Hazards and Threats

Winter Weather

cars on road during winter weather

Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet, and freezing rain.

Here is a list of winter weather events to be familiar with:

  • Winter Storm Outlook: Winter storm conditions are possible in the next two to five days.
  • 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.
  • Winter Storm Watch: Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.
  • Winter Storm Warning: Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.

Remain Safe During a Winter Storm

  • Listen to a NOAA weather radio or other local news channels for critical information on snow storms and blizzards from the National Weather Service (NWS).
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice, or other obstacles.
  • Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
  • All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
  • Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing. Move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals out of the reach of children.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.
  • Avoid driving when conditions include sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow, or dense fog. Keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle in case travel is necessary.
  • Before tackling strenuous tasks in cold temperatures, consider your physical condition, the weather factors, and the nature of the task.
  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Stay indoors, if possible.
  • Help people who require special assistance such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities, and children.

Be Prepared for a Winter Storm and Power Outage

Imagine this: You’re minding your own business, getting ready for school and work, when suddenly the radio, lights, heat, and everything else electrical stops working. Just like that, you find yourself in the dark and wondering how long the power will be out. Are you paralyzed or prepared?

What you can do to be prepared for a winter storm and power outage:

  • Know where your flashlight and batteries are and be able to easily access them. Consider purchasing battery-operated lanterns for additional light sources.
  • Decide which room of the house is easiest to keep warm, and close doors to other rooms in the house. When the power goes out, keep outside doors closed, and close drapes at night to retain heat. If you don’t have drapes, hang blankets over windows. Stuff cracks around doors with rugs, newspapers, or towels.
  • If you have a gas heater, ensure it is in good working order. Be sure you know how to safely use the heater. If you have a gas or wood-burning fireplace or a wood-burning stove, be sure it is in good working condition. Maintain a distance of three feet between your heat source and flammable objects. Have a supply of wood on hand.
  • If you have a generator, ensure it is in good working order. Be sure you have a supply of fuel on hand. Keep generators outside. Their use in an enclosed space can kill you.
  • Check for easy access to your gas or charcoal grill if you’ve stored it for the season. Check your fuel supplies. Gas and charcoal grills are intended for outdoor use; do not use them indoors!
  • Prevent frozen or broken pipes by insulating exposed pipes. During a power outage, open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the pipes.
  • Check insulation in attics, basements, and crawl spaces. Adequate insulation helps maintain your home’s heat.
  • Make sure you can access your first aid kit and fire extinguisher.
  • Restock food and water supplies, especially items that require no cooking or refrigeration.
  • Keep your car’s fuel tank full.

Source: SLG 101: Guide for All-Hazard Emergency Operations Planning, FEMA, 1996.