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Winter Storm Jonas: The Surprise Killer


Winter Storm Jonas descended on the East Coast of the U. S. the weekend of January 22-24, 2016 with a fury that will not soon be forgotten. Snowfall totals ranged from 3 1/2 feet in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia, to 2 feet in some areas around the nation's Capitol and in New York City, to almost 2 1/2 feet in Baltimore and other locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania (Harrisburg, PA, set a record for the most snowfall recorded there since record-keeping began in 1888).

While major airlines cancelled over 1,000 flights in anticipation of the storm, and hundreds more flights were grounded, the ripple effect of all of those flights not going forward as scheduled resulted in more than 10,000 flights being cancelled across the country and 2,000 more flights being delayed as of January 23, 2016. The ramifications of airports being under several feet of snow even went beyond national borders: 100 flights were cancelled in Canada, Mexico, and the UK as well. In additional to air travel, Amtrak suspended service for many lines, and several of the affected states banned travel for other than emergency purposes. New York City's subway system was shut down temporarily, as was D.C.'s Metro system.

The thousands of pieces of snow removal equipment, tons of salt and other compounds used to treat the roads, thousands of emergency workers and vehicles, several days of lost time and productivity of government workers when federal and state office closed in D.C., and huge damage to property up and down the East Coast will add up to app. 1 billion in costs, according to some economic experts, and that figure does not include the inestimable cost of losing almost 50 lives.


With the death toll currently standing at almost 50 fatalities, it probably comes as no surprise that almost half of those deaths were a result of vehicle accidents. Despite travel bans and massive efforts to pre-treat, treat and remove snow and ice, road conditions were still bad and people still ventured out--and accidents happened.

What may be surprising is that almost a third of the deaths caused by Winter Storm Jonas were due to heart attacks from shoveling snow. A little digging--pun intended--into statistics shows that there are 11,500 snow-shoveling-related injuries and emergencies annually in the U.S. Between 1990-2006, 1,600 deaths due to snow-shoveling were recorded, and all of them were cardiac-related.

Why does shoveling snow cause heart problems and in worst-case scenarios, heart attacks? The cold weather causes constriction of blood vessels, decreasing the blood supply to vital organs and increasing blood pressure. In addition, many people who shovel snow do so after having no other physical activity all year--or for years. Most people underestimate how much of a work-out snow shoveling can be--especially in a storm like Jonas, where several feet of heavy snow accumulates. Lifting shovel after shovel of heavy snow for just 15 minutes is equivalent to bicycling 5 miles or swimming laps for 20 minutes. Add to this that shoveling snow is typically a goal-oriented activity, where people do not stop until finished, and unfortunately warning signs of heart trouble often go unheeded.

The most common sign of heart trouble is pressure in the chest area (not necessarily pain). Other symptoms include: shortness of breath, discomfort in the left arm, and chest pain.


To make shoveling snow a safe activity, below are some helpful tips:

Dress warmly; cover mouth, ears and extremities to maintain body heat;

Warm up and/or stretch before shoveling;

Pace yourself and take frequent breaks;

Try to push snow out of the way rather than lifting it;

When possible, shovel snow several times throughout a big storm rather than waiting until the end when it has all accumulated into a huge, heavy pile;

Drink water/sports drinks throughout to stay hydrated.

Bottom line: if you have risk factors such as coronary heart disease, high cholesterol, or other heart problems, do not shovel snow. Hire the kids with the snow shovels wandering up and down the block, or depending on the length of your driveway, a snow plow service. Just don't decide that your driveway and/or sidewalk is going to be the beginning of your New Year's resolution to get in shape.


if you or someone you love has been injured in any way due to winter weather, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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