Despite the fits and starts of sun and showers, spring has arrived in Idaho. Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of the summer season; increased time outdoors can come with some risk. From biking and camping to picnicking and swimming – all of these outdoor activities may present risks that are avoidable. Here’s our annual list of tips to make this a healthy and safe Idaho summer:
Be safe on roads and highways: Memorial Day weekend marks the start of what has become known as the “100 Deadliest Days of Summer” for car and truck crashes in the country, ending on Labor Day weekend. Traditionally, this period results in an average of 1,400 motor vehicle deaths each year in the Mountain West states: Idaho, Montana, Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.
According to 2016 figures from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Idaho has 15 highway fatality deaths per 100,000 population, making it 3rd highest among the Mountain West states (the national average is 11.6 deaths/100,000 population). Throughout the summer, more vehicles will be traveling Idaho roads, so be patient and don’t take foolish chances to arrive a few minutes early. Other travel safety tips include:
- Be sure your vehicle is ready for travel. Check the tire air pressure (including the spare tire), along with belts, fluids, and lighting.
- Make sure everyone in your car is wearing a seatbelt.
- Don’t text or talk on a cellphone while you’re driving. Don’t become distracted trying to do other things as you drive. A car traveling at 65 mph covers 95 feet per second. A one-second distraction could result in a serious accident and injuries.
- Be aware of symptoms of fatigue or “highway hypnosis.” Take a break if you feel drowsy.
- Take your time and be patient; it’s better to get there in one piece. Allow ample space between your vehicle and others on the road and pay attention to the speed limits and other traffic signs.
- Don’t drink alcohol and drive.
- Don’t leave your child or your pet unattended in the car, even for just a few minutes. It can heat up quickly to dangerous temperatures.
Don’t camp, park, drivethrough, or play in flood waters: Several areas of the state – especially the northern Idaho Panhandle, have a higher-than-normal mountain snowpack this season, and warm weather will increase the runoff in streams and rivers, so be prepared for flooding. Some backcountry roads and popular trails may be closed or damaged due to flooding, and you may encounter roadways that are covered with floodwaters.
- Just 6 inches of moving water can knock you down, and 1 foot of water can sweep away a vehicle – turn around, don’t drown.
- If there is a chance of flooding in the area where you are camped or parked, move immediately to higher ground; water managers may be forced to rapidly increase releases from upstream reservoirs when temperatures rise.
- If floodwaters rise around your car, but the water is not moving, abandon the car and move to higher ground. If the water is moving, do not get out of the car.
- Monitor the National Weather Service for alerts on flood watches (“Be aware”) and flood warnings. (“Take action!”)
- Flood waters can carry sewage and toxic chemicals, and may contaminate drinking water in underground wells. Avoid contact with flood water, wash your hands frequently and don’t drink well water from aquifers inundated with flood water.
Food safety is always important, and the heat of summer can be especially challenging: An estimated 1 in 6 people suffer from foodborne illnesses each year. When cooking outdoors, to avoid unpleasant and potentially dangerous episodes of food poisoning or foodborne illness, remember to:
- Wash your hands regularly with a rich lather of soap, especially when working with raw meats such as hamburger or chicken.
- Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Make sure you have enough ice to maintain cold foods at or below 40°F. Put leftovers on ice as soon as possible. Any food that has been left out for two hours or more should not be eaten.
- Cook meats and leftovers thoroughly to 165°F. Use a long-stem thermometer to check the cooking temperatures of meats. Most meat thermometers come with specific temperature guidelines for safe cooking. The color of the meat is not a reliable indicator of whether or not the meat is fully cooked.
- Keep raw meats separate from other foods such as salads or fruits.
- Don’t drink out of streams or lakes unless water is filtered or treated first.
Be safe in the sun and reduce your risk for skin cancer: More than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States, which is more than new cases of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined. Idaho has one of the highest melanoma rates in the nation, with nearly 1,600 invasive melanoma cases and more than 200 deaths in the last several years. Every time we sunburn, we increase our risk for skin cancer. It is easy to protect yourself from the harmful UV rays of the sun:
- Cover up! Cover as much skin as possible with tightly-woven clothing and a hat with a 2–3 inch brim or a shade cap that covers your ears and back of neck.
- Use a sunscreen that protects against both UV-A and UV-B sunlight spectrums with an SPF of 30 or higher. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply it regularly, especially if you are swimming. Remember to buy lip balm with an SPF.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays and protect your eyes.
Be safe in the water: This early in the summer, the water in Idaho’s rivers, lakes and reservoirs is extremely cold and hazardous. Plan your boating and swimming trips carefully to avoid fast-moving and dangerous waters. And never, ever let children play near or swim in the many irrigation canals that thread through southern Idaho communities.
Take these precautions to be safe:
- Supervise young children around water.
- Wear an appropriate personal flotation device (PFD) when boating or tubing. Children should wear a PFD on beaches, docks and riverbanks.
- Be aware that cold water can cause hypothermia and death in as little as 10 minutes.
- Avoid boating or swimming when consuming alcohol. Drinking alcohol can accelerate the effects of hypothermia.
- Irrigation canal water might look placid, but swimming in it is dangerous. On average, three children drown in Idaho canals each year.
- When swimming in pools, remember that some parasites can survive proper chlorination. To protect yourself and others, do not get pool or recreational water in your mouth, and don’t swallow it. Shower before entering a pool and be sure to wash your children’s bottoms as well. Adults and children should not swim if they have diarrhea. Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Take children on regular bathroom breaks, and change diapers in the bathroom, not near the pool.
Mosquito and tick prevention: The bites of mosquitoes and ticks can spread serious disease, such as West Nile virus. Protect yourself and your family:
- When outdoors, avoid mosquito bites by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts.
- Apply insect repellent approved by the EPA, such as DEET, to exposed skin and clothing. Follow instructions on the product label, especially when you’re applying it to children.
- Check for and remove ticks from clothing, body, hair, and pets when you are or have been in tick habitat.
- If a tick is biting you, use a fine tweezers or notched tick extractor to remove it as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with a steady, even pressure, being careful not to break off the head or squeeze, crush or puncture the body of the tick. Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
- Talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products for your pets. Ticks can hitch a ride on your pet and end up in your home so tick prevention in pets is also tick prevention for owners.
Be prepared this Memorial Day weekend. Idaho’s diverse geography and sunny climate offers endless outdoor opportunities, but accidents or unexpected events can happen at any time. Carry a first-aid kit and enough food and water for an emergency. Always let friends or relatives know your travel plans. With a little bit of planning and by taking precautions, your outdoor experiences can be treasured for a lifetime.
National Moment of Remembrance: Remember what Memorial Day is about. At 3 p.m. local time on Monday, May 28, observe a minute of silence to honor those who have died in service to our country.