emergency supplies including flashlights, extra batteries, water, food staples, prescription medicine, baby supplies, heating fuel, an emergency heat source, fire extinguisher, smoke alarm, pet shelter and food, as well as first-aid supplies.

In the Thick of It

When the snow begins to pile up, bundle up and do an exterior walking inspection to confirm that your gas meter and electrical service panels are clear of snow and ice.

Bring pets inside and provide them with water and food. Even Fido, who loves his outdoor doghouse, will appreciate a warm place to hunker down. Pets can get frostbite and hypothermia just like humans.

Fireplaces, wood burning stoves and pellet stoves are in frequent use this time of year, which means they need periodic cleaning. Safely dealing with ashes and hidden embers is critical. Even if the fire went out hours ago, use a metal container with a tight lid for the ashes — and store it outside and away from other combustibles. (The back porch doesn’t count!) For additional peace of mind, you can purchase an inexpensive stainless steel vacuum cleaner just for this purpose.

Remember to check outside vents for proper ventilation, close off rooms you aren’t using and cover windows at night to conserve heat.

If you lose power and have a generator, closely follow directions for use to ensure proper ventilation and prevent carbon monoxide buildup.

On the Road

If you must be on the road, check the latest weather reports and share your route and final destination with others.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ( recommends carrying a winter storm survival kit in case you get stuck or stranded. It should include a cell phone, charger and batteries; blankets or sleeping bags; flashlight with extra batteries; first-aid kit; knife; high-calorie, nonperishable food; extra clothing to stay dry; a large empty can to use as an emergency toilet plus tissues and paper towels; a small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water; sand or cat litter for traction; shovel; windshield scraper and brush; tool kit; tow rope; battery jumper cables; water container; candle and matches; compass and road maps. Avoid traveling alone and keep your gas tank as full as possible to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.

If you do become stranded, clear snow from the exhaust pipe and then stay in your vehicle. Stay warm by running the engine about 10 minutes every hour. Crack the window to allow in fresh air. Catch rescuers’ attention by turning on interior lights when running the engine and tie something bright (red if possible) to your antenna or door. After the snow stops, raise your hood to get attention.

The Aftermath

Now it’s over and you have to deal with removing inches, feet or mountains of snow — and your back hurts just thinking about it. More than 10,000 medical emergencies are attributed to shoveling snow each year.

If you’re lucky enough to own a snow blower, four-wheeler with a blade or your own plow truck, great! But if you don’t, you can reduce your risk of injury while shoveling by taking it slow and easy.

If you can, clear snow several times during the storm. Take your time and take frequent breaks. Push, don’t lift, the snow when possible, or walk and dump instead of throwing it over your shoulder. Do keep fire hydrants on or near your property clear of snow. And if you aren’t in a huge hurry, you can always call a local plowing service.