Be Prepared for Winter Storms

First, know what your local ordinances on plowing/shoveling and snow emergencies are.

Winter storms can range from a light dusting to moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow. They can be accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain. There may be power outages, and driving and walking can be very dangerous.

Regardless of the severity, planning and preparing can help you manage the impact of a winter storm and keep you and your family safe.

Know the terms used to describe changing winter weather conditions and what actions to take.

  • Freezing Rain – Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
  • Sleet – Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Wind Chill– Windchill is the temperature it “feels like” when you are outside. The NWS provides a Windchill Chart to show the difference between air temperature and the perceived temperature and the amount of time until frostbite occurs. For more information, visit: www.nws.noaa.gov/om/windchill.
  • Winter Weather Advisory – Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening. The NWS issues a winter weather advisory when conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous. If caution is used, these situations should not be life-threatening.
  • Winter Storm Watch – A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information. The NWS issues a winter storm watch when severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, may affect your area but the location and timing are still uncertain. A winter storm watch is issued 12 to 36 hours in advance of a potential severe storm. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, local radio, TV, or other news sources for more information. Monitor alerts, check your emergency supplies, and gather any items you may need if you lose power.
  • Winter Storm Warning – A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.
  • Blizzard Warning – 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.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning – Below freezing temperatures are expected.

Be prepared.

  1. Keep your vehicle gas tank full.
  2. Have annual inspections of your home heating system so it will work when you need it, and don’t set the temperature any lower than 55° F.
  3. Never use a grill, camp stove, or the oven as a heating source.
  4. If you have a generator for power outages, keep it outside away from doors, windows, and vents that could allow carbon monoxide in.
  5. Put together a supply kit with at least a 3 to 7-day supply of water and food for people and pets. Have a flashlight, a battery-powered radio, and extra batteries.
  6. Be sure your cell phone is fully charged.
  7. If you take medication, make sure your prescription is full.
  8. Babies in the house? Have plenty of formula, baby food, and diapers.
  9. Sand, rock salt, or non-clumping kitty litter help to make walkways and steps less slippery, so it’s a good idea to have these on hand.
  10. Gloves, hats, and warm clothes for everyone is essential.
  11. Don’t forget about the pets—they can use some extra blankets to stay warm, too.
  12. When putting a home kit together, think about a supply kit for your vehicle, as well.

Remain safe during a winter storm.

  1. Stay indoors and stay off the road, if possible.
  2. If driving is necessary, slow down. Be aware of road conditions. Even 4-wheel drive vehicles slide on slick, icy roads.
  3. Watch for plow trucks. Don’t get in their way of clearing the road.
  4. Keep garage doors closed if there are water lines in there, and keep your thermostat set at a consistent temperature to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.
  5. Check on the elderly and those with disabilities. Make sure they are staying warm and have plenty of food, water, and any medication they may need.
  6. Bring pets inside—they get cold, too, and can suffer from hypothermia.
  7. Before you head outside to shovel the sidewalk or the driveway, protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers.
  8. If your neighbor has a physical condition or is elderly, be a good neighbor, and offer to shovel their sidewalk for them.
  9. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Be prepared before the storm hits.

Visit the website www.ready.gov/winter-weather to learn more about what to do before, during, and after a snowstorm or extreme cold. Download and print out the Winter Storm Safety Checklist from the Red Cross.