Winter Weather

Cold Weather Hazards

FROSTBITE: Frozen body tissue

  • Symptoms: A loss of feeling in and a white or pale appearance of fingers, toes, or ear lobes.
  • Treatment: Slowly warm the affected areas. If someone is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.
  • Prevention: Cover your entire body with clothing. Wear mittens instead of gloves. Do not stay outside for extended periods during extremely cold weather.

HYPOTHERMIA: Low body temperature

  • Symptoms: Uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.
  • Treatment: Begin warming the person slowly. First, get them into dry clothing and wrap them in a warm blanket, covering the head and neck.  Then warm their torso with blankets or by using your own body heat.  Do not start by warming the extremities such as the legs and arms, because that can drive the cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure. Do not give them alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverage or food; warm broth is better.  If the symptoms are extreme, call for professional medical assistance immediately
  • Prevention: Avoid overexertion; such as shoveling 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 hypothermia. Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Remove layers to avoid overheating, perspiration, and subsequent chill. Do not eat snow because it will lower your body temperature!

WIND CHILL: Strong winds and cold temperatures

Wind Chill is a measure of how cold people feel due to the combined effect of wind and cold temperatures; the Wind Chill Index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin.  Both cold temperatures and wind remove heat from the body; as the wind speed increases during cold conditions, it loses heat more quickly.  Eventually, the internal body temperature also falls and hypothermia can develop.  Animals also feel the effects of wind chill; but inanimate objects, such as vehicles and buildings, do not--they will only cool to the actual air temperature (although much faster during windy conditions).  Read how the Wind Chill Index was developed.

Download a Wind Chill Chart to calculate the wind chill temperature.

Preparing for Winter Storms

Could you survive a winter storm that lasts several days? Adequate preparation could be the difference between inconvenience and survival.

Supplies to have at home or work:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and commercial radio
  • Extra food and water: High energy food or food that requires no cooking is best
  • First-aid supplies
  • Enough fuel to last several days
  • Emergency heating source, such as a fireplace or space heater, and proper ventilation
  • Corded telephone (cordless phones do not work without electrical power)
  • Special supplies for all members of your family such as prescription medicine, baby diapers and formula, and pet food

For your vehicles:

  • Winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins
  • Even if you do not take long trips, carry a survival kit that includes: Warm boots, flashlight with extra batteries, sand or cat litter, shovel, windshield scraper and brush, booster cables, tool kit, first-aid kit, blankets/sleeping bags, knife, high-calorie non-perishable food, extra clothing to keep dry, empty cans, matches and candles.

 Choose proper clothing for outdoors:

  • Loose-fitting, lightweight layers
  • Water repellant outer garments
  • A hat will prevent additional body heat loss
  • Mittens keep your hands warmer than gloves

 If you are traveling:

  • Check weather reports and road conditions. Do not travel if a winter storm or blizzard warning is in effect; postpone your trip or take a different route to avoid storms.
  • Travel during daylight and use major highways.
  • Keep your gas tank as full as possible to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
  • Let others know your schedule and routes.

Surviving A Winter Storm

These safety guidelines may save your life if you are caught in a winter storm.

Outside:

  • Find a shelter to stay dry.
  • Cover all exposed parts of the body.
  • If a shelter is not available, prepare a wind break or snow cave for protection.
  • Build a fire for heat.
  • Do not eat snow--it will lower your body temperature.

In a vehicle:

  • Stay in your vehicle--DO NOT try to walk to safety!
  • Run the motor for a few minutes every hour and open the downwind windows a little for ventilation. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked.
  • Make yourself visible to rescuers by turning on the dome light at night when running the engine. Also tie a bright colored cloth to the antenna or door.
  • Exercise from time to time to keep the blood circulating and to keep warm.

At home:

  • Stay inside.
  • Make sure you have adequate ventilation when using alternate heat sources.
  • If you have no heat, close off unneeded rooms and place towels under the doors.
  • Eat food to supply heat and drink liquids (but not alcohol) to avoid dehydration.
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing.
  • Don't overexert yourself when shoveling snow.

 Additional information is available on the National Weather Service's Winter Weather Safety and Awareness page. You can also download and print the Winter Storm Brochure.

Back to Preparedness


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