Winter Weather Preparedness

Heavy Snow
Heavy snow can immobilize a region and paralyze a city, stranding commuters, stopping the flow of supplies, and disrupting emergency and medical services. Accumulations of snow can collapse roofs and knock down trees and power lines.  In rural areas homes and farms may be isolated for days, and unprotected livestock may be lost. The cost of snow removal, repairing damage, and loss of business can have a tremendous impact on cities and towns.

Some winter storms are accompanied by strong winds, creating blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow, severe drifting, and dangerous wind chills. Strong winds with these Intense storms and cold fronts can knock down trees, utility poles and power lines.

They are rare, but sometimes a ground blizzard can strike the region. The sun may be shining, but strong winds gusting in excess of 40 mph can pick loose, dry snow off the ground. This blowing snow can reduce visibilities to only a few feet in areas where there are no trees or buildings. If you are traveling, you may get the sensation of driving into a ball of cotton. Serious vehicle accidents can result with injuries and deaths.

Extreme Cold
Extreme cold often accompanies a winter storm or is left in its wake. Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia and can become life-threatening. Infants and the elderly are most susceptible. Pipes may freeze and burst in homes or buildings that are poorly insulated or without heat.

Ice Storms
Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down trees, electrical wires, telephone poles and lines, and communication towers. Communications and power can be disrupted for days while utility companies work to repair the extensive damage. Even small accumulations of ice may cause extreme hazards to motorists and pedestrians.

Dense Fog
Another hazard is dense fog. A typical winter will usually feature a half-dozen cases in which dense fog reduces visibilities to less than 1/4 mile, or even down to near zero. In the worst case, there can be a multiple vehicle accident consisting of 15 to 30 vehicles. You literally may not see the vehicle in front of you until it is too late.

Remember: the key to surviving a winter storm is to BE PREPARED AHEAD OF TIME.

Preparedness Tips

For yourself, you can:

  • Check with your doctor or pharmacist about your prescription drugs. They may increase vulnerability to cold.
  • Check on elderly and disabled people living alone. Make sure they are prepared for winter conditions.
  • Stock up on non-alcoholic beverages like tea, coffee, hot chocolate and soup.
  • Maintain good nutrition and get plenty of rest.

At your home or business:

  • Have your furnace and wall heaters checked by a professional for safety.
  • Check all space heaters and keep them away from walls, curtains, and furniture.
  • If you have a gas heater or any gas appliances, invest in a carbon monoxide detector. (Carbon monoxide kills about 300 people in the U.S. every year.)
  • Replace the batteries in all of your smoke detectors and test the smoke alarms to make sure they work.
  • Check the batteries in your NOAA Weather Radio.


Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins:

  • Give your vehicle a tune-up.
  • Check the tires, brakes, and battery.
  • Check the heating and defrosting system.
  • Check your windshield wipers and keep your washer fluid full.
  • Change the anti-freeze, if needed, to protect the engine and radiator from freezing in cold temperatures.
  • Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Pack and carry a winter storm survival kit, including:


    • blankets or sleeping bags
    • additional warm clothing
    • a flashlight with extra batteries
    • a first-aid kit
    • a knife
    • high-calorie, non-perishable food such as candy bars
    • a small can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking
    • a bag of sand or cat litter
    • a shovel
    • a windshield scraper and brush
    • and booster cables

You may also consider carrying a portable NOAA weather radio in your vehicle to keep track of changing weather conditions when you are on-the-go.

And don't forget your outdoor pets and livestock:
Make sure they have a source of water that will not freeze and a warm place to take shelter from the wind and cold. And make sure they have enough food available for a prolonged cold spell or a snowstorm.

For free brochures on winter weather precautions and for more information on cold weather first aid, contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.