Learn about winter weather and what to do if the forecast calls for a winter stormLearn about winter weather and what to do if the forecast calls for a winter storm
What to Expect During a Winter Storm
A “winter storm” is a catch-all phrase for many different types of dangerous and challenging weather. These are some of the conditions you might encounter during a winter storm:
A blizzard combines heavy snow and strong winds. Snow can accumulate quickly, and it may appear to fall sideways or swirl around you. The result is low visibility and challenging conditions on the roads. We recommend that you avoid driving during a blizzard unless it’s a true emergency.
A snow flurry is simply a brief, light snow fall that probably won’t lead to any accumulation on the ground. It may be pretty, but you won’t need your shovel or your sled.
Ice Storm/Freezing Rain
You might think that rain is less dangerous than snow, but when it falls onto a frozen surface the result is ice. In addition to being treacherous to walk or drive on, ice is heavy and can cause tree limbs to break off – or bring down entire trees. This can block roadways, damage roofs, and pull down power lines.
Sleet starts as rain but freezes before it hits the ground. You can hear it as it hits your windshield or windows, and feel it as an icy sting if it hits your face. It doesn’t stick to things the way freezing rain does, but it can accumulate on the ground like snow.
Despite its name, black ice is actually clear. Other than a slight shininess, you may not see any signs that it’s there – which makes it difficult to avoid when driving or walking. A good rule of thumb: if the air temperature is below freezing, be prepared to encounter black ice in shady spots and on overpasses and bridges.
Lake Effect Snow
Cold air passing over a large body of water can create intense, localized snowstorms on the far shore. In the U.S., communities on the eastern edge of the Great Lakes, such as Buffalo, NY and Erie, PA, are most at risk for lake effect snow.
Perhaps you’ve heard a weather forecast that calls for temperatures of 30* with a wind chill of 24*. Just as a breeze cools your skin on a hot day, the winter wind makes a cold temperature feel even colder. The wind chill is what the air outside will feel like on your exposed skin.
In addition to hazardous road conditions and possible power outages, winter storms can lead to health emergencies.
Hypothermia – Hypothermia is an extremely low body temperature. Symptoms include shivering, numbness, and impaired judgement. (A person experiencing severe hypothermia may believe they are actually too warm and begin removing their cold weather clothing.) Hypothermia can be fatal. Read our tips for providing emergency first aid for hypothermia and seek medical attention immediately!
Frostbite – Frostbite is when a body part freezes – such as your fingers or the tip of your nose. Symptoms include numbness and a waxy or discolored appearance. Frostbite is rarely fatal but in severe cases can result in the affected parts needing to be amputated. Read our tips for providing emergency first aid for frostbite and seek medical attention immediately!
Experiencing Your First Winter Storm?
Whether you’ve just moved to a state that experiences winter weather, or the forecast is calling for a freak storm in your otherwise sunny location, your first storm can be quite a shock. Here are some top tips to help you stay in control:
The Red Cross recommends that you prepare for a winter storm just as diligently as you would prepare for a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster. Read our tips for preparing your family, pets, and home – as well as pointers on what to do during and after the storm.
If someone in your home relies on powered medical equipment, or you want to make sure your lights or water pump stay on, you might need a backup generator. Before heading to the hardware store, read our tips on how to choose the right generator for your household, and how to use a generator safely.
Even if your power stays on, pipes that run through an unheated part of your home (such as a basement or crawl space) are vulnerable in the cold. A frozen pipe can burst and cause extensive water damage. Read our tips for preventing pipes from freezing – and for thawing them out if they’re already frozen.