Winter Weather Preparedness

Winter Weather Preparedness

A major winter storm can be lethal. Preparing for cold weather conditions and responding to them effectively can reduce the dangers caused by winter storms.

Blizzards are severe winter storms that pack a combination of blowing snow and wind resulting in very low visibilities. While heavy snowfalls and severe cold often accompany blizzards, they are not required. Sometimes strong winds pick up snow that has already fallen, creating a blizzard.


From 1986 to 2004, the over a thousand deaths have been attributed to winter weather in the United States.

In 2004, there were 28 winter weather deaths, matching 2003. This number is down from the 10-year average of 44. Pennsylvania logged the highest death toll with 6, followed closely by Virginia with 5.

The most hazardous place to be in the winter of 2004 was in a vehicle, which accounted for 20 (71%) of the winter weather victims, followed by outside with 6 (21%). Unlike 2003 when seniors were the hardest hit age group, in 2004 victims were more likely to be in the 20-29 age range, which counted 14 deaths. There were again no ice related deaths in 2003 but avalanches accounted for 12 fatalities, up from 9 in 2003.

Winter Weather Preparedness Tips

BEFORE the storm…

  • Be familiar with winter storm warning messages.
  • Service snow removal equipment and have rock salt on hand to melt ice on walkways and kitty litter to generate temporary traction.
  • Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be cut off.

Winterize your home

  • Insulate walls and attic.  Improperly insulated and vented attics can result in ice damming.  Water damage caused by ice dams will require special structural drying techniques preformed by Certified Water Damage Clean-up Specialist to help prevent mold and other damage to building materials.
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.  Cracked and missing caulk may allow cold air and moisture to enter the structure causing causing damage to building materials and increasing the likelihood of mold growth.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.

Have safe emergency heating equipment available.

  • Fireplace with ample supply of wood may be helpful but may lack the ability to keep a structure heated.
  • Most Restoration Contractors and Rental Companies will have rental heaters.  In severe conditions it is likely that these suppliers will run out of heaters.  It is important to have several contacts on hand for emergency equipment.

Install and check smoke detectors.

  • Contact your local emergency management office or your local American Red Cross chapter for more information on winter storms.

Keep pipes from freezing.

  • Wrap pipes in insulation.
  • Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
  • Know how to shut off water valves.
  • If you experience frozen pipes you have a high probability of having a pipe(s) fail causing water damage and flooding.

Have disaster supplies on hand, in case the power goes out.

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries.
  • First aid kit
  • One-week supply of food (include items that do not require refrigeration or cooking in case the power is shut off)
  • Manual can opener
  • One-week supply of essential prescription medications.
  • Extra blankets and sleeping bags
  • Fire extinguisher (A-B-C type)

Develop an emergency communication plan.

  • In case family members are separated from one another during a winter storm (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the “family contact.”
  • After a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
  • Make sure that all family members know how to respond after a severe winter storm.
  • Teach children how and when to call 9-1-1, police, or fire department, and which radio station to tune to for emergency information.

DURING the storm…

If Indoors —

  • Stay indoors and dress warmly.
  • Conserve fuel.
  • Lower the thermostat to 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees at night. Close off unused rooms that do not contain water pipes.
  • If the pipes freeze, contact a Certified Water Damage Clean-up Professional. If you are unable to find a Restoration Contractor in your area, equipment and products may be purchased and Contractor referrals are available at: 800-435-5868.
  • Listen to the radio or television to get the latest information.

If Outdoors —

  • Dress warmly.
  • Wear loose-fitting, layered, light-weight clothing. Layers can be removed to prevent perspiration and chill. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellant. Mittens are warmer than gloves because fingers generate warmth when they touch each other.
  • Stretch before you go out.
  • If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. Also take frequent breaks.
  • Cover your mouth.
  • Protect your lungs from extremely cold air by covering your mouth when outdoors. Try not to speak unless absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Be aware of symptoms of dehydration.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Keep dry.
  • Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance–infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.

Wind Chill

Wind Chill is a calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined. A strong wind combined with a temperature of just below freezing can have the same effect as a still air temperature about 35 degrees colder.

Winter Storm Watches and Warnings

A winter storm watch indicates that severe winter weather may affect your area. A winter storm warning indicates that severe winter weather conditions are definitely on the way.

A blizzard warning means that large amounts of falling or blowing snow and sustained winds of at least 35 miles per hour are expected for several hours.

Frostbite and Hypothermia
Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can permanently damage its victims. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, or nose and ear lobes are symptoms of frostbite.

Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical assistance. Warm the person’s trunk (mid-body) first. Use your own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because stimulation of the limbs can drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure. Put person in dry clothing and wrap their entire body in a blanket.

Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim something with caffeine in it (like coffee or tea) or alcohol. Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart to beat faster and hasten the effects the cold has on the body. Alcohol, a depressant, can slow the heart and also hasten the ill effects of cold body temperatures.