(The Hill) — An incoming winter storm set to pummel the central U.S. could also raise the risk of carbon monoxide deaths, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) warned on Wednesday.
The so-called bomb cyclone is expected to cause heavy snow, below-freezing temperatures and dangerous wind chills — conditions that could lead to power outages and increase the use of portable generators, according to the CPSC.
“Consumers need to be especially careful when storms knock out electrical power,” a statement from the commission said. “Portable generators create a risk of [carbon monoxide] poisoning that can kill in minutes.”
Carbon monoxide, also known as “CO,” is an “invisible killer” due to its colorless and odorless nature, the CPSC explained. Exposed individuals may become unconscious prior to experiencing symptoms of nausea, dizziness and weakness — and sometimes death.
The storm expected to cause these dangers is the result of a strong arctic high-pressure system “diving southward” toward the central Plains on Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported.
The intense winter storm will “produce a multitude of weather hazards” and generate “life-threatening wind chills,” with temperatures poised to drop 20 or more degrees Fahrenheit within the span of just a few hours.
“What better way to kick off the official start of astronomical winter than with numerous winter weather hazards impacting a majority of the nation,” the NWS stated.
Wind chill hazards could plunge as low as below 70 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the central High Plains, while widespread wind chills below zero could extend as far south as Texas, according to the NWS.
Those hazardous conditions are likely to lead to a surge in power outages and generator usage, which the CPSC reiterated could lead to a spike in carbon monoxide poisoning events.
Approximately 85 consumers died annually from 2011-2021 in the U.S. due to CO poisoning from portable generators, according to CPSC data.
The data showed that African Americans are at higher risk — accounting for 23% of generator-related CO deaths, or nearly double their 12% share of the population during that period.
In the case of a power outage, the CPSC recommended refraining from operating a portable generator inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or shed.
“Opening doors or windows will not provide enough ventilation to prevent the buildup of lethal levels of CO,” the commission stated.
Portable generators should only operate outside, at least 20 feet away from the house, with the exhaust directed away from the building.
Only portable generators that have a carbon monoxide safety shut-off feature — which automatically turns off in the presence of high CO levels — should be used, according to the commission.
The CPSC also stressed the importance of checking that both CO and smoke alarms are working properly, as well as clearing snow away from outside vents so that carbon monoxide doesn’t build up in the house.
To prevent appliance-related fires, the commission also recommended that portable heaters be situated at least three feet from furniture. Such a heater should always be connected to a wall outlet and never positioned near water.
Charcoal should never be used indoors, and households should opt for flashlights over candles in the case of a power outage, the CPSC added.