The hulking piles of snow that build up after winter storms are magnets for children, who love to climb them, dig in them and slide down their icy slopes. But those tempting mounds of plowed snow pose dangers, too, as Chicago was reminded Sunday, when a 12-year-old girl from Elk Grove Village, Ill., died in a snow fort collapse.
“That was horrific,” said Chicago Fire Department Deputy District Chief Walter Schroeder. “That’s obviously a parent’s nightmare.”
In the wake of the accidental death of 12-year-old Esther Jung and the treatment of her 9-year-old friend for hypothermia, we asked Schroeder and University of Chicago pediatric emergency medicine doctor Alison Tothy for snow safety advice. Among the recommendations:
Don’t let your kids dig forts in snowbanks
“That’s very dangerous,” said Schroeder. “If that fort should collapse, as it did (in Illinois), that child is trapped. That child is asphyxiated which, if you think about it, most avalanche victims — that’s how they perish.” The right way to build a snow fort is on solid ground from the ground up, not by tunneling into a snowbank, says Schroeder.
Beware of cars
It’s rare for a child to die in a snow fort collapse, Schroeder said. Snowbank-related car accidents are more common, so don’t let your kid play on a snowbank that’s close to traffic. “Unfortunately, before the winter is over, we’ll probably have a child struck by an auto from that,” Schroeder said.
Go sledding instead of playing in snowbanks
Kids want to climb to the top of snow piles, and those piles can get high. Add a little ice to the equation, and there’s the risk that children could fall and hit their heads, Schroeder said. His recommendation: Don’t let your kids play on snowbanks. “There are plenty of hills around for (kids) to sled that are in safe locations,” he said. “We recommend doing that.”
Monitor your kids
Check on your kids consistently when they’re out in the snow. “They’re in a potentially dangerous environment when they start digging holes in the snow, getting themselves entrapped, going up high hills,” Schroeder said. And it’s especially important to monitor them when it’s really cold outside, University of Chicago pediatric emergency medicine doctor Alison Tothy said.
Watch for frostbite
Kids can get wet when they’re playing in the snow, and they may be tempted to keep playing through coldness and numbness. Frostbite in a mild form can result “from just minor exposure,” Schroeder said. Kids — and some adults — need reminders to go inside periodically. Kids should take indoor warm-up breaks every 20 minutes when the weather is really cold, Tothy said.
Don't eat the snow
Snow can contain a plethora of secret ingredients once it's been sitting. Bacteria, human or animal waste, dangerous chemicals from snow and ice melting agents are all found in the snow.
The snow may be comprised of water, but it's as important to stay hydrated in the winter as the other seasons.
Keep a keen eye on man's best friend
There are many things that can happen quickly with dogs since they are so much smaller than humans. Make sure you have appropriate dog wear, water for hydration, don't stay out for long periods of time and wipe those paws when they come in (if they aren't wearing doggy boots.)
Dress appropriately for the activity
Wear layers that can be removed rather than dressing light even on mildly cold days, and especially when exercising.