Wind chill grips Tri-Cities. Safety tips for homeowners, drivers and pet owners

With a wind chill advisory in effect until Friday and record-low temperatures expected, Tri-City residents should consider how they can keep their homes and cars warmer, safer and better equipped this holiday weekend.

Temperatures were expected to dip below zero, with wind chill plunging as low as minus 15 degrees Wednesday night, according to the National Weather Service.

Bitter cold and winter weather is forecast to stick around until early next week. Temperatures should rise to a high of 40 by Tuesday.

Christmas Day on Sunday will be wet with drizzles of rain and near-freezing temps.

Here are some tips for navigating this most recent cold spell.

Keep pipes from freezing

On the coldest nights, homeowners should consider steps to keep pipes from freezing, says the Red Cross.

Become familiar with where your water valves are and how to shut them off in case of a water pipe break.

Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. With the doors open, however, be sure harmful cleaners or household chemicals stored there are out of the reach of children and pets.

Consider insulating water supply lines in unheated areas, such as under kitchen and bathroom cabinets or in the garage.

If you will be away during cold weather don’t set the temperature any lower than 55 degrees.

Cars use more gas

If you think your car or pickup is using more gasoline in the cold weather, you could be right.

The Department of Energy recommends parking your car in the garage to increase the initial temperature of your engine and cabin.

Minimize idling to warm your car up, it said.

Most manufacturers recommend driving off gently after about 30 seconds. The engine will warm up faster being driven, which will allow the heat to turn on sooner, decrease fuel costs and reduce emissions, it said.

It also recommends using seat warmers no more than necessary.

Check your tire pressure. It can drop in cold weather, reducing fuel economy in addition to increasing braking time.

The lower than usual temperatures will mean higher home heating costs.

The Benton and Franklin PUDs are among the Mid-Columbia electric utilities that offer discounts for qualifying low income households with a senior or a person with disabilities. Check with your local utility.

Space heater safety

If you depend on an electric space heater for extra warmth, they should be plugged directly into the wall outlet to prevent a fire hazard.

Consider buying one with a tip-over safety switch, which will automatically shut off the heater if it is tipped over.

Don’t be tempted to bring a generator into the house to power portable heaters if the power goes out, says UW Medicine of the University of Washington.

Small gas engines, camp stoves, charcoal grills and other heat-producing devices can emit carbon monoxide, which is potentially deadly. The gas is odorless and colorless.

Symptoms include severe headaches, dizziness, nausea and tiredness.

Too often people fall asleep and don’t get to a hospital emergency room in time to be saved, said Beth Ebel, a UW Medicine doctor at Harborview Medical Center, during last winter’s cold snap.

Gather supplies and make a plan

The Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office recommends being prepared and making a plan before a cold spell to avoid an emergency.

Create a supply kit for your car that includes chains, ice scrapers, flashlights, jumper cables, bottled water and warm items like blankets. If possible, keep a full tank of gas in your vehicle.

Create a home emergency supply kit that includes rock salt, sand, shovels, extra clothing and extra non-perishable food.

When preparing kits, keep in mind each person’s specific needs to include medication, and remember the needs of your pets, too.

Pet safety

Make sure pets have a warm place to sleep, off the cold floor and away from drafts, such as a dog or cat bed with a blanket or pillow, recommends the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

“Remember, if it’s too cold for you, it’s probably too cold for your pet, so keep your animals inside. If left outdoors, pets can freeze, become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured or killed,” said the group.

“In addition, don’t leave pets alone in a car during cold weather, as cars can act as refrigerators that hold in the cold and cause animals to freeze to death.”

Massaging petroleum jelly into paw pads before going outside can help protect from salt and chemicals, the ASPCA recommends.

And pets can be fed a bit more food and water during colder months because they burn extra energy trying to stay warm.

More resources