Brace yourself for snow, Norfolk warned
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2012
With some savage icy weather reportedly heading our way, how prepared is the region for the onslaught of winter? And what steps can you take to stay safe, warm and healthy? Rural affairs correspondent CHRIS HILL reports.
According to meteorologists, we must brace ourselves for the first real cold snap of the winter.
The Met Office has issued a cold weather alert, and the forecast is for biting winds from the north east, bringing sub-zero temperatures.
On Saturday, the Met Office issued what is known as a yellow alert of snow for the East, including Norfolk, with the risk of snow between 12.05am on Monday morning and through to Tuesday.
The Highways Agency has also warned drivers that snow is set to fall across all regions of the country, issuing an amber alert.
They have urged drivers to check the weather forecast before travelling between 3pm on Sunday and 9am on Tuesday and to be prepared for an “increased risk of adverse driving conditions”.
Drivers are advised to plan for their journey before they set out, checking the forecast and road conditions and to leave extra time if travel conditions are poor, and to delay their journey if the weather becomes severe.
The icy spell has also brought a raft of other warnings and advice on how to stay warm, healthy and safe, whether at home or out on the roads and pavements.
Health chiefs estimate there are around 532 avoidable deaths in Norfolk and Waveney every winter due to the cold conditions.
Many are attributable to respiratory disease and cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes, but other reasons include slips and trips on icy ground where fractured and broken bones have led to further complications such as blood clots and pressure sores.
NHS Norfolk and Waveney has issued five top tips for staying warm and healthy:
1. Heat your home well. Set your heating to between 18-21ºC and use a hot water bottle or electric blanket at night – but never use both together.
2. Get financial support. Government grants, benefits and advice are available to make homes more energy-efficient, through the Warm Front scheme on 0800 316 2805 or Age UK on 0800 169 6565.
3. Eat well and have plenty of fluids.
4. Get a flu jab. It’s free from your GP if you are over 65, pregnant, or have a long-term condition.
5. Look after yourself and others. Wrap up warm and take care on slippery surfaces if you need to go outside.
Dr Jenny Harries, director of public health for NHS Norfolk and Waveney, said: “Encouraging people to keep warm and healthy during the winter is one of our key priorities, particularly for older residents and those that spend all day at home.
“The five top tips show that it only takes a few simple measures to protect yourself and your family from winter-related illnesses and incidents.”
Age UK Norwich said winter took a huge toll on the health of older people in the city, where an average of 60 people over-65 die unnecessarily because of the cold every year.
Chief executive Phil Wells said: “It is appalling that over 10,000 households in the city are in fuel poverty – they would need to spend more than 10pc of their entire income to stay warm.
“And as many of us are older folk living alone, paying the same heating bills – and spending more time at home too – fuel poverty and its effects are a particular problem.
“You can help people to stay well in the cold. If you have a friend, neighbour or family member who is likely to be vulnerable to the cold, please pop in a call to make sure their heating is working and that they have food in the cupboard so they don’t have to go out if it is too cold. If there is a problem, see if you can help, but we are there in support if needed.”
Norfolk police warned motorists to be wary of rapidly-deteriorating driving conditions, and offered advice including:
-Make sure all your car lights are clean, working and you have no failed bulbs.
-Always ensure all windows are fully cleared of snow, frost and condensation before setting off – it is illegal to drive with obscured vision.
-Also clear snow from the top of the car as this can fall down and obscure your windscreen while you are driving.
-Make sure you have sufficient fuel for your journey. Keep the fuel tank topped up.
-Give yourself extra time for your journey and drive at a constant speed, with no sudden braking or turning.
-Take a mobile telephone with you and make sure it is fully charged. Carry a mobile charger in the car.
Chief Insp Chris Spinks, head of Norfolk and Suffolk Roads Policing, said: “Don’t take anything for granted. If we get really bad weather, then the number of serious collisions actually tails off, because fewer people go out and they are more careful. The decisions are made for them because they can see the roads are unsafe.
“Where we have a problem is in the grey areas when people might make assumptions. We would advise people to always err on the side of caution and drive to the conditions, because any extra minutes you save will go out the window if you slide off the road or, worse, hit someone else.”
Ambulance bosses said severe weather creates an increased demand across the NHS but, while some of that was unavoidable, taking simple measures reduced the risk of a medical emergency.
Neil Storey, director of operations for the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust (EEAST), said: “While we are prepared for bad weather with tried and tested plans to manage it, inevitably it challenges emergency service resources and can affect response times if only because it is more difficult to get around.
“But simple things make a big difference to people, such as keeping yourself warm at home, ensuring you have enough heating oil or meter credit if necessary, keeping medicines stocked up and making sure you have grit and salt.
“Drivers should double check their vehicle is ready for ice and snow, with the correct tyres fitted and inflated and a boot stocked with de-icer and a scraper as well as a flask, water and blankets in case of breakdown. Even with all these precautions please be extra careful on the roads to avoid skids but don’t go outside – walking or driving – in severe weather unless you really need to.”
The EDP-backed Surviving Winter Appeal, run by Norfolk Community Foundation and Age UK Norfolk to help elderly people who are struggling to stay warm, has raised more than £40,000 through public donations since October 1, helping more than 300 households.
NCF chief executive Graham Tuttle said: “The incoming cold snap is a sharp reminder that there will still be elderly folk at home worried about switching their heating on because of the bills. Our message to them would be that we still have funds available to help them, so they should keep their heating on and apply to the Surviving Winter Fund via Age UK Norfolk as soon as possible. “Meanwhile we would also appeal to those who may still be thinking of donating their own winter fuel allowance to those they feel might need it more or simply support the campaign, to still do so, direct to the foundation.”
The Rt Revd Graham James, Bishop of Norwich, said: “Too many older people dread the cost of winter and wonder whether they will survive it.
“It is heartening that the Surviving Winter Campaign has again touched the hearts and pockets of many in Norfolk who are willing to recycle their own winter fuel payments so that others more in need may benefit.”
-To donate to the Surviving Winter appeal, contact Age UK Norfolk on 01603 787111.
-For a free Age UK booklet of hints and tips called Spread the Warmth, visit www.ageuk.org.uk or call 0800 169 65 65.
-For up-to-date local weather forecasts, updated twice a day, see the Weatherquest blog at www.edp24.co.uk.