Winter Weather Preparedness

Winter weather effects Iowa and surrounding states, and sometimes can produce life-threatening conditions.  The information found on this page and at the accompanying links will supply you with vital, life-saving information for winter weater.

A few facts and other information from Winter Storms:  The Deceptive Killers, found at the Main NWS Winter Weather Preparedness Webpage:
  • Each year, dozens of Americans die due to exposure to cold. Add to that number, vehicle accidents and fatalities, fires due to dangerous use of heaters and other winter weather fatalities and you have a significant threat.
  • Threats, such as hypothermia and frostbite, can lead to loss of fingers and toes or cause permanent kidney, pancreas and liver injury and even death. You must prepare properly to avoid these extreme dangers. You also need to know what to do if you see symtoms of these threats.
  • A major winter storm can last for several days and be accompanied by high winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall and cold temperatures.
  • People can become trapped at home or in a car, without utilities or other assistance.
  • Attempting to walk for help in a winter storm can be a deadly decision.
  • The aftermath of a winter storm can have an impact on a community or region for days, weeks or even months.
  • Extremely cold temperatures, heavy snow and coastal flooding can cause hazardous conditions and hidden problems.

Information Flow and Availability

You can and should take responsibility to be prepared for hazardous winter weather by becoming familiar with the flow and types of information available from your National Weather Service office.  This information is shared through local media outlets, the internet, NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio, and increasingly through wireless communciation.  Various types of informational products will flow from your local NWS office, depending upon the time frame of when the winter weather will occur.  Specifically, you should listen for and be aware of:
  • Outlook:  This information is shared in our daily Hazardous Weather Outlooks for weather that will occur from two to seven days out.
  • Watch:   This information is sent out when winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours.  This information can be found in our Watches/Warnings link underneath "Current Hazards" at the top of the left-hand navigational menu.
  • Warning:  Life-threatening severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.  Using the information found here and on associated links, take action now to make potentially life-saving decisions.  This information can be found in our Watches/Warnings link underneath "Current Hazards".
  • Advisory:  Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, especially for automobiles or early in the winter season.  If you are cautious, these situations shoudl not be life-threatening.  This information may also be found in our Watches/Warnings link in the "Winter Weather Section" of that page.

Wind Chill

Even without snow and ice, winter can bring hazardous temperatures and dangerous wind chills to Iowa.  You can always find the current temperature and wind chills around the state by clicking on Observations, found in our left-hand navigational menu under Current Conditions.  The wind chill chart below depicts a scientifically derived length of time before frostbite occurs based upon temperature and wind speed on a human.

Wind Chill Chart

Be Prepared Before the Storm Strikes

At Home and Work, have available: In Vehicles On the Farm/Pets
  • Extra flashlights and batteries
  • Battery powered weather radio
  • Extra food and water
  • Extra medicine and baby items
  • First-aid supplies
  • Heating fuel
  • Emergence heat source
  • Fire extinguisher/smoke alarm
  • Winterize vehicle before the winter
  • Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit, including:
  • Mobile phone and charger or extra batteries
  • Blankets
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Knife
  • High-calorie, non-perishable food
  • Extra clothing
  • Sack of sand or kitty litter
  • Shovel
  • Ice scraper
  • Battery booster cables
  • Keep gas tank near full
  • Move animals to sheltered areas if possible
  • Haul extra feed/hay
  • Make sure plenty of water will be availalbe
  • Pets should have plenty of food, water, and shelter too.
  • If it's going to be extremely cold, consider bringing pets inside or into garage.

When Caught in a Winter Storm

Outside In a Vehicle Inside
  • Find Shelter
  • Stay Dry
  • Cover all exposed body parts
  • Stay in vehicle
  • Run engine about 10 minutes each hour for heat
  • Crack the window a little bit when running the engine to avoid carbon dioxide poisoning
  • Make sure exhaust isn't blocked by snow
  • Be visible to rescuers by turning on dome light when running engine
  • Exercise to keep warm
  • Remain inside if possible and stay warm using an alternative heat source if needed.
  • Close off unneeded rooms if your heat is off
  • Cover windows at night.
  • Wear layers of clothing

Have a Family Disaster Plan in Place

Prepare your family with a family disaster plan that can accomodate different types of disasters including both natural (winter storms, tornadoes, etc.) and man-made disasters.  The National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Red Cross, and your state or local Emergency Management Agencies all have information on developing and implementing these disaster plans along with suggestions for testing them.  Briefly, the steps to take in order to develop a plan include:
  • Gather information about hazards
  • Meet with your family to create a plan
  • Implement the plan
  • Practice and maintain or update your plan as needed
Additional information on Family Disaster Plans can be found at the following links: is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.