Winter Storms

Winter storms can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice and high winds. These conditions can create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning and even heart attacks from overexertion. Winter storms can last a few hours or several days. They can knock out heat, power and communication services.

Prepare for winter storms to protect your family and property.

Take the following steps to prepare for winter storms:

Plan to Stay Warm

  • Stay warm indoors to prevent frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Before the winter season begins, make sure you can heat your home safely. Prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking, and weather stripping.
  • Consider using an indoor thermometer or thermostat to monitor the temperature inside.
  • Plan to check on loved ones and neighbors to make sure they are staying warm. This is especially important for older adults and babies.
  • Drink plenty of warm fluids but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid travel if you can.
  • If you must go outside, plan to dress properly. Keep your nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, and toes covered in warm, dry clothing. These areas are the first to be at risk for frostbite.
  • Wear layers of loose clothing, a coat, hat, mittens, and water-resistant boots. Use a scarf to cover your face and mouth.
  • Know where you will go if your home becomes too cold. You could go to a friend’s house, a public library, or a warming center.
Gather Emergency Supplies and Make a Plan
  • Gather food, water, and medicine before a winter storm. Stores might be closed, and it may be unsafe to travel.
  • Organize supplies into a Go-Kit and a Stay-at-Home Kit.

Go-Kit: at least three days of supplies you can carry with you if you need to go somewhere else to stay warm. Include critical backup batteries and chargers for your devices (cell phone, CPAP, wheelchair, etc.)

Stay-at-Home Kit: at least two weeks of supplies.
Ensure you have enough warm clothing, such as hats, mittens, and blankets, for everyone in your household.
You may lose access to drinking water. Set aside at least one gallon of drinking water per person per day.
Consider having emergency supplies in your vehicle, such as a blanket, warm clothing, a first aid kit, and boots.
Have a 1-month supply of needed medications and medical supplies. Consider keeping a list of your medications and dosages on a small card to carry with you.
Keep personal, financial, and medical records safe and easy to access (hard copies or securely backed up).
Have a snow shovel and ice-melting products to keep your walkways safe.
  • Make an emergency plan including emergency contacts, a designated meeting place, shelter plans for pets, and additional plans for anyone with specific needs.
Learn Emergency Skills
  • Learn first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Emergency services may be delayed.
  • Learn how to spot and treat frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery back-ups.
  • Be ready to live without power, gas, and water.
  • Learn how to keep pipes from freezing.
Plan to Stay Connected
  • Sign up for free emergency alerts from your local government.
  • Plan to monitor local weather and news.
  • Have a backup battery or a way to charge your cell phone.
  • Have a battery-powered radio to use during a power outage.
  • Understand the alerts you may receive:
A WATCH means Be Prepared!
A WARNING means Take Action!

Following are tips to keep you safe during a winter storm:

  • Stay off roads if at all possible. If trapped in your car, then stay inside.
  • Limit your time outside. If you need to go outside, then wear layers of warm clothing.
  • Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.  Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows.  Never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven.
  • Stay dry—wet clothing chills the body quickly.  Excess sweating will cause your body to lose more heat, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm.
  • Avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. Getting these materials on your skin will cause your body to lose a lot more heat.
  • Do not ignore shivering—it’s an important first sign that your body is losing heat.
  • Constant shivering is a sign that it is time to go inside.
  • If you have asthma, breathing in cold, dry air can trigger an asthma attack. Talk to your doctor about how you can prevent asthma attacks when outside in winter weather and remember to follow your Asthma Action Plan.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers and toes.
Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.
Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech or drowsiness.
Actions: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
  • Reduce the risk of a heart attack by avoiding overexertion when shoveling snow and walking in the snow.
  • Check on neighbors. Older adults and young children are more at risk in extreme cold.

Keep a water supply

Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and sometimes rupture or break. When you are expecting very cold or freezing temperatures:
  • Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
  • Keep the temperature inside your home warm.
  • Allow heated air to reach pipes. For example, open cabinet doors beneath the kitchen and bathroom sinks.
  • If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch. Thaw the pipes slowly with warm air from an electric hair dryer.
  • If you cannot thaw your pipes, or the pipes have broken open, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor’s home.
  • As an emergency measure, if no other water is available, snow can be melted for water. Bringing water to a rolling boil for one minute will kill most germs but won’t get rid of chemicals sometimes found in snow.

Visit Keep Food and Water Safe After a Disaster or Emergency to learn more.

Heat Your Home Safely

If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these safety tips:

  • Turning on the stove for heat is not safe; have at least one of the following heat sources in case the power goes out:
    • Extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter coats
    • Fireplace that is up to code with plenty of dry firewood or a gas log fireplace
    • Portable space heaters or kerosene heaters. Check with your local fire department to make sure that kerosene heaters are legal in your area.
  • Use electric space heaters with automatic shut-off switches and non-glowing elements. Make sure to keep them away from any flammable materials, like curtains or blankets.
  • Use fireplaces, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak gas from the flue or exhaust into the indoor air space.
  • Have your heating system serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
  • Make sure you have proper ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.
  • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don’t substitute.
  • Keep heat sources, like space heaters, at least 3 feet away from drapes, furniture, or bedding. Never cover your space heater.
  • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.
  • Never leave children unattended near a space heater.
  • Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard, but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs.
  • Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater.
  • If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.

Generator Safety

Generators can be helpful when the power goes out. It is important to know how use them safely to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and other hazards.

  • Generators and fuel should always be used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and attached garages.
  • Install working carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill you, your family and pets.
  • Keep the generator dry and protected from rain or flooding. Touching a wet generator or devices connected to one can cause electrical shock.
  • Always connect the generator to appliances with heavy-duty extension cords.
  • Let the generator cool before refueling. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts can ignite.
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully.

Monitor weather conditions closely and follow these tips once a winter storm has passed:

  • Avoid walking outside on slippery or hilly surfaces until all ice has melted. Even when snow, sleet and/or freezing rain are no longer falling, it may take considerable time for frozen precipitation on the ground to melt.
  • Continue to conserve food and water until you can be sure it is safe to travel to replenish your food supplies. If your area's emergency management authorities have issued an alert to boil water before drinking, be sure to heed their warnings until the alert has been lifted.
  • Avoid over exertion when shoveling.  Snow shoveling can lead to a number of health risks for many people, from back injuries to heart attacks. The mix of cold temperatures and physical exertion increases the workload on the heart, which may increase the risk of a heart attack for some.
  • If you suspect your pipes have frozen, call a plumber to inspect the pipes as soon as possible. If a pipe has indeed frozen and/or burst, shut off your home's water valve immediately.
  • Check on your neighbors.  Older adults and young children are more at risk
    in extreme cold.
Winter Driving Safety 
  •  Charge your cell phone battery before you leave if possible and be sure you have an emergency kit for your car.
  • Before you drive your car, take time to ensure your exhaust pipe is clear.
  • Brush all the snow off the car so it doesn't fall on your windshield while you are driving or fly onto other cars, causing an accident.
  • Leave extra time for blocked, closed or icy roads.
  • Be extremely careful when driving, as snow and ice can melt during the day and then re-freeze to an icy glaze when the sun goes down and temperatures drop below freezing again.
  • Black ice is patchy ice on roadways that cannot easily be seen. Even if roadways have been cleared of snow following a storm, any water left on the roadways may freeze, resulting in a clear sheet of ice, also known as black ice. It is most dangerous in the early morning due to below freezing nighttime temperatures.
  • Potholes are a common road hazard following winter precipitation and can be difficult to see and can cause serious damage to your vehicle. 

Additional Resources