Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize
an entire region. Even areas that normally
experience mild winters can be hit with
a major snowstorm or extreme cold. Winter
storms can result in flooding, storm surge,
closed highways, blocked roads, downed
power lines and hypothermia.
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a winter storm
Rain that freezes when it hits the
ground, creating a coating of ice
on roads, walkways, trees, and power
that turns to ice pellets before
reaching the ground. Sleet also causes
moisture on roads to freeze and become
Storm Watch -
A winter storm is possible in
your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather
Radio, commercial radio, or television
for more information.
Storm Warning - A
winter storm is occurring or
will soon occur in your area.
Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater
and considerable amounts of falling
or blowing snow (reducing visibility
to less than a quarter mile) are
expected to prevail for a period
of three hours or longer.
Below freezing temperatures are expected.
Before Winter Storms and Extreme Cold
the following in your disaster supplies
- Rock salt to melt ice on walkways
- Sand to improve traction
- Snow shovels and other snow removal
for possible isolation in your home by
having sufficient heating fuel; regular
fuel sources may be cut off. For example,
store a good supply of dry, seasoned
wood for your fireplace or wood-burning
your home to extend the life of your fuel
supply by insulating walls and
attics, caulking and weather-stripping
doors and windows, and installing storm
windows or covering windows with plastic.
winterize your car, do the following:
- Battery and ignition system
should be in top condition and battery
- Ensure antifreeze levels are sufficient
to avoid freezing.
- Ensure the heater and defroster work
- Check and repair windshield wiper
equipment; ensure proper washer fluid
- Ensure the thermostat works properly.
- Check lights and flashing hazard lights
- Check for leaks and crimped pipes
in the exhaust system; repair or replace
as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly
and usually gives no warning.
- Check breaks for wear and fluid levels.
- Check oil for level and weight. Heavier
oils congeal more at low temperatures
and do not lubricate as well.
- Consider snow tires, snow tires with
studs, or chains.
- Replace fuel and air filters. Keep
water out of the system by using additives
and maintaining a full tank of gas.
During a Winter Storm
The following are guidelines for what you
should do during a winter storm or under
conditions of extreme cold:
- Listen to your radio, television,
or NOAA Weather Radio for weather reports
and emergency information.
- Eat regularly and drink ample fluids,
but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
- 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
- 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
- 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 the victim to a warm location, remove
wet clothing, warm the center of the
body first, and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages
if the victim is conscious. Get medical
help as soon as possible.
- Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping
your residence cooler than normal.
Temporarily close off heat to some rooms.
- Maintain ventilation when using kerosene
heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes.
Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep
them at least three feet from flammable
- Wear several layers of loose fitting,
lightweight, warm clothing rather than
one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments
should be tightly woven and water repellent.
- Wear mittens, which are warmer than
- Wear a hat.
- Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect
- Drive only if it is absolutely necessary.
you must drive, consider
- Travel in the day, don’t travel
alone, and keep others informed
of your schedule
- Stay on main roads; avoid back road
a blizzard traps you in the car, keep
these guidelines in mind:
- Pull off the highway. Turn on
hazard lights and hang a distress flag
from the radio antenna or window.
- Remain in your vehicle where rescuers
are most likely to fi nd you. Do not
set out on foot unless you can see a building
close by where you know you can take
shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing
snow. A building may seem close, but
be too far to walk to in deep snow.
- Run the engine and heater about 10
minutes each hour to keep warm. When
the engine is running, open an upwind window
slightly for ventilation. This will protect
you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
Periodically clear snow from the exhaust
- Exercise to maintain body heat, but
avoid overexertion. In extreme cold,
use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for
insulation. Huddle with passengers and
use your coat for a blanket.
- Take turns sleeping. One person should
be awake at all times to look for rescue
- Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Be careful not to waste battery power.
Balance electrical energy needs—the
use of lights, heat, and radio—with
- Turn on the inside light at night
so work crews or rescuers can see you.
- If stranded in a remote area, stomp
large block letters in an open area spelling
out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or
tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue
personnel who may be surveying the area
- Leave the car and proceed on foot—if
necessary—once the blizzard passes.
If you require more information about any
of these topics, the following are
resources that may be helpful.
Publications National Weather Service
Winter Storms…The Deceptive
Brochure packed with useful information
winter storm facts, how to detect frostbite
and hypothermia, what to do in a
winter storm, and how to be prepared. Available
online at: www.nws.noaa.gov/
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Extreme Cold: A Prevention
Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and
Safety. An extensive
providing information about planning
ahead for cold weather, safety both
indoors and outdoors in cold weather,
and cold weather health conditions. Available
online at: Extreme Cold: A Prevention Guide to Promote Your Personal Health and Safety