Winter storms vary in size and strength and can be accompanied by strong winds that create blizzard conditions and dangerous wind chill. There are three categories of severe winter storms. A blizzard is the most dangerous of all winter storms. It combines low temperatures, heavy snowfall, and winds of at least 35 miles per hour, reducing visibility to only a few yards. A heavy snowstorm is one that drops 4 or more inches of snow in a 12-hour period. An ice storm occurs when moisture falls and freezes immediately upon impact.
To prepare for a winter storm you can do the following:
- Use rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways.
- Wear adequate clothing and use blankets to keep you warm.
- Make a Family Communications Plan. Your friends and family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
- Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS). Be alert to changing weather conditions.
- Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.
- Winterize your car, including a battery check, antifreeze, oil level and tires. Check thermostat, ignition system, lights, hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, defroster and brakes. Snow tires are recommended, and chains may be required in certain conditions, especially in the mountains. Always keep your gas tank at least half full.
- Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep a winter emergency kit in your vehicle that includes:
- Windshield scraper
- Battery-powered radio
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Snack food
- Hat and mittens or gloves
- Heavy blanket
- Tow chain or rope
- Tire chains
- Bag of road salt and/or sand
- Brightly colored distress flag
- Booster cables
- Road maps
- Emergency reflectors
- Stay indoors during the storm.
- Walk carefully on snowy, icy, walkways.
- Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside.
- Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
- Watch for signs of frostbite. These include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and drink warm, non-alcoholic beverages. Get medical help as soon as possible.
- Don’t drive unless it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive: travel in the day; don’t travel alone; keep others informed of your schedule; stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts.
- Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
- If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most likely to penetrate).
- If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55ºF.
National Weather Service
Winter Storms…The Deceptive Killers: a brochure packed with useful information including winter storm facts, how to detect frostbite and hypothermia, what to do in a winter storm and how to be prepared.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety: an extensive document providing information about planning ahead for cold weather, safety both indoors and outdoors in cold weather and cold weather health conditions.
Listen to Local Officials
Learn about the emergency plans that have been established in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the instructions given by local emergency management officials.