Winter Weather Safety

Every winter people die in America from exposure to the cold, carbon monoxide poisoning, traffic accidents in ice and snow, and heart attacks when shoveling snow.  Remember: the key to surviving a winter storm is to BE PREPARED AHEAD OF TIME.   But once the weather hits, consider these safety tips:

When indoors:

  • Keep space heaters away from walls, furniture, and curtains.
  • Drink non-alcoholic beverages like tea, coffee, hot chocolate and soup.
  • Prescription drugs may increase vulnerability to cold. Check with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • If you suspect a problem with your heater, have it checked immediately.
  • Keep your Carbon monoxide detector in working order.
  • Offer assistance to elderly and disabled people living alone.
  • Listen to NOAA weather radio for continuous updates on the weather situation.


When venturing outdoors:

  • Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, warm/dry clothing in several layers.
  • Wear a hat.
  • Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.
  • Wear mittens. (They are warmer than gloves.)
  • As protection against frostbite, cover any exposed skin surfaces.


If you get frostbite, warm the affected areas gradually by wrapping them or placing them next to warm skin. DO NOT rub the affected areas.

If you notice dizziness, numbness, confusion, impaired vision, stiff muscles, a puffy face, slowed breathing, or fatigue, you may have hypothermia. Call 911 immediately and move to a warmer place. Hypothermia is a life- threatening condition that causes your body temperature to fall below normal, affecting how your body functions.

When shoveling snow, remember that it is extremely hard work. Do not shovel snow unless you're in good physical condition. But if you have to shovel snow:

  • Rest frequently and pace yourself.
  • Use a proper snow shovel.
  • Lift with your leg muscles, not your back.
  • If you experience chest or arm pain, stop immediately and go indoors.  Overexertion can cause sore muscles, falls on slippery surfaces, and heart attacks in people of all ages.

With good planning and a little common sense, it is usually possible to stay safe during the harsh Midwest winters.

Winter Weather Safety on the road 

The most important thing you can do when the weather gets rough is to think twice before hitting the road. A blizzard or strong winter storm can turn the trip itself into a life threatening situation.

If you have to travel, check a few things before you leave:

  • Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Check your windshield wipers and keep your washer fluid full.
  • Carry extra weight (such as sand bags) in the trunk of your car or bed of your truck, particularly for rear-wheel drive vehicles.
  • If you have one, take along a cellular phone (with charged batteries), CB radio, or Ham Radio.
  • 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 foods 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
  • Tell someone where you are going, the route you will be taking, and when you expect to arrive.

  • Check the latest forecasts and road conditions just before departure.
  • Take your NOAA Weather Radio with you to keep track of changing weather conditions

And once you get going, just be careful.

  • Turn on your lights and brush the snow off of them frequently.
  • Slow down,
  • Turn, brake and accelerate gradually,
  • Leave plenty of room between you and the other vehicles.
  • Be particularly careful on ramps, bridges, and overpasses.
  • If you encounter a snowplow, allow plenty of room for it to pass and use extreme caution if you attempt to pass it. Remember that the blade on a snowplow extends several feet in front of the truck and can extend on both sides of the truck outside the lane boundaries.

If you become stranded, DON'T PANIC.

  • Stay in your vehicle. Don't try to walk to safety.
  • If you have a CB radio, ham radio, or cellular phone, call for help.
  • Attach a cloth to your car's antenna or window to indicate you need help
  • Turn on the dome light and flashers to make your car more noticeable.
  • Periodically run the engine and heater, but make sure you open your window a crack and make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.

Winter weather travel can be extremely treacherous. But a little preparation and common sense will go a long way in keeping us all safe this winter.

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.