Old Man Winter is Back… Are You Ready?

Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
Contact: Merni Fitzgerald, Director of Public Affairs
703-324-3187, TTY 711, Fax 703-324-2010
Media Pager: 703-324-NEWS (6397)

Jan. 14, 2005

Old Man Winter is Back… Are You Ready?

With milder than normal weather the past few weeks, many Fairfax County residents might have forgotten that it is winter. But “Old Man Winter” plans a return to the area this weekend and will bring cold temperatures to the county. With the sudden drop in temperature, Fairfax County wants residents to be mindful of the following advice and information.

Winter Driving
Driving conditions might be less than ideal in areas where the recent rain has perhaps frozen. The Virginia Department of Transportation offers the following guidelines for safe winter weather driving:

  • Before beginning your trip, know the current road conditions and weather forecast. For statewide highway information 24 hours a day, call the Highway Helpline at 1-800-367-ROAD, TTY 1-800-432-1843.
  • Keep your car’s windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice.
  • Always wear your safety belt.
  • Leave a few minutes early to allow extra time to get to your destination.
  • Start out slowly in the lowest gear recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.
  • Be aware of potentially icy areas such as shady spots and bridges.
  • Keep a safe distance of at least five seconds behind other vehicles and trucks that are plowing the road.
  • Keep an emergency winter driving kit in your car.
  • Drive smart.

Emergency Heating
The Energy Assistance Program, administered by the Fairfax County Department of Family Services, helps households in heating emergency situations with primary heat security deposits, utility heating bills, repair/replacement of heating equipment, primary heating fuel or emergency shelter.  To be eligible, an individual and/or family must be financially needy and must meet certain other requirements. Applications for crisis assistance will be accepted at the Department of Family Services through March 15. To receive an application, call 703-324-7101, TTY 703-222-9452.

If people you know in Fairfax County are experiencing homelessness, they are welcome to come in from the cold to sleep in a safe place. Call one of the county’s community shelters about the winter program:

  • Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, located in the Bailey’s/Culmore area at 3525 Moncure Avenue (corner of Moncure and Columbia Pike), Baileys Crossroads. 703-820-7621, TTY 711.
  • Eleanor U. Kennedy Shelter on Richmond Highway (Route 1) near Fort Belvoir at 9155 Richmond Highway, Fort Belvoir. 703-799-0200, TTY 711.
  • Embry Rucker Community Shelter near the Reston library, 11975 Bowman Towne Drive, Reston. 703-437-1975, TTY 711.

Freezing Pipes and Plumbing
Fairfax Water encourages residents to take the following preventative actions to protect home plumbing:

  • Locate and mark the main water cutoff valve for your home. This cutoff valve is usually found near where the water line comes into your house. Damage from running water can be minimized if you can turn off this valve quickly.
  • Make sure the water line to outside faucets is turned off and the line is drained. Consider wrapping or insulating your water pipes, especially those pipes near outside walls, under the house, or in the attic. Insulation supplies are available at your local home improvement or hardware store.
  • Eliminate drafts. Check around the home for areas where water supply lines are located in unheated areas and take measures to prevent the flow of cold air in these areas. Look in the basement, crawl space, attic, garage and under kitchen and bathroom cabinets. Both hot and cold water pipes in these areas should be insulated. A hot water supply line can freeze just as a cold water supply line can if water is not running through the pipe and the water temperature becomes cold.
  • If your water pipes do freeze, never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch. You can use a hair dryer or portable heater, but always be careful of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.
  • If you will be away from your home, keep the thermostat at a reasonable temperature to make sure all areas with water pipes are kept above freezing.

If you suspect you have a frozen water meter, call Fairfax Water for help. Service crews are available 24 hours a day and will respond as soon as possible to your request. You can reach the Fairfax Water’s Customer Service Department at 703-698-5800, TTY 711. If after hours, the emergency number is 703-698-5613, TTY 711. Additional information can be found at www.fairfaxwater.org.

If you are vacating your home because you have lost your heat source, locate and turn off your main water cutoff valve. After the valve is turned off, open a faucet on each level of your home to allow for expansion should the undrained water freeze. If you are staying in your home or will be monitoring your home frequently, allow a faucet to drip cold water slowly. The dripping faucet should be the one that is the greatest distance from your main water cutoff valve. Also, consider allowing a slow drip in areas that are least protected from the cold (basements, crawl spaces, attics and garage).

Cold Weather and Children
Whether it’s a hot sunny day or a cold snowy night, it is never a good idea to leave your children alone in a car. Even if you are just running into the post office or picking up something quick at the store, it is too long to leave your young children alone. Any length of time alone in a car can be dangerous for a child. Hypothermia can occur in just minutes for infants and young children. There are other risk factors, such as pulling the emergency brake or being abducted.

While severe weather is not forecast for next week, residents are reminded that inclement weather can result in the closing of child-care programs such as the county’s School Age Child Care (SACC) program. Parents are encouraged to make arrangements in advance if they know they will need care for their children. By planning ahead and knowing the options, families can be prepared to meet the unexpected.

In Fairfax County, working parents have several options. They can use the Office for Children's online search feature at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/childcare or call the Child Care Assistance and Referral program at 703-449-8484, TTY 711. Many family child-care providers and some child-care centers offer emergency back-up child care. The Web site also includes the names of employer sponsored back-up child-care centers in employment hubs of Tysons Corner and Reston. Both of these options require advance arrangements to ensure that the programs have required information from the family and that children are familiar with the arrangement. Finally, the county’s seven community centers managed by the Department of Community and Recreation Services are available for school-age children during snow days. Information about the community centers is available on the county’s Web site at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/rec/Comm_Ctr/CCMain_Pg.htm.

Animal Safety
Bring pets indoors when the temperature drops. No matter what the temperature, windchill can threaten a pet’s life.

A dog or cat is happiest and healthiest when kept indoors. If your dog is an outdoor dog, he/she must be protected by a dry, draft-free doghouse that is large enough to allow the dog to sit and lie down comfortably, but small enough to hold in his/her body heat. The floor should be raised a few inches off the ground and covered with cedar shavings or straw. The doghouse should be turned to face away from the wind, and the doorway should be covered with waterproof burlap or heavy plastic.

Warm engines in parked cars attract cats and small wildlife that may crawl up under the hood. To avoid injuring any hidden animals, bang on your car’s hood to scare them away before starting your engine. The salt and other chemicals used to melt snow and ice can irritate the pads of your pet’s feet. Wipe the feet with a damp towel before your pet licks them and irritates his/her mouth.

Health Issues and Cold Weather
The Community Health and Safety section of the Health Department’s Division of Environmental Health works to ensure that homes are kept safe and sanitary all year long. During cold winter months, environmental health specialists advise that home heating systems must be adequate enough to maintain a minimum indoor temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit between Oct. 15 and May 1 (according to Virginia Code). The furnace, not space heaters, must be the main source of heat. If space heaters are used for supplemental heat, they must always be used according to manufacturer instructions, and should never be left unattended. In addition, electrical cords should never be placed under rugs.

Environmental health specialists also educate county residents about making their homes easy to evacuate in the event of a fire. Basement rooms used for sleeping must have windows or escape openings that open to the outside and are large enough for adults to get out (and low enough for children to reach). Any room used for sleeping must have two means of exit. In addition, stairways must be clear of obstructions, and smoke detectors must be working. People living in houses that are crowded, unsafe, or have bedrooms in the basement can call the Health Department’s Community Health and Safety section to arrange a home inspection. Call 703-246-2300, TTY 703-591-6435.

Freezing Water on Roofs and in Gutters
County building officials caution residents that ponding water or ice should be removed from rooftops, especially flat roofs, as well as decks attached to the house. If you are equipped to access the roof and can do so safely, use extra caution on slippery surfaces and check for overhead power lines before placing or moving ladders. If you are not able to safely clear your roof, get professional help.

Heavy ice left to melt on rooftops can stress the structure and cause leaks due to water working its way past the flashing, resulting in water damage inside the structure. Freezing rain in the gutter is an additional danger. Water can build up behind the ice and back up under shingles that can cause leaks in the structure. The weight of the ice in the gutter can also stress the gutter system causing gutters and drain pipes to sag or fall off.

Gas utility companies recommend using a brush or broom – not a shovel – to clear meters and pipes of icicles to prevent water from leaking into the equipment. Be sure that ice is not blocking intake or exhaust vents that go through outside walls. Residents are also encouraged to remove ponding water or ice from foundation walls to limit the melting water from seeping into the structure. And finally, clear ice away from downspouts so that melting water has a path to flow away from the house.

Additional Information and Resources
In cases of extreme weather, Fairfax County residents concerned about the safety or well being of children, elderly adults or adults with disabilities can contact Fairfax County Child Protective Services at 703-324-7400, TTY 711 or Adult Protective Services at 703-324-7450, TTY 711.

Additional information from Fairfax Water can be found at www.fairfaxwater.org. Winter safety reminders from the Health Department are at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/service/hd/hdpdf/winter.pdf.

Further information and links to additional resources are also available on the emergency information page on the Fairfax County Web site at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/emergency. Residents may also call the Fairfax County Government Emergency Information Line, available 24 hours a day with recorded information, at 703-817-7771, TTY 711.

Contact Fairfax County: Phone, Email or Twitter | Main Address: 12000 Government Center Parkway, Fairfax, VA 22035
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