When a winter storm is imminent or already occurring in your area, it’s time to put your plan into action. The first thing you want to do is pay attention to any winter storm watches or warnings that have been issued for your location.
Safety Tips for Staying Indoors
You’ll want to be able to receive all of the latest weather updates during a winter storm, which means you’ll need more than one reliable source of weather information. We recommend the following:
- Listen to your NOAA Weather Radio or check The Weather Channel and weather.com frequently for weather updates and emergency information.
- Use extreme caution with electric space heaters. Keep them at least a few feet away from anything flammable, such as drapes, bed sheets or blankets. Never place them on top of furniture or near water, and never let children play unattended around them
- Keep a fire extinguisher close by the area in which you plan to use a space heater or kerosene heater.
- Use your fireplace, wood stove or other similar heater only if it is properly ventilated and does not leak gas into your home’s indoor air space.
- Conserve heat and fuel, if necessary, by temporarily closing off heat to unused rooms.
- Eat regularly and drink plenty of water, but avoid caffeinated and alcoholic beverages. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages, or try soups or broths.
- If you use an electric generator, make sure you keep it outdoors ”“ never bring a generator indoors ”“ and connect appliances to it using only heavy-duty, outdoor-ready cords.
- If you experience a power failure, use battery-powered flashlights and lanterns instead of candles whenever possible.
- If you do use candles, never leave them unattended when lit.
- Wear warm clothing in multiple layers as needed.
- Monitor body temperature, both your own and your family members’. Because infants younger than a year old lose body heat more easily than adults, make sure they wear warm clothing and try to keep your home warm inside if you have an infant at home. If you cannot maintain a warm temperature inside your home, try to make alternative arrangements.
- For adults age 65 and over, maintaining body heat during severe cold can be a concern, thanks to their lower metabolism. Check the temperature in your home often during a winter storm, and check in frequently with older friends and neighbors to ensure they stay warm.
- Drip all faucets in your home continuously during severe cold, including kitchen and bathroom sinks as well as shower and tub faucets, to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.
- Open cabinet doors around pipes (especially in bathrooms) to allow warmer air to circulate around water pipes.
- If your pipes have already frozen, don’t try to thaw them out with a torch or other flame. Instead, use a hair dryer to slowly thaw them out.
- Use bottled water if instructed by your local emergency management authorities.
Safety Tips for Outdoors
When a winter storm or extreme cold threatens, you should avoid going outdoors unless absolutely necessary. In the event that you must, however, always dress warmly and return indoor as soon as possible.
- Wear multiple layers of clothing to stay warm, as well as a hat, scarf, mittens, a water-resistant jacket and boots.
- Make sure you stay as dry as possible, as water against the skin from wet clothing can chill the body quickly.
- If you need to de-ice or refuel your car, or use a snow blower, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin. These will cause your body to lose heat outdoors more quickly.
- Don’t ignore shivering. If you shiver persistently while you’re outdoors, it’s a sign that you need to return inside.
- Avoid over-exerting yourself while shoveling snow or performing any other hard work or heavy lifting. Extreme cold puts extra strain on your heart and cardiovascular system, so heed your doctor’s advice if you have experienced any signs of heart disease or high blood pressure in the past. If don’t have to do outdoor chores in the cold, wait until the storm passes and the outside temperature warms up.
- Avoid ice wherever possible. It’s extremely easy to fall on ice-covered pavement, sidewalks, stairs and curbs, and many winter weather injuries occur every year on icy surfaces like these. Use rock salt or other de-icing chemicals to keep your porch, driveway and sidewalk as free of ice as possible, or spread sand to reduce the risk of slipping.
Travel Safety Tips
If at all possible, avoid driving during a winter weather event, as even small amounts of snow and ice can make traveling on roads extremely dangerous. If you must drive, keep the following tips in mind:
- Stay on main roads and highways, and stick to the flattest roads you can. Avoid hills and roads with sloping surfaces wherever possible.
- Drive only during daylight hours, and avoid driving alone if you can.
- Bring blankets with you to keep warm in case you become stranded. Also bring bottled water or warm beverages, to avoid becoming dehydrated.
- Let family members know where you’re going and when you’re expected to return.
- If a snowstorm or blizzard forces you to stop, pull off the highway and turn on your hazard lights. If you have a distress flag or sticker, hang it from your radio antenna or apply it to your window. Remain in your car, where rescuers are most likely to find you.
- If you’re stranded for an extended period of time, run your engine for about 10 minutes every hour to stay warm. Open a window slightly for ventilation while the car is running, to prevent any carbon monoxide buildup. Remove any snow that builds up on your car’s exhaust pipe.
- If you have to spend the night in your car, turn on the interior overhead light so rescuers or work crews can see you.
Know Your Terms
Depending on the amount of snowfall and the expected duration of a storm, the National Weather Service may issue one or more of the following:
- A winter weather advisory means that a significant winter storm or other hazardous winter weather is occurring, imminent and is an inconvenience.
- A winter storm watch is issued when significant winter weather ”“ such as heavy snow, sleet, freezing rain or a combination of these ”“ is expected but not imminent for the watch area. Severe winter weather is possible within 12 to 36 hours.
- Winter storm warnings are issued when a significant winter storm or hazardous winter weather is occurring, imminent or likely, and is a threat to life and property.
- Blizzard warnings are issued for winter storms with winds of 35 mph or higher, blowing snow that reduces visibility to a quarter mile or less for at least 3 hours, and which cause dangerous wind chills in the warning area.
- Frost/freeze warnings are issued when below-freezing temperatures are expected and may cause significant damage to plants and crops. In areas where freezing temperatures are rare, people living in homes without heat should take added precautions.
Source: US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention