Winter Storm Safety
Winter storms in the form of blizzards, heavy snows, ice storms, freezing rain, or sleet
can be a serious hazard to people in many parts of the country. The first line of protection
is to KEEP POSTED ON WEATHER CONDITIONS in the surrounding area through television, radio,
Forecasts and Warnings
A few hours of warning of a storm can be the key to avoiding being caught in it, or at least
to be better prepared to cope with it. To take full advantage of weather forecasts and
warnings, learn and understand terms commonly used:
- A heavy snow warning usually means an expected snowfall of 4 inches or more in a 12-
hour period, or 6 inches or more in a 24-hour period. Warnings of snow flurries, snow
squalls, or blowing and drifting snow are important mainly because visibility maybe
reduced and roads may become slippery or blocked.
- A blizzard is the most dangerous of all winter storms. It combines cold air, heavy
snow, and strong winds that blow the snow about and may reduce visibility for only a
few yards. A blizzard warning is issued when the Weather Service expects considerable
snow and winds of 35 miles per hour or more. A severe blizzard warning means that a very
heavy snowfall is expected, with winds of at least 45 miles an hour and temperatures of
10 degrees or lower.
- Freezing rain or freezing drizzle is forecast when expected rain is likely to freeze as
soon as it strikes the ground, putting a coating of ice or glaze on roads and everything
else that is exposed. If a substantial layer of ice is expected to accumulate from the
freezing rain, an ice storm is forecast.
- Sleet is small particles of ice, usually mixed with rain. If enough sleet accumulates
on the ground, it will make the roads slippery
Be prepared for isolation at home. If you live in a rural area, make sure you could survive at
home for a week or two in case a storm isolated you making it impossible for you to leave.
- Keep an adequate supply of heating fuel on hand and use it sparingly. Your regular supplies
may be curtailed by storm conditions. If necessary, conserve fuel by "closing off" some rooms
temporarily. Also have available some kind of emergency heating equipment and fuel so you could
keep at least one room of your house warm enough to be livable. This could be a camp stove with
fuel, or a supply of wood or coal if you have a fireplace. If your furnace is controlled by a
thermostat and your electricity is cut off by a storm, the furnace probably would not operate
and you would need emergency heat.
- Stock an emergency supply of food and water, as well as emergency cooking equipment such as a
camp stove. Camp stoves should be used outside not indoors. Some of this food should be of the
type that does not require refrigeration or cooking.
- Make sure you have a battery-powered radio and extra batteries on hand, so that if your electric
power is cut off you could still hear weather forecasts, information, and advice broadcast by local
authorities. Also, flashlights or lanterns would be needed.
- Keep on hand the simple tools and equipment needed to fight a fire. Also, be certain that all
family members know how to take precautions that would prevent fire at such a time, when the help
of the fire department may not be available.
Know how to use your emergency heating and lighting equipment safely to prevent fire or dangerous
fumes. Use only safety listed equipment. Never introduce a fuel into a unit not designed for that
fuel. Proper ventilation is essential. Burning charcoal gives off deadly amounts of carbon monoxide.
Travel only if necessary. Avoid all unnecessary trips. If you must travel, use public
transportation if possible. However, if you are forced to use your automobile for a trip of any
distance, take these precautions:
- Make sure your car is in good condition, properly serviced, and equipped with chains or snow fires.
- Take another person with you if possible.
- Maintain a full tank of fuel.
- Have emergency "winter storm supplies" in the car, such as a container of sand, shovel
windshield scraper, tow chain, or rope, flashlight, and blankets or sleeping bags. It also is good
to have with you heavy gloves or mittens, overshoes, extra woolen socks, and winter headgear to cover
your head and face.
- Advise someone of your travel route and stick to it. If you breakdown they'll be able to find you.
- Travel by daylight and use major highways if you can. Keep the car radio turned on for weather information and advice.
- Drive with all possible caution. Don't try to save time by traveling faster than road and weather conditions permit.
- Don't be daring or foolhardy. Stop, turn back, or seek help if conditions threaten that may test your ability
or endurance, rather than risk being stalled, lost, or isolated. If you are caught in a blizzard, seek refuge immediately.
Keep calm if you get in trouble.
If your car breaks down during a storm, or if you become stalled or lost, don't panic. Think the problem through, decide
what's the safest and best thing to do, and then do it slowly and carefully. If you are on a well-traveled road, show a
trouble signal. Set your directional lights to flashing, raise the hood of your car, or hang a cloth from the radio antenna
or a car window. Then stay in your car and wait for help to arrive. If you run the engine to keep warm, remember to open a
window enough to provide ventilation and protect you from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Wherever you are, if there is no house or other source of help in sight, do not leave your car to search for assistance,
as you may become confused and get lost.
Avoid overexertion. Every winter many unnecessary deaths occur because people - especially older persons, but
younger ones as well - engage in more strenuous physical activity than their bodies can stand. Cold weather itself, without
any physical exertion, puts an extra strain on your heart. If you add to this physical exercise, especially exercise that
you are not accustomed to - such as shoveling snow, pushing an automobile, or even walking fast or far - you are risking a
heart attack, a stroke, or damage to your body. In winter weather, and especially in winter storms, be aware of this danger,
and avoid overexertion.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's Family Protection Program and the American Red Cross' Disaster Education Program
are nationwide efforts to help citizens prepare for disasters of all types. For more information, please contact your local
emergency management or civil defense office, and your local American Red Cross chapter. Start planning now.
Request free family protection publications by writing to:
P.O. Box 70274
Washington, D.C. 20024.
Ask for: "Are You Ready?", "Your Family Disaster Supplies Kit" and "Emergency Food and Water Supplies."