Each year, hundreds of Americans are injured or killed by exposure to cold, vehicle accidents on wintry roads, and fires caused by the improper use of heaters. Prepare now so you can stay safe during blizzards and other winter storms!
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.
Other winter storm words to listen for:
WIND CHILL Temperature: How cold people and animals feel when outside. As wind increases, heat is carried away from your body at a faster rate, driving down your body temperature and making you feel much colder. The wind chill temperature is not the actual temperature but rather how wind and cold feel on exposed skin.
Winter Storm OUTLOOK: Winter storm conditions possible in the next two to five days. Stay tuned to local media for updates.
Winter Storm WATCH: Winter storm conditions possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. Review your winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.
Winter Weather ADVISORY: Winter weather conditions expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous but not life-threatening if you are cautious.
What Should You Do Before a Winter Storm?
Protect Your Family
Talk with your family about what to do if a winter storm watch or warning is issued.
Have your vehicle winterized before the winter storm season to decrease your chance of being stranded.
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.
Keep in your vehicle:
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
Keep your vehicle’s gas tank full so you can leave right away in an emergency and to keep the fuel line from freezing.
Keep a supply of non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery.
Service snow removal equipment before the winter storm season and maintain it in good working order.
Keep handy a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, water-resistant boots, and extra blankets and warm clothing for everyone in your household.
Make sure your home heating sources are installed according to local codes and permit requirements and are clean and in working order.
Make sure your home is properly insulated. 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.
Consider buying emergency heating equipment, such as a wood- or coal-burning stove or an electric or kerosene heater (if permitted by law in your area). Follow all of the manufacturer's instructions for safe installation and use.
Consider storing sufficient heating fuel. Regular fuel sources may be cut off. Be cautious of fire hazards when storing any type of fuel.
If you have a fireplace, consider keeping a supply of firewood or coal. Be sure the fireplace is properly vented and in good working order and that you dispose of ashes safely.
Consider installing a portable generator, following our safety tips to avoid home fires and carbon monoxide poisoning
Consider purchasing flood insurance, if you live in a flood-prone area, to cover possible flood damage that may occur during the spring thaw. Homeowners' policies do not cover damage from floods.
Ask your insurance agent about the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) if you are at risk. More information on NFIP is available at www.fema.gov/nfip.
Protect Your Pets and Animals
Bring your companion animals indoors.
Create a place where your other animals can be comfortable in severe winter weather. 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.
Be aware of the potential for flooding when snow and ice melt and be sure that your animals have access to high ground that is not impeded by fencing or other barriers. You may not be able to get to them in time to relocate them in the event of flooding.
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.
If You Do Nothing Else, Do This
Listen to local area radio, NOAA radio or TV stations for the latest information and updates.
Continue listening to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio station for updated information and instructions. Access to some parts of the community may be limited or roads may be blocked.
Help people who require special assistance—infants, elderly people, those without transportation, large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.
Avoid driving and other travel until conditions have improved.
Avoid overexertion. Heart attacks from shoveling heavy snow are a leading cause of death during the winter.
Check on your animals and ensure that their access to food and water is unimpeded by drifted snow, ice, or other obstacles.
If you are using a portable generator, take precautions against carbon monoxide poisoning, electrocution and fire.
Avoid 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:
Be aware of the wind chill. Dress appropriately and avoid staying in the cold too long. Wear a hat and gloves when appropriate with layers of clothing. Avoid unnecessary exposure of any part of the body to the cold.
Drink plenty of warm fluids or warm water but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Stay active to maintain body heat.