Winter Storm Safety
Learn how to stay safe during a blizzard and how to prevent or thaw frozen pipes
Take immediate precautions if you hear these words on the news:
Winter Storm WARNING: Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.
Blizzard WARNING: Sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 miles per hour or greater, plus considerable falling or blowing snow reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile, expected to prevail for three hours or longer.
Be sure you’re Red Cross Ready. That means:
- Have a mechanic check your battery, antifreeze, wipers and windshield washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster, and oil.
- Install good winter tires with adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate but some jurisdictions require vehicles to be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
- A windshield scraper and small broom
- A small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels and a set of tire chains or traction mats
- Matches in a waterproof container
- A brightly colored (preferably red) cloth to tie to the antenna
- An emergency supply kit, including warm clothing.
- Ensure that you have supplies for clean up for your companion animals, particularly if they are used to eliminating outdoors (large plastic bags, paper towels, and extra cat litter).
- Horses and livestock should have a shelter where they can be protected from wind, snow, ice, and rain.
- Grazing animals should have access to a protected supply of food and non-frozen water.
- Ensure that any outbuildings that house or shelter animals can withstand wind and heavy snow and ice.
- Install snow fences in rural areas to reduce drifting snow on roads and paths, which could block access to homes, barns, and animals' feed and water.
- Stoves must be properly vented and in good working order. Dispose of ashes safely. Keep a supply of wood or coal on hand.
- Electric space heaters, either portable or fixed, must be certified by an independent testing laboratory. Plug a heater directly into the wall socket rather than using an extension cord and unplug it when it is not in use.
- Use a kerosene heater only if permitted by law in your area; check with your local fire department. Use only the correct fuel for your unit. Properly ventilate the area. Refuel the unit outdoors only, and only when the unit is cool. Follow all of the manufacturer's instructions.
Stay Safe During a Winter Storm
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Rain gear, extra sets of dry clothing, mittens, socks, and wool hats
- Newspapers for insulation
- Plastic bags for sanitation
- Canned fruit, nuts, and high energy snacks (Include a non-electric can opener if necessary)
- Warm broth in a thermos and several bottles of water
- Keep a cell phone or two-way radio with you. Make sure the battery is charged.
- Plan to travel during daylight and, if possible, take at least one other person with you.
After a Winter Storm
Identifying & Treating Frostbite and Hypothermia
Frostbite and hypothermia are cold-related emergencies that may quickly become life or limb threatening.
Take these steps to avoid frostbite and hypothermia:
Frostbite is the freezing of a specific body part such as fingers, toes, the nose or earlobes.
Signs of frostbite:
What to do for frostbite:
1. Move the person to a warm place
2. Handle the area gently; never rub the affected area
3. Warm gently by soaking the affected area in warm water (100–105 degrees F) until it appears red and feels warm
4. Loosely bandage the area with dry, sterile dressings
5. If the person’s fingers or toes are frostbitten, place dry, sterile gauze between them to keep them separated
6. Avoid breaking any blisters
7. Do not allow the affected area to refreeze
8. Seek professional medical care as soon as possible
Hypothermia is the cooling of the body caused by the failure of the body’s warming system. The goals of first aid are to restore normal body temperature and to care for any conditions while waiting for EMS personnel.
Signs of hypothermia:
What to do for hypothermia:
1. CALL 9-1-1 or the local emergency number
2. Gently move the person to a warm place
3. Monitor breathing and circulation
4. Give rescue breathing and CPR if needed
5. Remove any wet clothing and dry the person
6. Warm the person slowly by wrapping in blankets or by putting dry clothing on the person.
Recovering After a Winter Storm
Once you are physically safe, take time to ensure your family’s emotional and financial well-being.