Winter storms can reduce visibilities make driving a hazardous endeavor.
Photo Courtesy of Kevin Skow. Used with Permission
Blizzard conditions make roads nearly impossible to navigate. In this photo, the road is directly in front of the car. Note the power line pole just off to the side of the road that is barely visible.
Photo Courtesy of the Emmet County EMA.

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Winter Weather: Staying Safe

Introduction
NWS Products
Wind Chill
Cold and the Body
Staying Safe

 


Being safe in dangerous winter weather means not only to taking the appropriate steps during the storm, but also having the right supplies on hand. If you wait to stock up on supplies until a watch or warning is issued, you run the risk of the supplies being out of stock or the store being closed. Therefore, it is recommended to check the winter supplies in your home and vehicle each fall and stock up on anything that is running low.

  At Home:

    Beforehand

        Below is a list of items you should have in your house/apartment during the winter should you be trapped by the
        snow or lose electricity. This is not an exhaustive list.

  • Food that does not require refrigeration and can be prepared without heat or electricity. Ensure there is enough food for each person in your house to last at least three days. Some food items include:
    • Ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, and vegetables (Requires a manual can opener)
    • Crackers, nuts, granola bars, fruit bars, and chips
    • Soups (Some soups require mixing with water or heating)
    • Cookies and Hard Candy
    • Bread (keep frozen to preserve its longevity) and condiments like peanut butter and jelly
    • Cereal and toaster pastries
    • MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)
  • An ample supply of specialty items such as medications, infant ready-to-feed formulas, and dietary items
  • Bottled water: One gallon of water per person per day (for at least three days)
  • Disposable plates, bowls, and utensils that do not require washing
  • Flashlight with FRESH spare batteries or a hand powered flashlight
  • Battery/hand powered radio or NOAA Weather Radio
  • First Aid Kit
  • Spare blankets, sweaters, coats, hats, mittens, boots, and socks in case heat is lost
  • Firewood (If you have a wood burning fireplace)
  • Spare matches (if you have certain models of gas fireplaces)
  • Equipment to remove snow (shovel, snow blower, salt, etc.)
    • Be sure to check your snow blower each fall to ensure it is properly working
  • If it is permissible, a generator is a valuable asset to power key household appliances. Be sure to carefully follow all directions provided with the generator!

       Additional information on assembling disaster kits can be found on the Planning Ahead page and on the FEMA
       website.


    During the Event

        During severe winter weather, the best advice is to stay inside your house. Plummeting temperatures and high
        winds that often accompany winter storms allow frostbite and hypothermia to set in quickly if you are outside. Also,
        road conditions will likely be very treacherous, especially if you live in rural areas. Monitor local media outlets for
        the latest information on the storm.

  In Your Vehicle:

    Beforehand

        Each fall, take the time to go through your vehicle and winterize it. This includes:

  • Checking fluid levels in the engine
  • Inspecting and testing your battery
  • Switching to a deicing windshield washing fluid that is effective at low temperatures
  • Switching to a synthetic motor oil that can handle colder temperatures
  • Inspecting tire treads--if the tread is nearing the wear limits it would be good to replace the tires
  • Installing snow tires if you own a set
  • Testing headlights and taillights

        Most importantly, make sure you carry a winter survival kit in your car in case you get stranded. You can use a
        large plastic tote or box to hold all of the needed items. If you already have one in your car, go through it and
        make sure it is fully stocked and ensure that any perishable items are still good to use. Items that should be
        in a winter survival kit include:

  • A First Aid Kit and necessary medication in case you are away from home for a prolonged time (this should be in your car year round)
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Spare winter clothes such as mittens, coats, socks, and hats
  • Plastic bags for sanitation
  • Canned fruit, nuts, and other high-energy foods (include a manual can opener)
  • Bottled water for each person and pet in your car
  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlight and FRESH extra batteries (cold weather drains batteries faster)
  • AM/FM radio to listen to traffic reports and emergency messages
  • Cat litter or sand for better tire traction
  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper with brush
  • Flares or reflective triangle
  • Brightly colored cloth (ideally red) to tie to the antenna or hang out a window

    During the Event

        If you must drive during or immediately after a winter storm...

    Winter Driving
  • Travel in the day and do not travel alone
  • Stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts
  • Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
  • Leave plenty of space between you and the car ahead of you, do not suddenly accelerate or brake, and navigate turns with caution.

        If you become stranded in your vehicle...

  • Turn on your hazard lights and hang a 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 know you can take shelter. Be careful: distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close, but be too far to walk to in deep snow.
  • Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Winter Driving
  • 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.
  • Eat regularly and drink ample fluids to avoid dehydration, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs - the use of lights, heat, and radio - with supply.
  • Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.
  • If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.
  • Leave the car and proceed on foot - if necessary - once the blizzard passes.

  Outside:

        Below are some tips for staying warm if you must venture outside in a winter storm or cold weather.

  • Wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing (shirts, pants, socks, etc.) rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Wear mittens, which are warmer than gloves.
  • Wear a hat. A hat will prevent the loss of body heat.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.

        If you are planning to take a hunting, camping, or other extended outdoor trip in the mid fall to mid spring
        timeframe, pay attention to the weather in the days leading up to the trip. If severe winter weather is forecast,
        consider postponing the trip. If you do head out:

  • Pack extra warm clothes, such as coats, hats, and mittens, as well as an additional change of regular clothes should you get wet. Many times, especially in the fall, warm summer-like weather can precede a dangerous winter storm, lulling people into a false sense of security.
  • Let friends and family know your travel plans and carry a cell phone. Ask people back home to routinely check the weather and call you if conditions are expected to deteriorate.
  • If you own a smartphone and have internet access at your location, you can use your phone to check on the latest weather conditions and if any watches and/or warnings are issued.
  • Carry a portable radio or NOAA Weather Radio to check on weather conditions.

        Should you become caught outside in a violent winter storm or blizzard...

  • If there is a building or other structure nearby (less than a quarter of a mile away), try to seek shelter there.
  • If there is no shelter nearby, Stay Put.
    • If you try to feel your way back to your car or to a nearby house you once saw in the distance, you could become easily disoriented by the blinding snow.
      • Blowing and falling snow will quickly cover your tracks, making backtracking to your original location nearly impossible.
      • This will also make it harder for rescuers to find you once the storm has passed.
    • Build a lean-to or hollow out a snow cave to shield yourself from the wind.
    • Stay dry and cover all exposed parts of the body.
    • Start a fire for heat and to attract attention.
    • Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat.
    • Do not eat snow: It will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.

 


Additional Information

National Institutes of Health - Stay Safe in Cold Weather
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention - Stay Safe and Healthy in Winter Weather
FEMA - Portable Generator Hazards

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