WINTER SAFETY TIPS
Timely preparation, including structural and non-structural mitigation measures to avoid the impacts of severe winter weather, can avert heavy personal, business and government expenditures. Experts agree that the following measures can be effective in dealing with the challenges of severe winter weather:
BEFORE SEVERE WEATHER ARRIVES
Store drinking water, first aid kit, canned/no-cook food, non-electric can opener, radio, flashlight and extra batteries where you can get them easily, even in the dark.
Keep cars and other vehicles fueled and in good repair, with a winter emergency kit in each.
Get a NOAA Weather Radio to monitor severe weather.
Know how the public is warned (siren, radio, TV, etc.) and the warning terms for each kind of disaster in your community; e.g.:
“winter storm watch” — Be alert, a storm is likely
“winter storm warning” — Take action, the storm is in or entering the area
“blizzard warning” — Snow and strong winds combined will produce blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill–seek refuge immediately!
“winter weather advisory” — Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, especially to motorists
“frost/freeze warning” — Below freezing temperatures are expected and may cause damage to plants, crops, or fruit trees
“flash flood or flood watch” — Be alert to signs of flash flooding and be ready to evacuate on a moment’s notice
“flash flood warning” — A flash flood is imminent–act quickly to save yourself because you may have only seconds
“flood warning” — Flooding has been reported or is imminent–take necessary precautions at once
Know safe routes from home, work and school to high ground.
Know how to contact other household members through a common out-of-state contact in the event you and have to evacuate and become separated.
Know how to turn off gas, electric power and water before evacuating.
Know ahead of time what you should do to help elderly or disabled friends, neighbors or employees.
Keep plywood, plastic sheeting, lumber, sandbags and hand tools on hand and accessible.
Winterize your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment. Install storm shutters, doors and windows; clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks; and check the structural ability of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the accumulation of snow–or water, if drains on flat roofs do not work.
If you think you might want to volunteer in case of a disaster, now is the time to let voluntary organizations or the emergency services office know–beforehand.
DURING ANY STORM OR EMERGENCY
Monitor your NOAA Weather Radio or keep a local radio and/or TV station on for information and emergency instructions.
Have your emergency survival kit ready to go if told to evacuate.
If you go outside for any reason, dress for the season and expected conditions:
For cold weather, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water-repellent. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Wear a hat. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs from extremely cold air. Wear sturdy, waterproof boots in snow or flooding conditions.
If advised to evacuate, tell others where you are going, turn off utilities if told to, then leave immediately, following routes designated by local officials.
DURING A FLOOD
Avoid areas subject to sudden flooding.
Do not try to walk across running water more than 6 inches deep; even 6 inches of rapidly running water can sweep you off your feet.
Do not drive into flooded areas. If your car stalls, abandon it immediately–if you can–and seek higher ground.
DURING A WINTER STORM
Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your house cooler than normal. Temporarily shut off heat to less-used rooms.
If using kerosene heaters, maintain ventilation to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Keep heaters at least three feet from flammable objects. Refuel kerosene heaters outside.
Avoid travel if possible. If you must travel, do so during daylight. Don’t travel alone. Stay on main roads, and keep others informed of your schedule.
IF A BLIZZARD TRAPS YOU IN YOUR CAR
Pull off the road, set hazard lights to flashing, and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window. Remain in your vehicle; rescuers are most likely to find you there.
Conserve fuel, but run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, cracking a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Exercise to maintain body heat but don’t overexert. Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
In extreme cold use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers or extra clothing for covering–anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.
Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see you at night, but be careful not to run the battery down. In remote areas, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract the attention of rescue planes.
Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
Once the blizzard is over, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot. Follow the road if possible. If you need to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain your sense of direction.
AFTER THE STORM
Report downed power lines and broken gas lines immediately.
After blizzards, heavy snows or extreme cold, check to see that no physical damage has occurred and that water pipes are functioning. If there are no other problems, wait for streets and roads to be opened before you attempt to drive anywhere.
Check on neighbors, especially any who might need help.
Beware of overexertion and exhaustion. Shoveling snow in extreme cold causes many heart attacks. Set your priorities and pace yourself after any disaster that leaves you with a mess to clean up. The natural tendency is to do too much too soon.
RETURNING TO YOUR HOME AFTER A FLOOD
Do not turn electricity back on if you smell gas or if the electric system has been flooded.
Wear sturdy work boots and gloves.
Do not handle electric equipment in wet areas.
Use flashlights, not lanterns, candles or matches, to check buildings containing natural gas, propane, or gasoline.
Follow directions from local officials regarding the safety of drinking water.
Clean and disinfect everything that was touched by flood waters and throw out any such foodstuffs.
If you want to help other victims, give cash donations to the appropriate relief agencies to buy what the victims need. Donated goods such as used clothing, unlabeled and unsorted by size, are usually more of a logistical problem than a help. If particular items are needed, there will be public announcements and instructions concerning these.
Don’t go to the disaster scene on your own to volunteer. If you are already a volunteer, you will know where you are to report. If additional volunteers are needed for labor-intensive work like sandbagging, public announcements will be made.
The leading cause of death during winter storms is transportation accidents. Preparing your vehicle for the winter season and knowing how to react if stranded or lost on the road are the keys to safe winter driving.
BEFORE Have a mechanic check the following items on your car.
- Wipers and windshield washer fluid
- Ignition system
- Flashing hazard lights
- Exhaust system
- Oil level (if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade oil or the SAE 10w/30 weight variety)
Install good winter tires.
Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs. Keep a windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal. Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season. Plan long trips carefully. Listen to the radio or call the state highway patrol for the latest road conditions. Always travel during daylight and, if possible, take at least one other person. If you must go out during a winter storm, use public transportation. Dress warmly. Wear layers of loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Carry food and water. Store a supply of high energy “munchies” and several bottles of water. Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross chapter for more information on winter driving.
Winter Car Kit
Keep these items in your car:
Flashlights with extra batteries
First aid kit with pocket knife
Extra newspapers for insulation
Plastic bags (for sanitation)
Extra set of mittens, socks, and a wool cap
Rain gear and extra clothes
Small sack of sand for generating traction under wheels
Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
Set of tire chains or traction mats
Cards, games, and puzzles
Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag
Canned fruit and nuts
Nonelectric can opener
DURING- IF TRAPPED IN CAR DURING A BLIZZARD
Stay in the car. Do not leave the car to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. You may become disoriented and lost is blowing and drifting snow.
Display a trouble sign. Hang a brightly colored cloth on the radio antenna and raise the hood.
Occasionally run engine to keep warm. Turn on the car’s engine for about 10 minutes each hour. Run the heater when the car is running. Also, turn on the car’s dome light when the car is running.
Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Do minor exercises to keep up circulation.
Clap hands and move arms and legs occasionally. Try not to stay in one position for too long. If more than one person is in the car, take turns sleeping.
For warmth, huddle together.
Use newspapers, maps, and even the removable car mats for added insulation.
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.
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 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.
Drive Safely in the Snow
Driving in the winter means changes in the way you drive. Snow, sleet and ice can lead to hazardous road conditions. Prepare your vehicle for the upcoming winter season with these helpful tips.
Prepare Your Car for Winter
In addition to annual maintenance, here are some tips to winterize your car:
- Test your battery; battery power drops as the temperature drops
- Make sure the cooling system is in good working order
- Have winter tires with a deeper, more flexible tread put on your car
- If using all-season tires, check the tread on your tires and replace if less than 2/32 of an inch
- Check the tire pressure; tire pressure drops as the temperature drops
- Check your wiper blades and replace if needed
- Add wiper fluid rated for -30 degrees
- Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze
Remember to keep your car’s emergency preparedness kit fully stocked, too.
Before You Start Out
- Clean your car’s external camera lenses and side view mirrors so you’ll be able to see what’s around you
- Remove dirt, ice and snow from sensors to allow the assistive-driving features like automatic emergency braking to work
- In frigid weather, you may want to warm up the car before you drive it
- To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, never leave a vehicle running in your garage – even with the garage door up
- If the forecast looks iffy, wait out the storm if possible; if you must travel, share your travel plans and route with someone before you leave
How to Avoid a Crash
AAA offers the following driving tips:
- Avoid using cruise control in wintry conditions
- Steer in the direction of a skid, so when your wheels regain traction, you don’t have to overcorrect to stay in your lane
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly
- Increase following distance to 8 to 10 seconds
- If possible, don’t stop when going uphill
If visibility is severely limited due to a whiteout, pull off the road to a safe place and do not drive until conditions improve. Avoid pulling off onto the shoulder unless it is an absolute emergency. Limited visibility means other vehicles can’t see yours on the shoulder.
Know Your Car’s Capabilities
My Car Does What? is a national campaign to help educate drivers about the safety features built into vehicles. Search for your car and find out what safety features are already built in.
Traction control is now standard on most new vehicles. This function helps your vehicle gain traction on snowy, icy or wet surfaces, particularly when accelerating from a stopped or slowed position, or when trying to make it up a slippery hill.
Anti-lock braking system (ABS) helps you steer in emergencies by restoring traction to your tires and is standard on most new vehicles as well. ABS may vibrate or pulse when engaged. This is normal. Continue to press and hold pressure to the brake pedal.
Remember, you are your car’s best safety feature. Take precautions to ensure you arrive safely at your destination. If you become stranded in an unfamiliar area, do not leave your car. Light flares in front and behind the car and make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, mud or objects.
Avoid Shoveling, Snowblowing Injuries
Shoveling snow or using a snowblower are among winter’s most grueling activities. High levels of activity in cold temperatures put many people at risk of heart attack, especially those that have inactive lifestyles.
Treat Frostbite Immediately
Use first aid to help someone who may have hypothermia or frostbite. Online and classroom courses are available at workplaces and other organizations through NSC. Download the NSC first aid app and you will be ready to give first aid for frostbite, hypothermia and many other emergencies.
Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide detectors save lives. Every year, over 400 people die and 50,000 are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning.
The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often described as “flu-like” – headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. Check out our carbon monoxide fact page.
Avoid Injuries While Enjoying the Winter Weather
Whether you are skiing, snowboarding, sledding or skating, take safety precautions like learning basic skills and using the appropriate gear for the sport.