Before Winter Storms & Extreme Cold

While the danger from winter weather varies across the country, nearly all Americans, regardless of where they live, are likely to face some type of severe winter weather at some point in their lives. Winter storms can range in severity from a moderate snowfall spanned over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Some winter storms are even large enough to affect several states, while others affect only a single community. Many winter storms are accompanied by extremely low temperatures, strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain that not only play havoc on the area’s power grid, and creates extreme dangers on our nation’s highways and roads.

Regardless of the severity of a winter storm, you should be prepared in order to remain safe during these events. The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as the “Deceptive Killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Instead, people die in traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold. It is important to be prepared for winter weather before it strikes.

Know the Difference: Winter Weather Warnings

Winter Storm Outlook – Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2 to 5 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. People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.

Prepare for the Storm: 

  • Make a Family Communications Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.
  • Winterize your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.
  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
  • Sufficient heating fuel. You may become isolated in your home and regular fuel sources may be cut off. Store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

Put Together a Supply Kit

  • Water—at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day
  • Food—at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food
  • Flashlight
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • Extra batteries
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7-day supply) and medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Tools/supplies for securing your home
  • Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways
  • Sand to improve traction.
  • Adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.
  • Ample alternate heating methods such as fireplaces or wood- or coal-burning stoves
  • A shovel

Caution: Carbon Monoxide Kills

The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fire.

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. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.

Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.

If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.

Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you. Source:


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