As many as nine blizzard deaths occurred during and after Winter Storm Nemo walloped the Northeast, a tragic occurrence that is often seen as part and parcel of major weather events — but in the wake of the snowfall and the dig, experts remind those in winter-affected areas that most fatalities are avoidable.
The fact that blizzard deaths are avoidable is a difficult one to promote after a storm such as Nemo, given the varied nature of hazardous circumstances such a weather event presents. Carbon monoxide poisoning, car accidents, falls or fires have all been cited as common causes of fatal accidents during and after a big snow storm, and USAToday spoke to public health and safety experts to drill down on the causes of blizzard death and how they may be prevented.
Neil Hampson of Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center has warned of blizzard deaths in the past, and after Nemo, he laments the fact that the sad occurrence “happens over and over and over again.”
And while you may think hazardous roads are the biggest killer, carbon monoxide poisoning — which claimed the life of an 11-year-old boy in Boston this weekend — is a bigger threat in a blizzard’s wake.
Eric Lavonas, associate director of the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, says that “the biggest killer after a blizzard is carbon monoxide poisoning,” and the paper notes that children are at far higher risk due to their smaller size and different metabolisms. It should also be noted that children may be more likely to wait in the relative warmth and apparent safety of a vehicle while parents attempt to dig out or move a stuck vehicle.
The American College of Emergency Physicians’ Jay Kaplan explains how blizzard deaths sometimes claim unwitting drivers and passengers in snowy conditions:
“Any time you are going to stay for a period of time in a running car, you have to make sure there is adequate ventilation … [People] get stuck in the highway in the snow and they leave their car engines on for warmth. They don’t realize the snow is building up.”
Other blizzard deaths doctors report as common are space heater fires and shoveling-related cardiac incidents.