Millions of people from coast to coast face the threat of what the National Weather Service (NWS) describes as “a massive winter storm” poised to impact most of the northern U.S. this week.
The heavy snow and strong winds will hit the northern Rocky Mountains and Plains states, then move eastward over the next several days toward the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Northeast. Some wind gusts could hit 80 mph and the mountains could see more than two feet of snow. The southern end of the storm could bring sleet and freezing rain to the upper Mississippi Valley and lower Great Lakes. The NWS reports the storm could mean treacherous travel conditions and possible power outages for the affected areas.
The American Red Cross is monitoring the storm and preparing to respond if necessary. Here are steps you should take to stay safe during this dangerous weather:
WINTER WEATHER SAFETY
Winter weather can bring life-threatening conditions. Stay indoors and wear layers of loose fitting, lightweight warm clothes.
- Check on relatives, neighbors and friends, particularly if they are elderly or live alone.
- Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling snow, pushing a vehicle or walking in deep snow.
- Caulk and weather-strip doors and windowsills to keep cold air out. Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide an extra layer of insulation to keep cold air out.
- Make sure you have enough heating fuel on hand.
- Protect pipes from freezing.
- If possible, bring your pets inside during cold winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure they have access to non-frozen drinking water.
STAY SAFE OUTSIDE
Wear layered clothing, mittens or gloves, and a hat.
- Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from severely cold air.
- Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses much of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly away from the body.
- Stretch before you go out. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. This will reduce your chances of muscle injury.
- Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a vehicle, or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.
- Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
- Walk carefully on snowy, icy sidewalks. Slips and falls occur frequently in winter weather, resulting in painful and sometimes disabling injuries.
Avoid travel if you can. If you must go out during a winter storm, use public transportation if possible. About 70 percent of winter deaths related to ice and snow occur in automobiles.
- Check your vehicle emergency supplies kit and replenish it if necessary.
- Bring your cell phone and make sure the battery is charged.
- Plan to travel during daylight and, if possible, take another person with you.
- Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive.
- Before leaving, check the weather reports for all areas you will be passing through.
- Watch out for sleet, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and dense fog.
If you are stranded, stay in the vehicle and wait for help. Do not leave the vehicle to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards (91 meters).
- Hang a brightly colored cloth (preferably red) on the radio antenna and raise the hood after snow stops falling.
- Turn on the engine for about 10 minutes each hour. Use the heater while the engine is running. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and slightly open a downwind window for ventilation.
- Leave the overhead light on when the engine is running so that you can be seen.
- If more than one person is in the vehicle, take turns sleeping.
- Huddle together for warmth. Wrap yourself in newspapers, maps, and even the removable floor mats to help trap more body heat.
POWER OUTAGE SAFETY
- Use flashlights in the dark — not candles
- Eliminate unnecessary travel, especially by car. Traffic lights will be out and roads will likely be congested
- Turn off and unplug all unnecessary electrical equipment and appliances. When power comes back on, surges or spikes can damage equipment.
- Leave one light on, so you’ll know when power is restored.
- Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Keep these devices outside away from doors, windows and vents, which could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
- During a prolonged outage, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to protect your food. Use perishable food from the refrigerator first, then, food from the freezer. If the power outage continues beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items. Keep food in a dry, cool spot and cover it at all times.
Don’t forget your pets. You can find winter pet safety steps here.
DOWNLOAD OUR APPS Download the free Red Cross First Aid app so you’ll know what to do if emergency help is delayed and the free Emergency app for weather alerts, open Red Cross shelter locations and safety steps for different emergencies. Choose whether you want to view the content in English or Spanish with an easy-to-find language selector. Find these and all of the Red Cross apps in smartphone app stores by searching for the American Red Cross or going to redcross.org/apps.