Winter Storm Safety
Winter storms create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion. Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. A winter storm can:
- Last a few hours or several days;
- Knock out heat, power, and communication services; and
- Place older adults, young children, and sick individuals at greater risk.
For more information on how to prepare, visit Ready.gov .
Having knowledge ahead of time can help you prepare. To take full advantage of weather forecasts and warnings, learn and understand terms commonly used:
- Winter Storm Watch: A watch means that severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow or ice, may affect your area, but where, when and how much is still uncertain. NWS issues a watch to provide 12 to 36 hours notice of possible severe winter weather. A watch is intended to provide enough lead time for you to prepare.
- Winter Storm Warning NWS issues a warning when its scientists forecast 4 or more inches of snow or sleet in the next 12 hours, 6 or more inches in 24 hours, or 1/4 inch or more of ice accretion.
- Winter Weather Advisories inform you that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous. If caution is exercised, advisory situations should not become life-threatening.
- Blizzard Warning let you know that snow and strong winds will combine to produce a blinding snow (near zero visibility), deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.
- Freezing rain or freezing drizzle is forecast when expected rain is likely to freeze as soon as it strikes the ground, putting a coating of ice or glaze on roads and everything else that is exposed. If a substantial layer of ice is expected to accumulate from the freezing rain, an ice storm is forecast.
- Sleet is small particles of ice, usually mixed with rain. If enough sleet accumulates on the ground, it will make the roads slippery
Be prepared for isolation at home. If you live in a rural area, make sure you could survive at home for a week or two. You may not be able to get to town so prepare ahead of time.
- Keep an adequate supply of heating fuel on hand and use it sparingly. Your regular supplies may be curtailed by storm conditions. If necessary, conserve fuel by "closing off" some rooms temporarily. Also have available some kind of emergency heating equipment and fuel so you could keep at least one room of your house warm enough to be livable. If your furnace is controlled by a thermostat and your electricity is cut off by a storm, the furnace probably would not operate and you would need emergency heat.
- Keep on hand the simple tools and equipment needed to fight a fire. Be certain that all family members know precautions that would prevent fire. The fire department may not be available.
- Make sure you have a battery-powered radio and extra batteries on hand, so that if your electric power is cut off you could still hear weather forecasts, information, and advice broadcast by local authorities. Also, flashlights or lanterns would be needed.
- Have an emergency supply of food and water, as well as emergency cooking equipment such as a camp stove. Camp stoves should be used outside not indoors. Make sure to have plenty of food that doesn't require refrigeration or cooking.
Know how to use your emergency heating and lighting equipment safely to prevent fire or dangerous fumes. Use only safe equipment. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that fuel. Proper ventilation is essential. Burning charcoal gives off deadly amounts of carbon monoxide.
Avoid overexertion. Every winter many unnecessary deaths occur because people (especially older adults, and younger ones as well) engage in more strenuous physical activity than their bodies can stand. Cold weather itself, without any physical exertion, puts an extra strain on your heart. If you add physical exercise, such as shoveling snow, pushing an automobile, or even walking fast or far, you are risking a heart attack, a stroke, or damage to your body. In winter weather, and especially in winter storms, be aware of this danger, and avoid overexertion.
Travel only if necessary. If you must travel, use public transportation if possible. However, if you are forced to use your automobile for a trip of any distance, take these precautions:
- Advise someone of your travel route and stick to it. If you breakdown they'll be able to find you.
- Don't be daring or foolhardy. Stop, turn back, or seek help if conditions get worse. Don't take risks or test your ability or endurance. If you are caught in a blizzard, seek shelter immediately.
- Drive with caution. Don't try to save time by traveling faster than road and weather conditions permit.
- Have emergency "winter storm supplies" in the car, such as a container of sand, shovel, windshield scraper, tow chain or rope, flashlight, and blankets or sleeping bags. It also is good to have with you heavy gloves or mittens, overshoes, extra woolen socks, and winter headgear to cover your head and face.
- Maintain a full tank of fuel.
- Make sure your car is in good condition, properly serviced, and equipped with chains or snow tires.
- Take another person with you if possible.
- Travel by daylight and use major highways if you can. Keep the car radio turned on for weather information and advice.
Keep Calm if You Get in Trouble
If your car breaks down during a storm, or if you become stalled or lost, don't panic. Think the problem through, decide what's the safest and best thing to do, and then do it slowly and carefully. If you are on a well-traveled road, show a trouble signal. Set your directional lights to flashing, raise the hood of your car, or hang a cloth from the radio antenna or a car window. Stay in your car and wait for help to arrive. If you run the engine to keep warm, remember to open a window enough to provide ventilation and protect you from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Do Not Leave Your Vehicle
Wherever you are, if there is no house or other source of help in sight, do not leave your car to search for assistance, as you may become confused and get lost.