For most of us, winter means uncertain weather, including bone-chilling temperatures, severe winds, freezing rain and significant snowfall. Not much fun under the best of circumstances especially if you lose power and are unprepared with inadequate food, power and first aid supplies.
Being prepared for winter weather conditions is not rocket science and there is much you can do to insure the safety of your home and family during the winter storm season. But first, what exactly is a “Winter Storm”?
According to NOAA, most people think of a winter storm as a snowstorm. While this can be true, there are other types of weather associated with winter storms that can be extremely hazardous.
Storms with Strong Winds: Sometimes winter storms are accompanied by strong winds creating blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow, severe drifting, and dangerous wind chill. Strong winds with these intense storms and cold fronts can knock down trees, utility poles, and power lines. Storms near the coast can cause coastal flooding and beach erosion as well as sink ships at sea.
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 become life-threatening. Infants and elderly people are most susceptible. What constitutes extreme cold and its effect varies across different areas of the United States.
In areas unaccustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered “extreme cold.” Freezing temperatures can cause pipes to burst in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat.
In the north, below zero temperatures may be considered as “extreme cold.” Long cold spells can cause rivers to freeze, disrupting shipping. Ice jams may form and lead to flooding.
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.
Heavy Snow Storms: 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 buildings and knock down trees and power lines. In rural areas, homes and farms may be isolated for days, and unprotected livestock may be lost. In the mountains, heavy snow can lead to avalanches.
Steps to Take Now
No one can predict exactly when a winter storm will hit. While preparing for a power outage is obvious, there are other steps you can take to make your home more confortable during the winter storm season.
- Conserve heat and energy by adding insulation to walls, attics and basement areas
- Weather strip doors and windows to protect against drafts
- Install storm windows or use plastic sheeting to cover windows
- Caulk to seal around window frames, doorframes and other openings on the exterior of your home
- Stock up on firewood or other alternate fuel sources
- Insulate pipes, especially those near the exterior walls of your home
- Winterize your vehicle, which includes snow tires or chains, if necessary
- Have plenty of extra blankets available
- Ensure that every member of your family has a hat, scarf, gloves or mittens, warm coat and water-resistant boots
- Create a supply of water (at least one gallon a day per person for three days) for use in the event pipes freeze
- Assemble a disaster kit that includes but is not limited to a first aid kit, battery powered radio and lamps, a supply of fresh batteries, drinking water, canned food and non-electric can opener, extra blankets, and other items
- If you live in an area that experiences frequent power outages due to severe winter weather, consider purchasing a generator
- Stow away items to keep your family entertained such as board games, Sudoku or crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles. paperback books and non-electric toys
When the Winter Storm Hits
- For goodness sake, when the storm arrives, stay indoors and only leave your home for emergencies!
- When using alternate heat sources (fireplace, wood stove, space heater), make sure you do not leave the heat source unattended for long periods. Have a fire extinguisher at the ready just in case you need it.
- Close off areas of your home that are not used or needed and only heat occupied rooms.
- Stay tuned to weather broadcasts to keep abreast of storm details and emergency instructions from authorities
- Keep your cellular phone charged (if power is available)
- Do not use a blow torch to thaw frozen pipes; slow thawing works best to prevent pipes from bursting. If pipes freeze, remove insulation and wrap rags around the pipes to absorb moisture during the thawing process.
- Never ever sit in your car in an enclosed garage with the engine running. The carbon monoxide will kill you.
If You Must Go Outside or Leave Your Home
- If you must go outside, walk carefully on snowy and icy ground, and wear layers of warm clothing and cover your mouth to protect your lungs.
- Equip your car with blankets, a shovel, battery-operated radio and flashlight. Inform others of your planned route and take a fully-charged cell phone with you. Take a bottle or two of water plus some high calorie energy bars for use if you are stuck or delayed for an extended period.
- Stay clear of downed power lines.
- Continue to monitor weather forecasts and conditions – do not be lulled by the serenity of the “winter wonderland” outside your home.
The Final Word
Unless you live in sunny Florida or Southern California, chances are you will experience some sort of extreme weather during the winter months. The preparations you have made – and the knowledge you have accumulated – during the rest of the year will get you through. Storms, snow and freezing rain are nothing to fear so long as you are prepared.
Need more information? Check out this Winter Storm Safety Checklist from the American Red Cross.
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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