UBMD physicians issue safety recommendations for upcoming snow storm

Light blue background with black snowflakes, headshots of four UBMD physicians and text reads: "Winter Storm Safety Tips." Headshots are of Dr. Samantha Bordonaro, Dr. Curtis, Dr. Clemency and Dr. Doaust.

Published November 17, 2022

BUFFALO, NY – Physicians throughout UBMD Physicians’ Group practices warn to prepare for the upcoming storm and take precautions to stay safe.

“Our biggest concern is always that people don’t take a winter weather event like this seriously,” said Brian Clemency, DO, MBA, a physician with UBMD Emergency Medicine’s Division of Emergency Medical Services and a professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo (UB).

Clemency advises that people adhere to the weather reports and news advisories and follow the old adage: better safe than sorry.

Avoid driving

“The number one thing the community can do to keep themselves and others safe in a weather emergency is to stay home,” said Clemency. “Traveling in blizzard conditions – especially when there is a travel advisory or ban –  not only endangers you, but also those around you and potentially first responders who need to rescue you in an emergency.”

Anne B. Curtis, MD, president of UBMD Internal Medicine, echoes this sentiment: “Don’t drive if conditions are bad,” she says. “Lake effect storms can be so unpredictable. People need to be prepared to stay indoors, possibly for a few days, if the storm is bad.” Curtis is also a cardiac electrophysiologist and Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair and SUNY Distinguished Professor for the department of Medicine at UB.

Staying home will also help to keep the streets clear for snow plows, emergency vehicles and first responders.

“Lake effect storms can be so unpredictable. People need to be prepared to stay indoors, possibly for a few days, if the storm is bad. ”
Charles and Mary Bauer Professor and chair and SUNY Distinguished Professor

Stay safe while staying home

When staying home, people will still be at-risk for potentially serious injuries as they keep up with the snowfall.

Avoid strenuous activity

“The biggest issue from a heart health standpoint comes when people over-exert themselves by shoveling snow when they are not used to such activity,” says Curtis. “Sudden intense exertion can lead to a heart attack or cardiac arrest in vulnerable people.”

While important for all not to over-exert themselves, Curtis warns that those with known coronary heart disease and heart failure should be extra cautious with engaging in cold-weather tasks, such as clearing snow.

“It’s out-of-the-ordinary stress that gets people, whatever they are doing,” says Curtis, noting that cardiac deaths have occurred during attempts at snow removal.

“Many people are sedentary most of the time and not used to a lot of exertion,” says Curtis, one of the world’s leading clinical cardiac electrophysiologists and an expert in cardiac arrhythmias. “Shoveling is a lot of work and a risk for people with heart disease. The stress puts them at risk for a fatal heart rhythm problem, cardiac arrest.”

While shoveling is more arduous than snow blowing, people using snowblowers still need to be vigilant.

“A snowblower seems more benign, but people are still out in the cold and may operate it for a longer period of time; it still requires maneuvering through a lot of snow.”

Heavy storms where snow accumulates several inches or more, like the one expected to hit many areas over the next few days, are especially dangerous.

“Snow blowing probably wouldn’t be an issue if someone was trying to remove 2-3 inches of snow from their driveway or sidewalk,” says Curtis. “However, I’ve seen people pushing snow blowers through much higher piles of snow. That is difficult to do, and it’s a stress on the body.”

In addition to the heart risk, use caution when clearing the snowblower.

“Remember to shut it off completely before trying to clear any snow from it,” says Samantha Bordonaro, MD, a physician with UBMD Emergency Medicine. “Hand injuries and finger amputations can be common snow-blower injuries, as well.” Bordonaro is also the assistant dean for Student & Academic Affairs and an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Jacobs School.

Dress for the weather

“If you have to go out, dress appropriately,” says Clemency.

Infographic showing cartoon characters dressing for chilly, cold and extreme cold weather.

As our region will be experiencing cold to extreme cold conditions, be sure to wear 2-3 layers of clothing, waterproof boots,
a warm hat, mittens/gloves, scarf, and an outer layer to keep wind and wet snow out.

For your inner layers, it’s recommended to wear loose-fitting clothes as tight clothing can reduce blood circulation.

Keep areas clear

“During these events we often see injuries from slips and falls – anything from wrist fractures to broken hips or head injuries,” says Bordonaro. “Make sure to avoid areas that haven’t been cleared of snow or ice and wear the right footwear.”

“Make sure you have a good, rugged bottom shoe with a sticky rubber sole to increase traction,” says Susan Daoust, MD, an ankle and foot specialist with UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine and an associate professor at the Jacobs School.

Dr. Daoust also recommends:

  • Keep areas well-lit, so you can identify changes to surfaces more easily.
  • Use salt or kitty litter on areas you need to walk on.
  • For your winter shoes or boots, be sure to lace them tightly to support your ankles.
  • Walk like a penguin: take short strides, keep your feet mostly underneath you, keep your arms free to help with balance.
  • If you need to carry anything, distribute the weight evenly – don’t keep it to one side or the other.
  • Take your time! Don’t rush while walking on potentially slippery surfaces.

Additional winter weather safety tips

For you and your families’ safety, consider these additional tips to stay safe during this storm.

  • Make sure you have all your medications.
  • Check your carbon monoxide detectors and make sure they are fully functioning. “Carbon monoxide poisoning is a concern from heaters and generators that are not properly ventilated,” says Clemency.
  • Ensure heaters and generators are in properly ventilated areas.
  • Have a plan if you lose power: fully charge cell phones before the storm, have flashlights ready, and a communication plan with a friend, family member or neighbor. 
  • If you develop chest pain or experience trouble breathing at any time, stop whatever activity you may be doing and rest. If it doesn’t go away, call 911.

And remember: “We are the City of Good Neighbors – look out for each other and work together to keep our community safe,” said Bordonaro. “If you don’t need to go out in the storm, please stay home. Keep access clear for emergency vehicles and first responders.”