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When Andy Williams sang “It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year,” he probably wasn’t singing about Michigan. It’s beautiful, but when I’m scraping ice off my windshield in the morning, the last thing I’m thinking is what a wonderful time I’m having. Of course that hasn’t happened much this year, what with the unseasonably warm weather and all. I’m not falling for that, though – I’ve seen my fair share of Michigan winters, and I’ve got a few ideas on how to survive this one.
The most important tip for surviving a Michigan winter is to be prepared for anything. Grand Rapids hasn’t gotten any snow that’s hung around for more than a day or two yet, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t be buried in it by the end of December. If you don’t own a shovel, you’ll want to get one soon. If you’re lucky, you might have a friendly neighbor who won’t mind you borrowing theirs. Take care of your driveway and, hey – as long as you’re out there, do a strip of the sidewalk. It’s a little more work, but the people who live nearby will love you for it. Now is a good time to get some salt as well. Icy steps can really ruin your morning commute.
While we’re talking about ice, be careful on the roads. It can be really tempting to push the speed limit on those long, open Michigan roads, but keep your eye on the speedometer when those roads freeze. Give yourself an extra 10 minutes to get where you’re going and get there safely. Oh – and check out your tires. If you’re not sure if you need new tires or not, you can try this old trick: take a penny and stick it into the tread, with the top of Lincoln’s head pointing to the center of the wheel. If you can see all of the head, it’s about time for some new tires. You can look into snow tires if you want to be extra cautious, but a properly-inflated tire with a good tread will do just fine. Tread is important, but it’s not the only thing to keep in mind – keeping your tires properly inflated is important too. An under-inflated tire doesn’t grab the road as well as a properly inflated one, and cutting out that problem will make your winter driving that much safer. If you’re not sure what proper inflation would be for your car, try checking the owner’s manual or searching online for the make and model of car you drive.
It’s always a good idea to have a few days’ worth of food and other supplies lying around, especially when the snow really starts to come down. I’ve opened the door to find snow up past my knees on more than one occasion, and there’s no sense going out in that unless you absolutely have to. I’m not saying to stockpile canned food and bottles of water, but don’t let yourself get down to a heel of bread and a jar of mustard (not that I’ve ever done that or anything…).
Whether there’s snow on the ground or not, you can bet that it’s going to get cold. Stay warm by layering up and limiting the amount of skin you expose to the elements. When the wind is blowing, it’s going to feel even colder. Thick clothes, layers, scarves, hats, and gloves are all great ways to beat the chill. It’s tempting to crank the heat up and carry on like summer never left, but that can get pricey. According to Bill Prindle, deputy director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, “The rule of thumb is that you can save about 3% on your heating bill for every degree that you set back your thermostat.” You can save money and have a perfect excuse for laying around in sweatpants at the same time!
Finally, the key to surviving a Michigan winter: bundle up, fill a thermos of hot cocoa, and do something fun. Go sledding at the local park, or check out one of the dozens of places you can go skiing in Michigan. Have a good time and spring will be here before you know it!
Brian Murray – Feature Writer