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Winter Storms

Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. Even areas that normally experience mild winters can be hit with a major snowstorm or extreme cold. Winter storms can result in flooding, storm surge, closed highways, blocked roads, downed power lines and hypothermia.

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a winter storm hazard.
  • Freezing Rain - Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
  • Sleet - Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Storm Watch - A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information.
  • Winter Storm Warning - A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.
  • Blizzard Warning - Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning - Below freezing temperatures are expected.

During a winter storm or under conditions of extreme cold:

  • Listen to your radio, television or NOAA Weather Radio for weather reports and emergency information.
  • Eat regularly and drink ample fluids to avoid dehydration, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack - a major cause of death in winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside and rest often.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite. These include loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical aid immediately.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first, and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medial aid as soon as possible.
  • Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your home cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat to some rooms.
  • Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.
  • Drive only if it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive, consider the following:
    • Travel in the daytime, don't travel alone and keep others informed of your schedule and route.
    • Stay on main roads, avoid back roads and shortcuts.
    • If a blizzard traps you in a vehicle, keep these guidelines in mind:
      • Pull off the highway, turn on hazard lights and hang a bright distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
      • Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. DO NOT set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you can take shelter.
      • Keep a Survival Kit in your car with essential survival supplies including food and water.
      • Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open an upwind window slightly for ventilation to prevent carbon monoxide buildup. Periodically clear snow from the tailpipe as needed.
      • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
      • Take turns sleeping; one person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
      • Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs - lights, heat and radio - with supply.
      • Turn on inside light at night so rescuers can see the vehicle.


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