Winter Weather Preparedness

View our Winter Weather Preparedness Guide here!

Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

While the danger from winter weather varies across the country, nearly all Americans, regardless of where they live, are likely to face some type of severe winter weather at some point in their lives. That could mean snow or subfreezing temperatures, as well as strong winds or even ice or heavy rain storms. One of the primary concerns is the winter weather's ability to knock out heat, power and communications services to your home or office, sometimes for days at a time.

Prepare for Winter Weather

  • Make sure your home is well insulated and that you have weather stripping around your doors and window sills to keep the warm air inside.
  • Familiarize yourself with the terms that are used to identify winter weather.
  • Freezing Rain creates a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Weather Advisory means cold, ice and snow are expected.
  • Winter Storm Watch means severe weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible in the next day or two.
  • Winter Storm Warning means severe winter conditions have begun or will begin very soon.
  • Blizzard Warning means heavy snow and strong winds will produce a blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts and life-threatening wind chill.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning means below freezing temperatures are expected.
  • Thoroughly check and update your family's emergency supply kit before winter approaches.
  • Include adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.
  • If you have a car, fill the gas tank in case you have to leave.
  • Visit NOAA for more weather-related information.

Make a Plan

  • Plan to stay inside and make it on your own, at least for a period of time.
  • If you have a wood burning fire place, consider storing wood to keep you warm if winter weather knocks out your heat.

Stay Informed

  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio to stay informed of winter weather watches and warnings.
  • Also monitor commercial radio, television and the Internet. For a full description of what to listen for, and an explanation of different weather terms, refer to the NWS guide.
  • Keep in mind that during a severe winter storm it could be hours, or even days, before emergency personnel are able to reach you.


For more information go to:


Winter storms, especially blizzards, can be very dangerous. Preparing before extremely cold snowy weather happens can save your life. Know what winter storm watches and warnings mean. If a Winter Storm Watch has been issued for your area, hazardous winter weather conditions (such as snow greater than 6 inches in 24 hours, winds gusting over 35 mph, or visibilities less 1/4 mile) are expected in the next 12 to 36 hours. A Winter Storm Warning means the conditions listed for the Watch exist.

At home or work make sure you have:

  • A working flashlight
  • Battery-powered NWS weather radio , radio, or TV
  • Extra food, water, medicine, and baby items
  • First aid supplies
  • Heating fuel (propane, kerosene, fuel oil, etc...)
  • Emergency heating source
  • Fire extinguisher and smoke detector

Try to stay indoors during a blizzard. If you have to go outside to check on animals or for another reason, be sure to dress warmly in loose fitting layers of clothing. Wear heavy gloves to protect your hands and heavy socks with boots that will not absorb water. Cover your mouth so that you don't breathe in freezing, cold air that can damage your lungs. Keep your body dry. Know the signs of hypothermia or frostbite.

In cars and trucks:

  • Fully check and winterize your vehicle
  • Keep your gas tank near full
  • Try not to travel alone
  • Let a friend or relative know your timetable for travel
  • Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit

Winter Survival Kit

  • blankets/sleeping bags
  • flashlight with extra batteries
  • knife
  • high calorie, non-perishable food
  • a smaller can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking water
  • sand or cat litter
  • shovel
  • windshield scraper
  • tool kit
  • tow rope
  • jumper cables
  • water container
  • compass
  • road maps

On the farm

  • Move animals to sheltered areas
  • Haul extra feed to nearby feeding areas
  • Have a water supply available (most animal deaths in winter storms are from dehydration)

If caught outside:

  • Find a dry shelter.
  • Cover all exposed parts of the body.

If shelter is not available:

  • Prepare a lean-to, wind break, or snow-cave for protection from the wind.
  • Build a fire for heat and to attract attention. Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat.
  • Do not eat snow. It will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.

If stranded in a car or truck:

  • If you are traveling at all when a winter storm is possible, then you should always bring emergency supplies with you. You can never predict when you might get stranded and need them.
  • Stay in your car or truck!
  • Run the motor about ten minutes each hour. Open the windows a little for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked.
  • Make yourself visible to rescuers
  • Turn on the dome light at night when running the engine
  • Tie a colored cloth to your antenna or door
  • Raise the hood after the snow stops falling
  • Exercise to keep blood circulating and to keep warm

At home or in a building:

  • Stay inside!

If there is no heat:

  • Close off unneeded rooms
  • Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors
  • Cover windows at night
  • Eat and drink. Food provides the body with energy and heat. Fluids prevent dehydration.
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing.


For more Winter Weather Facts and Safety Tips from the National Weather Service, go to:

bReady Anywhere

At Home

There are three steps to being prepared at home:
1) Prepare a Kit
2) Have a Plan
3) Be informed

When preparing for a possible emergency situation, it's best to think first about the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth.

Prepare a Kit
Recommended Items to include in a basic Emergency Supply Kit:

Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation.
Children, nursing mothers, and sick people may need more water.

  • If you live in a warm weather climate more water may be necessary.
  • Store water tightly in clean plastic containers such as soft drink bottles.
  • In an emergency, you can use bleach to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.

Food, store at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food. Select foods that require no refrigeration, preparation or cooking and little or no water. Pack a manual can opener and eating utensils. Avoid salty foods, as they will make you thirsty. Select foods your family will eat.

Choose ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits and vegetables such as:

  • Protein or fruit bars
  • Dry cereal or granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Nuts
  • Crackers
  • Canned juices
  • Non-perishable pasteurized milk
  • High energy foods
  • Vitamins
  • Food for infants

Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both.

Flashlight and extra batteries (or self-charging flashlight).

First aid kit
In any emergency a family member or you yourself may be cut, burned or suffer other injuries. If you have these basic supplies you are better prepared to help your loved ones when they are hurt. Remember, many injuries are not life threatening and do not require immediate medical attention. Knowing how to treat minor injuries can make a difference in an emergency. Consider taking a first aid class, but simply having the following things can help you stop bleeding, prevent infection and assist in decontamination.

Things You Should Have:

  • Two pairs of Latex, or other sterile gloves (if you are allergic to Latex).
  • Sterile dressings to stop bleeding.
  • Cleansing agent/soap and antibiotic towelettes to disinfect.
  • Antibiotic ointment to prevent infection.
  • Burn ointment to prevent infection.
  • Adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes.
  • Eye wash solution to flush the eyes or as general decontaminant.
  • Thermometer
  • Prescription medications you take every day such as insulin, heart medicine and asthma inhalers. You should periodically rotate medicines to account for expiration dates.
  • Prescribed medical supplies such as glucose and blood pressure monitoring equipment and supplies.

Things It May Be Good To Have:

  • Cell Phone
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Tube of petroleum jelly or other lubricant
  • Non-Prescription Drugs such as aspirin or nonaspirin, pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medications, antacids (for upset stomach) and laxatives

Whistle to signal for help

Dust masks to help filter contaminated air
Some potential emergencies could send tiny microscopic "junk" into the air. For example, flooding could create airborne mold which could make you sick and an explosion may release very fine debris that can cause lung damage. A biological terrorist attack may release germs that can make you sick if inhaled or absorbed through open cuts. Many of these agents can only hurt you if they get into your body, so think about creating a barrier between yourself and any contamination.

A variety of face masks are readily available in hardware stores. A face mask should be provided for each member of the family. Masks are rated based on their ability to filter out particles - you will need to decide which masks are best for your family and situation. Do whatever you can to make the best fit possible for children.

If an emergency situation arises and you do not have access to a face mask, any dense-weave cotton material that will snugly fit around your nose and mouth can offer some protection. It is very important that most of the air you breathe comes through the mask or cloth, not around it.

Given the different types of emergencies that could occur, there is not one solution for creating a barrier between yourself and any contamination in the air. For instance, simple cloth face masks can filter some of the airborne "junk" or germs you might breathe into your body, but will probably not protect you from chemical gases. Still, something over your nose and mouth in an emergency is better than nothing. Limiting how much "junk" gets into your body may impact whether or not you get sick or develop disease.

Other Barriers for "shelter-in-place"

  • Heavyweight plastic garbage bags or plastic sheeting
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors

There are circumstances when staying put and creating a barrier between yourself and potentially contaminated air outside, a process known as "shelter-in-place," is a matter of survival. You can use these things to tape up windows, doors and air vents if you need to seal off a room from outside contamination. Consider precutting and labeling these materials. Anything you can do in advance will save time when it counts.

Use available information to assess the situation. If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you can use these things to tape up windows, doors and air vents if you need to seal off a room.

Find shelter information here.

HEPA Filter (High Efficiency Particulate Air Filtration)
Once you have sealed a room with plastic sheeting and duct tape you may have created a better barrier between you and any contaminants that may be outside. However, no seal is perfect and some leakage is likely. In addition to which, you may find yourself in a space that is already contaminated to some degree.

Consider a portable air purifier, with a HEPA filter, to help remove contaminants from the room where you are sheltering. These highly efficient filters have small sieves that can capture very tiny particles, including some biological agents. Once trapped within a HEPA filter contaminants cannot get into your body and make you sick. While these filters are excellent at filtering dander, dust, molds, smoke, biological agents and other contaminants, they will not stop chemical gases.

Some people, particularly those with severe allergies and asthma, use HEPA filters in masks, portable air purifiers as well as in larger home or industrial models to continuously filter the air.

Personal sanitation items

  • Moist towelettes
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Feminine supplies
  • Garbage bags with ties (for disposal of sanitation items)

Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
Local maps
Prescription medications and glasses
Infant formula, food and diapers
Pet food, extra water and sanitation items for your pet
Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container
Cash or traveler's checks and change
Emergency reference material such as a first aid book
Sleeping bags or warm blankets for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
Complete change of clothing including a long sleeved shirt, long pants and sturdy shoes. Consider additional clothing if you live in a cold-weather climate.
Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper - when diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water. Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners.
Fire Extinguisher
Matches in a waterproof container
Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
Paper and pencil and books, games, puzzles or other activities for children

Healthcare Facilities

There are several excellent sites that can assist South Dakota healthcare facilities in planning for emergencies. The sites selected below are ones recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). You can access the CDC site at

Bioterrorism Readiness Plan:

A Template for Healthcare Facilities -

OSHA Best Practices for Hospital-Based First Receivers of Victims

Information to assist hospitals in developing & implementing emergency management plans for protecting hospital-based emergency department personnel during the receipt of contaminated victims from mass casualty incidents occurring at locations other than the hospital. Provided by the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA). -


These resources provide information that can help school leaders plan for any emergency, including natural disasters, violent incidents and terrorist acts.

School and Classroom Resources -

Emergency Planning -

Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools -

U.S. Department of Education -


What Are The Costs?

How quickly your company can get back to business after a terrorist attack, a tornado, a fire, or a flood often depends on emergency planning done today. While the Department of Homeland Security is working hard to prevent terrorist attacks, the lessons of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks demonstrate the importance of being prepared.

When you also consider that the number of declared major disasters nearly doubled in the 1990's compared to the previous decade, preparedness becomes an even more critical issue. Though each situation is unique, any organization can be better prepared if it plans carefully, puts emergency procedures in place, and practices for emergencies of all kinds.

America's businesses form the backbone of the nation's economy; small businesses alone account for more than 99% of all companies with employees, employ 50% of all private sector workers and provide nearly 45% of the nation's payroll. If businesses are READY to survive and recover, the nation and our economy are more secure. A commitment to planning today will help support employees, customers, the community, the local economy and even the country. It also protects your business investment and gives your company a better chance for survival.

Ready Business outlines commonsense measures business owners and managers can take to start getting ready. It provides practical steps and easy-to-use templates to help you plan for your company's future. These recommendations reflect the Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity Standard (NFPA 1600) developed by the National Fire Protection Association and endorsed by the American National Standards Institute and the Department of Homeland Security. It also provides useful links to resources providing more detailed business continuity and disaster preparedness information.

Business continuity and crisis management can be complex issues depending on the particular industry, size and scope of your business. However, putting a plan in motion will improve the likelihood that your company will survive and recover. The following information is a good start for small- to mid-sized businesses. Companies that already have their emergency plans in place can continue to help create a more robust sustainable community by mentoring businesses in their own supply chain and others needing advice.

Preparing makes good business sense. Get ready now.

Plan to stay in business
Business continuity planning must account for all hazards (both man-made and natural disasters). You should plan in advance to manage any emergency situation. Assess the situation, use common sense and available resources to take care of yourself, your co-workers and your business's recovery.

Be Informed: Know what kinds of emergencies might affect your company.

  • Continuity Planning: Carefully assess how your company functions, both internally and externally. Emergency Planning: Your employees and co-workers are your business's most important and valuable asset.
  • Emergency Supplies: Think first about the basics of survival: fresh water, food, clean air and warmth.
  • Deciding to Stay or Go: Shelter-in-place or evacuate, plan for both possibilities.
  • Fire Safety: Fire is the most common of all business disasters.
  • Medical Emergencies: Take steps that give you the upper hand in responding to medical emergencies.
  • Influenza Pandemic: The federal government, states, communities and industry are taking steps to prepare for and respond to an influenza pandemic.

For more information on any of these topics, go to: 


Information for Livestock Owners

If you have large animals such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, or pigs on your property, be sure to prepare before a disaster.

Preparation Guidelines:

  • Ensure all animals have some form of identification that will help facilitate their return.
  • Evacuate animals whenever possible. Arrangements for evacuation, including routes and host sites, should be made in advance. Alternate routes should be mapped out in case the planned route is inaccessible.
  • The evacuation sites should have or be able to readily obtain food, water, veterinary care, handling equipment and facilities.
  • Make available vehicles and trailers needed for transporting and supporting each type of animal. Also make available experienced handlers and drivers.
  • Note: It is best to allow animals a chance to become accustomed to vehicular travel so they are less frightened and easier to move.
  • If evacuation is not possible, a decision must be made whether to move large animals to available shelter or turn them outside. This decision should be determined based on the type of disaster and the soundness and location of the shelter (structure).

Cold Weather Guidelines:
When temperatures plunge below zero, livestock producers need to give extra attention to their animals. Prevention is the key to dealing with hypothermia, frostbite and other cold weather injuries in livestock.

Making sure your livestock has the following help prevent cold-weather maladies:

  • Plenty of dry bedding to insulate vulnerable udders, genitals and legs from the frozen ground and frigid winds.
  • Windbreaks to keep animals safe from frigid conditions.
  • Plenty of food and water.

Also, take extra time to observe livestock, looking for early signs of disease and injury. Severe cold-weather injuries or death primarily occur in the very young or in animals that are already debilitated. Cases of cold weather-related sudden death in calves often result when cattle are suffering from undetected infection, particularly pneumonia. Sudden, unexplained livestock deaths and illnesses should be investigated quickly so that a cause can be identified and steps can be taken to protect remaining animals.

Animals suffering from frostbite don't exhibit pain. It may be up to two weeks before the injury becomes evident as freeze-damaged tissue starts to slough away. At that point, the injury should be treated as an open wound and a veterinarian should be consulted. 

Faith-Based Organizations

Organization and communication are the key!

One of the best ways to prepare for an emergency and ensure recovery afterwards is to organize leadership and prepare members ahead of time. It may be that many of your membership rely on a faith-based organization as their sole connection to the community. The networks already in place in your organization are the groundwork for success in surviving during disaster.

Establish Communication: Prepare to use existing channels or create new ones to reach your members. This may be an established "prayer chain" or other calling tree that can alert membership quickly. Published communications can provide regular information on preparedness. Services and meetings provide opportunities to communicate the importance of being prepared.

Organize Leadership: Select a committee and a leader that will spearhead distribution of information to members. Download our guidebook here, print and distribute it to your membership. If you'd like to order a quantity of bReadySD Guidebooks from the South Dakota Department of Health, call 1-800-738-2301.

Organize Members: Offer group talks on how you can work together to prepare kits and make individual plans. This will provide an opportunity to recognize members that may need special help during disaster and give them a chance to find people to communicate with — decide who will check on elderly or disabled members.

  • Work as a group to prepare kits together for those in need in your organization and community. These kits can be stored at your facility for use after disaster or distributed before disaster strikes.
  • Designate a phone number for members to leave an "I'm okay" message in case of catastrophic disaster.

Prepare your building: Your facility may be suitable as a shelter. Please contact your local fire department and have them do a "walk-through" to discuss this possibility. If your facility has space for storage consider stocking emergency supplies.

Prepare for medical complications: Medical emergencies vary greatly depending on the type of disaster. However, there are steps that can help you respond to any medical emergency.

Encourage members to take basic first aid and CPR training. If feasible, offer on-site classes. Your local emergency services organization may be able to provide these classes.

Keep first aid supplies in stock and easily accessible. Talk with your members about medical conditions that may require support or special care in an emergency. Be sure to include people with disabilities in emergency planning. Ask about communication difficulties, physical limitations, equipment instructions, and medication procedures. Address their needs at each step of the planning process.

Identify people willing to help members with disabilities and be sure they are able to handle the job. This is particularly important if someone needs to be lifted or carried. Plan how you will alert people who cannot hear an alarm or may not understand instructions.

Practice your plans to ensure members with disabilities and their helpers know what is expected of them.

Promote family and individual preparedness: Encourage your members and their families to develop plans at home. If individuals are prepared at home, they will have more time to assist others with recovery after a disaster. More information on personal and family preparedness is available here.

Support member health after the disaster: Emergencies happen in spite of everyone's best efforts to prevent them, so learn about what people need to help them recover after a disaster. Getting back to a normal routine is important to personal recovery. Faith-based routines facilitate recovery by providing members an opportunity to be active and restore social contact. Encourage adequate food, rest, and recreation.

Additionally, create opportunities for social gatherings where members can talk openly about their feelings. Sharing with others can speed personal recovery. Suggest counseling to help members address their fears and anxieties. 



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