Winter Storms

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.


  • 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.
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.

Have safe emergency heating equipment available:

  • Fireplace with ample supply of wood
  • Small, well-vented, wood, coal, or camp stove with fuel
  • Portable space heaters or kerosene heaters (See Kerosene Heaters.)
  • Install and check smoke detectors.
  • Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on winter storms.

Keep pipes from freezing:

  • Wrap pipes in insulation or layers of old newspapers.
  • Cover the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture.
  • Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
  • Know how to shut off water valves.

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)
  • Nonelectric 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.

Kerosene Heaters:

  • Check with your local fire department on the legality of using kerosene heaters in your community.
  • Use only the correct fuel for your unit and follow the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Refuel outdoors only, and only when cool.
  • Keep your kerosene heater at least 3 feet away from furniture and other flammable objects.

During - 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.
  • If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags.
  • Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most likely to penetrate).
  • Listen to the radio or television to get the latest information.

During - 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.
  • On November 1, 2001, the National Weather Service (NWS) implemented a replacement Wind Chill Temperature (WCT) index for the 2001/2002 winter season. The reason for the change was to improve upon the current WCT Index which was based on the 1945 Siple and Passel Index.
  • For more on the new index, please visit the NWS web site.

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 first.
  • Use your own body heat to
  • 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.


  • Mitigation includes any activities that prevent an emergency, reduce the chance of an emergency happening, or lessen the damaging effects of unavoidable emergencies.
  • Investing in preventive mitigation steps now such as purchasing a flood insurance policy and installing storm windows will help reduce the impact of winter storms in the future.
  • For more information on mitigation, contact your local emergency management office.