Whether as a result of global warming or cyclic variation, one thing can be sure; the only predictable thing about winter this year is its unpredictability.

Winter 2012 hammered Europe, killing more than 100 people and leaving thousands of others trapped in torrents of snow. Whether as a result of global warming or cyclic variation, one thing can be sure; the only predictable thing about winter this year is its unpredictability.

A press release notes that the South African Weather Service has indicated the likelihood that a colder than normal winter is expected for most parts of South Africa this year.

“Last year Johannesburg experienced freezing temperatures and even snow, while parts of the Western Cape saw severe flooding. The best advice is to be prepared and take care of yourself, your loved ones, and your belongings,” says Attie Blaauw, head of personal lines underwriting for Santam, South Africa’s largest insurer.

“Preparation is important to help minimise the negative effects of seasonal change on your property. Freezing temperatures and heavy rains can cause severe damage to homes and roads but taking some basic steps to be prepared can reduce the risks,” says Blaauw in the release.

Here are some practical steps you can take to mitigate potential damage:

Take care of your home:

“A home owners insurance policy will cover your home and its contents from damage caused by extreme weather conditions but it is imperative that regular home maintenance is adhered to in order to ensure a claim is paid out in a timely manner and in full,” cautions Blaauw.

As soon as temperatures hit zero degrees Celsius, which is not uncommon in areas such as Gauteng and Northern Cape and Free State, there is the possibility that water in the waterpipes can freeze. This is especially true in homes with no insulation or if they are located in an attic and the lower floors of the home are insulated.

As the water turns to ice it expands, and the increased pressure can cause the waterpipes to burst, damaging the home and its contents. If these aren’t in an insulated part of the home and sub zero temperatures are expected, insulate your waterpipes and geyser, which also saves on the monthly electric bill.

Keep up with roof maintenance and be aware of the strain it takes as the temperatures vary considerably throughout the year. Metal roofs sustain stress as temperature changes will cause them to expand and contract, pulling at the screws that hold them together. The home can experience damage when water from snow and rain, as well as regular moisture in the air, collects under the metal sheets.

Keep gutters clear of debris so they can effectively remove water from the roof, a build up of water can seep under the roof and cause serious water damage to your home.

Never leave a fire place or open flames from stoves and candles unattended. Have chimneys and furnaces maintained to ensure they are free of debris before lighting up.

The increased use in electrical appliances, from heaters to electric blankets are electrical fire hazards so replace worn plugs and cords, and take heed if a fuse or circuit trips continuously. Do not leave these appliances on when you leave your house.

Some parts of the country face increased risk of flooding so protect your home by installing a metal and rubber flaps at the bottom of external doors to prevent water from seeping in during heavy storms. .

In your car and on the road:

Last winter motorists were stranded on roads and highways in the eastern part of South Africa when the worst storm since 1992 reportedly dumped between two and five feet of snow from Lesotho to Kwa-Zulu Natal. Already this year motorists were surprised by the early snow fall that closed the mountain pass to Katse Dam in Lesotho less than two months ago.

Keeping an emergency kit all year round is a good idea, but check it regularly and replace items as needed. Kits can be purchased but ensure the bare minimum includes two roadside flares, a quart of oil, small first aid kit, extra fuses, flashlight, a multipurpose tool, tire inflator, rags, pocket knife, pen and paper, and a help sign.

If travelling long distance, keep enough food and fresh water for each person in the car.

Keep additional warm clothes and sleeping bags for each person travelling in case of weather changes or if the car is stranded due to poor road conditions, traffic issues, or any other unforeseen circumstances.

Damages to the windshield can severely restrict visibility at a time when the driver’s ability to see is already hampered by low light and adverse weather conditions. Have cracks and chips fixed immediately all year round, and especially at the start of winter. Ensure wiper blades are in top working order, and get in the habit of topping up on fluids such as radiator, oil and wiper fluid, when stopping for petrol.

Check tyre tread regularly for wear.

The car battery works overtime in cold weather conditions so don’t chance a long trip unless the battery is in top shape or has been replaced. Have the battery tested at a battery centre if you are unsure.

Fog, rain, snow, and earlier sunsets mean poor visibility more often in winter. Drive with your lights on to increase visibility to other road users, even during daylight hours.

As a vigilant driver be aware that heavy rains in the Western Cape over winter can cause increased debris in the road, potholes, and storm water runoff. Be aware of the road around you and check traffic updates regularly before setting out.

“It’s important to review insurance policies regularly to ensure that you are covered for every eventuality and not underinsured. Santam has an emergency call centre in place where clients can report a claim, hassle free,” continues Blaauw. - IOL