September 2, 2014

Study: Nebraska winters will still be snowy despite climate change

Snowplow3A national report on climate change finds even with global warming, we’ll still have plenty of snow in the winters ahead in Nebraska and across much of the country’s northern half.

Climatologist Harry Hillaker says climate change is very gradual and snow blowers and shovels will remain necessities. Hillaker says the report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology didn’t exactly go out on a limb in predicting continued snowy winters for the Midwest.

“When you think about it, that’s not really much of a surprise, I guess the basic mechanism on how we get snow is not going to be changing in a warmer world,” Hillaker says. “The number of opportunities may be decreasing but the storms could be just as intense but probably not as frequent as what we’ve been seeing in years past.”

The Old Farmers’ Almanac forecasts the winter ahead will be colder than usual, then next summer will be hotter. The publication predicts winter temperatures, precipitation and snowfall will all be below normal, with the coldest period running from early December into the first half of January. Hillaker says it’s an extreme challenge to accurately predict the weather several months in advance.

“Certainly, not very easily and there’s lots of outfits out there like the Farmer’s Almanac and some private forecasters that attempt to do that sort of thing,” Hillaker says. “I don’t know if anyone’s attempted any kind of study of how accurate those prognostications are, but certainly it’s very, very difficult and we’ve got a long ways to go in those longer-range outlooks.”

While scientific advancements are making forecasts more on-target, Hillaker says no one can really predict now, at summer’s end, what the weather will be this winter.

“Certainly, the day-by-day forecasts, out a week or two, have gotten far, far better than they used to be just in the last 20 or 30 years, tremendous improvements,” Hillaker says. “On that longer range, say from 30 days on out, there’s some skill there, but still a lot of guess work.”

The MIT study predicts that some regions will see less snowfall, but the snowfall extremes may actually intensify.

Doctor: Don’t crack your back with an overpacked backpack

With schools back in session across Nebraska there’s a warning about aches and pains from the misuse of backpacks. The weight really adds up considering text books, laptops, notebooks, cell phones and other items.

Pain specialist Dr. Douglas Keehn says the kids may not consider it a “cool” look, but they need to use both straps to better distribute the weight. Injuries are on the rise, according to a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“They estimate that there has been a 300% increase in the number of backpack injuries over the last 17 years,” Dr. Keehn says. “Last year alone, 14,000 people saught medical care for backpack-related injuries.” Five-thousand of those went to the ER because of their injuries.

Dr. Keehn says it’s important to make sure the backpack is not too big or too small for the child’s frame, and be cognizant of what’s in it. Those with cute patterns, non-traditional straps or other superficial features might not be the right fit, according to Keehn.

“Messenger bags are also very popular, they’re great fashion items,” he says, “but once again, they’re probably not great for doing things like carrying your textbooks simply because you can’t really distribute the weight that you would be typically carrying.”

For example, soft athletic bags with thin rope straps, which are fine for carrying a pair of shorts and a light t-shirt to the gym, are not appropriate for heavy text books and laptops.

Keehn says the weight of the fully-loaded backpack should not be more than 10 to 15% of the student’s total body weight.

“How do you find the right backpack and fit it appropriately and how do you load it appropriately,” he says. “By doing those things, it makes a lot of sense that we would probably be able to reduce the number of backpack-related injuries we have each year.”

He offers a few tips: adjust the straps, both of which should be wide and padded over the shoulders, pack properly to distribute the weight, use both straps, lift with the knees, and don’t pack what you don’t need.

Nebraskans warned to be vigilant against new crop of scams

More new scams and variations of old scams are victimizing people across Nebraska.

Consumer advocate Sandy Chalmers says some cons are more common than others, but all involve bad people trying to take advantage of residents by phone or online.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t end,” Chalmers says. “We do everything we can to keep the public informed so they know how to best protect themselves.”

One common scam this year involves phone calls or emails telling victims they have a court date that was missed and they need to send money to pay the fine.

Chamlers says another prevalent scam involves someone calling who claims to work for the Internal Revenue Service.

“Usually saying that you owe us money and they explain how to make a payment,” she says. “Now, there’s a new twist where they say, ‘We need to give you a refund and all we need is your bank account number so we can make a deposit.’”

Chalmers says if it sounds like a scam, it probably is, and she adds, any call you receive out of the blue asking for money or personal information is suspect.

“You really have to be vigilant and anytime you’re asked for financial information, personal information or asked to wire money, it’s a scam,” she says.

Chalmers says anyone who receives suspicious phone calls or emails should hang up the phone, not open email attachments, and contact the authorities.


Motorists can expect plenty of company on the roads for the holiday

gas-pump-111The last holiday weekend of summer is just ahead and more Nebraskans are expected to be on the road this Labor Day compared to last year. Rose White, at AAA Nebraska, says holiday travel should be picking up nationwide.

“Across the country, we’re expecting that travel will be up about 1.3% from last year with about 34.7 million Americans taking trips 50 miles or more away from home,” White says. “In fact, this will be the highest level of Labor Day travel that we’ve seen in six years.”

Most people who are taking trips for the holiday will be traveling by car, about 86%, according to the motor club’s survey.

“If you are traveling by car, you will see some lower fuel prices that will help make the trip more affordable,” White says. “Some will see the lowest prices for this holiday weekend since 2010. Although we did see an increase in the Midwest fuel prices over the last few weeks, they are now on a downturn.”

U-S oil production is at a record high level, and since the winter-grade fuel is cheaper to produce, White says prices at the pump should continue to drop as we head into fall.

“Here in Nebraska, prices are below the national average,” White says, “with self-serve unleaded averaging about $3.39 a gallon. A year ago, fuel was at $3.56.”

The survey finds Nebraska’s most expensive gas is in Norfork at $3.42 a gallon, while it’s cheapest in Omaha at $3.31.


4-H encourages healthy eating at state fair with “blender-bikes”

When you think of food at the Nebraska State Fair, often what comes to mind are corn dogs, popcorn, pork tenderloins and deep fried things on a stick. This year, 4-H leaders are trying to change that perception.

Bob Meduna, head of Nebraska 4-H youth development, says they will promote exercise at the fair today with a smoothie-making competition and what are called blender-bikes.

“We’ll have different recipes for smoothies, nutritious things like strawberry and yogurt or peaches and yogurt,” Meduna says. “We’ll put the ingredients in the blender and then it’s attached to a bicycle.” It’s part of a state fair promotion called Eat-4-Health.

“The youth will actually pedal the bicycle and run the blender,” Meduna says. “They’ll get off and they’ll taste the different recipes and see which they like the best. What we’re featuring is healthy nutrition and exercise, both at the same time.”

While the Nebraska State Fair isn’t typically thought of as a haven for healthy eating, Meduna thinks the audience will be receptive to the idea, as the blender-bikes are set up side-by-side.

“They’ll really get into it, especially when you have a little bit of competition,” Meduna says. “We’ve got a couple different recipes and they get to taste it afterwards. If you’ve never had these smoothies, very tasty, fresh fruit, very healthy.”

He says 4-H members will be on-hand to encourage students in grades K-through-six to participate in simple, fun group dance and fitness activities designed to burn calories and promote health. They’ll also share important information about calories, serving sizes and provide tips for maintaining active lifestyles through better food choices, exercise and other activities.