Winter Seasonal 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.
- 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: http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather
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
- high calorie, non-perishable food
- a smaller can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking water
- sand or cat litter
- windshield scraper
- tool kit
- tow rope
- jumper cables
- water container
- 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:
Each year, more than 4,000 Americans die and more than 20,000 are injured in fires, many of which could be prevented. Direct property loss due to fires is estimated at $10 billion annually.
- To protect yourself, it is important to understand the basic characteristics of fire.
- Fire spreads quickly; there is no time to gather valuables or make a phone call. In just two minutes, a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be engulfed in flames.
- Heat and smoke from fire can be more dangerous than the flames. Inhaling the super-hot air can sear your lungs.
Fire produces poisonous gases that make you disoriented and drowsy. Instead of being awakened by a fire, you may fall into a deeper sleep. Asphyxiation is the leading cause of fire deaths, exceeding burns by a three-to-one ratio.
Take Protective Measures
- Before a Fire
- Install smoke alarms. Properly working smoke alarms decrease your chances of dying in a fire by half.
- Place smoke alarms on every level of your residence. Place them outside bedrooms on the ceiling or high on the wall (4 to 12 inches from ceiling), at the top of open stairways, or at the bottom of enclosed stairs and near (but not in) the kitchen.
- Test and clean smoke alarms once a month and replace batteries at least once a year. Replace smoke alarms once every 10 years.
- Planning Your Escape
- Review escape routes with your family. Practice escaping from each room.
- Make sure windows are not nailed or painted shut. Make sure security gratings on windows have a fire safety opening feature so they can be easily opened from the inside.
- Consider escape ladders if your residence has more than one level, and ensure that burglar bars and other antitheft mechanisms that block outside window entry are easily opened from the inside.
- Teach family members to stay low to the floor (where the air is safer in a fire) when escaping from a fire.
- Preventing Fire
- Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in the U.S. It is also the leading cause of fire injuries.
- Deaths due to fires caused by cooking are particularly preventable.
- Never leave cooking unattended. A serious fire can start in just seconds.
- Always wear short, tight-fitting sleeves when cooking.
- Keep towels, pot holders and curtains away from flames and heating elements.
- Clean cooking surfaces regularly to prevent grease buildup which can ignite.
- If a fire breaks out while cooking, put a lid on the pan to smother it. Never throw water on a grease fire.
- Heat oil gradually to avoid burns from spattering grease. Use extra caution when preparing deep-fried foods.
- Never use the range or oven to heat your home.
- Double-check the kitchen before you go to bed or leave the house. Make sure all small appliances are turned off.
- Flammable Items
- Never use gasoline, benzine, naptha, or similar flammable liquids indoors.
- Store flammable liquids in approved containers in well-ventilated storage areas.
- Never smoke near flammable liquids.
- Discard all rags or materials that have been soaked in flammable liquids after you have used them. Safely discard them outdoors in a metal container.
- Insulate chimneys and place spark arresters on top. The chimney should be at least three feet higher than the roof. Remove branches hanging above and around the chimney.
- Heating Sources
- Be careful when using alternative heating sources.
- Check with your local fire department on the legality of using kerosene heaters in your community. Be sure to fill kerosene heaters outside, and be sure they have cooled.
- Place heaters at least three feet away from flammable materials. Make sure the floor and nearby walls are properly insulated.
- Use only the type of fuel designated for your unit and follow manufacturer's instructions.
- Store ashes in a metal container outside and away from your residence.
- Keep open flames away from walls, furniture, drapery, and flammable items.
- Keep a screen in front of the fireplace.
- Have heating units inspected and cleaned annually by a certified specialist.
- Matches and Smoking
- Keep matches and lighters up high, away from children, and, if possible, in a locked cabinet.
- Never smoke in bed or when drowsy or medicated. Provide smokers with deep, sturdy ashtrays. Douse cigarette and cigar butts with water before disposal.
- Electrical Wiring
- Have the electrical wiring in your residence checked by an electrician.
- Inspect extension cords for frayed or exposed wires or loose plugs.
- Make sure outlets have cover plates and no exposed wiring.
- Make sure wiring does not run under rugs, over nails, or across high-traffic areas.
- Do not overload extension cords or outlets. If you need to plug in two or three appliances, get a UL-approved unit with built-in circuit breakers to prevent sparks and short circuits.
- Make sure insulation does not touch bare electrical wiring.
- Sleep with your door closed.
- Install A-B-C-type fire extinguishers in your residence and teach family members how to use them.
- Consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system in your residence.
- Ask your local fire department to inspect your residence for fire safety and prevention.
During a Fire
- To Escape a Fire, You Should:
- Check closed doors for heat before you open them. If you are escaping through a closed door, use the back of your hand to feel the top of the door, the doorknob, and the crack between the door and door frame before you open it. Never use the palm of your hand or fingers to test for heat - burning those areas could impair your ability to escape a fire (i.e., ladders and crawling).
- Hot Door
- Do not open. Escape through a window. If you cannot escape, hang a white or light-colored sheet outside the window, alerting fire fighters to your presence.
- Cool Door
- Open slowly and ensure fire and/or smoke is not blocking your escape route. If your escape route is blocked, shut the door immediately and use an alternate escape route, such as a window. If clear, leave immediately through the door and close it behind you. Be prepared to crawl. Smoke and heat rise. The air is clearer and cooler near the floor.
- Crawl low under any smoke to your exit - heavy smoke and poisonous gases collect first along the ceiling.
- Close doors behind you as you escape to delay the spread of the fire.
- Stay out once you are safely out. Do not reenter. Call 9-1-1.
After a Fire
The following are guidelines for different circumstances in the period following a fire:
- If you are with burn victims, or are a burn victim yourself, call 9-1-1; cool and cover burns to reduce chance of further injury or infection.
- If you detect heat or smoke when entering a damaged building, evacuate immediately.
- If you are a tenant, contact the landlord.
- If you have a safe or strong box, do not try to open it. It can hold intense heat for several hours. If the door is opened before the box has cooled, the contents could burst into flames.
- If you must leave your home because a building inspector says the building is unsafe, ask someone you trust to watch the property during your absence.
If you require more information about any of these topics, visit the U.S. Fire Administration's website at: http://www.usfa.fema.gov