- Exhaustion or heart attacks caused by overexertion are the
second most likely cause of winter storm related deaths.
Fire during winter storms presents a great danger because water supplies
may freeze and it may be difficult for fire fighting equipment to get to the
Ice storms can break power lines, causing widespread blackouts.
Elderly people account for the largest percentage of hypothermia victims.
Many older Americans literally “freeze to death” in their own homes after
being exposed to dangerously cold indoor temperatures, or are asphyxiated because
of improper use of fuels such as charcoal briquettes, which produce carbon
- In March of 1993, the Blizzard of ’93 dumped record amounts of snow on an
area that stretched from Alabama to New England. The storm left more than 170
people dead and caused hundreds of thousands of people to be without power
for several days. Total damages were estimated at upward of 800 million
What is a winter storm?
A winter storm can range from moderate snow over a few hours to blizzard
conditions with blinding wind-driven snow that last several days. Some winter
storms may be large enough to affect several states while others may affect
only a single community. All winter storms are accompanied by low
temperatures and blowing snow, which can severely reduce visibility. A severe
winter storm is one that drops 4 or more inches of snow during a 12 hour
period, or 6 or more inches during a 24 hour span. An ice storm occurs when
freezing rain falls from clouds and freezes immediately on impact. All winter
storms make driving and walking extremely hazardous. The aftermath of a
winter storm can impact a community or region for days, weeks, and even
months. Storm effects such as extreme cold, flooding, and snow accumulation
can cause hazardous conditions and hidden problems for people in the affected
National Weather Service Announcements
Some of the winter weather announcements you may hear are: winter storm watch
(a watch means that the possibility exists), winter storm warning (a warning
means the danger is imminent), ice storm warning, heavy snow warning,
blizzard warning, severe blizzard warning, and high wind warning. Please
ensure that your weather radio has fresh batteries and you have a supply of
batteries on hand.
A major winter storm can last for several days and be accompanied by high
winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall, and extremely cold
temperatures. People can become stranded on the road or trapped at home,
without utilities or other services. The best protection against severe
winter weather is to stay inside and to dress warmly by wearing
loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing.
A serious danger during a winter storm is hypothermia- a condition brought on
when the body temperature drops because of prolonged exposure to extreme
cold. Hypothermia is not always fatal, but for those who survive there are
likely to be lasting kidney, liver, and pancreatic problems.
Heavy snowfall and blizzards can trap motorists in their cars. Attempting to
walk for help in a blizzard can be a deadly decision. Disorientation and
confusion come very quickly in blowing snow. People trapped in a car during a
blizzard do best to stay in the car and wait for help. It is a good idea to
place a blanket in the car if you have to drive in the snowy weather. You may
also consider placing some candy bars or crackers in the glove box as well as
keeping a bottle of water in the car with you as you travel.
Should you lose power at your home, please refrain from using candles for
light or warmth. There have been numerous fires started by a candle that was
knocked over. Try to keep flashlights with plenty of batteries and a good
supply of blankets on hand.
Pay close attention to the weather forecasts and stock up on the provisions
you and your family will need for several days should you have to remain at
home during a winter storm.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can permanently damage
its victims. A loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers,
toes, or nose and ear lobes are symptoms of frostbite.
Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less
than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable
shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and
If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and
seek immediate medical assistance. Warm the person’s trunk first. Use your
own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because
stimulation of the limbs can drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to
heart failure. Put person in dry clothing and wrap their entire body in a
Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim something with caffeine in it
(like tea or coffee) or alcohol. Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart
to beat faster and hasten the effects the cold has on the body. Alcohol, a
depressant, can slow the heart and also hasten the ill effects of cold body
Conserve fuel. Lower the thermostat to 65 degrees during the day and 55
degrees at night. Close off unused rooms.
If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap
pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes,
starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most
likely to penetrate).
Listen to the radio or television to get the latest storm information.
Dress warmly. Wear loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing. Layers can
be removed to prevent perspiration and chill. Outer garments should be
tightly woven and water repellent. Mittens are warmer than gloves because
fingers generate warmth when they touch each other.
Stretch before you go out. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching
exercises to warm up your body. Also, take frequent breaks.
Cover your mouth. Protect your lungs from extremely cold air by covering your
mouth when outdoors. Try not to speak unless absolutely necessary.
Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart.
Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a
heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Be aware of symptoms of
Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet
clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
REMEMBER TO HELP YOUR NEIGHBORS WHO MAY REQUIRE SPECIAL
ASSISTANCE----INFANTS, ELDERLY PEOPLE, AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES.
- Pack a Survival Kit
- Have a mechanic check your car.
- Install good winter tires.
- Keep a windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal.
- Maintain at least a half tank of gas during the winter season.
- Plan long trips carefully.
- If you must go out, use public transportation.
- Dress warmly.
- Carry food and water.
- Carry a container of cat litter or sand to use for tire traction.
- Display a trouble sign if stranded or broke down. (Tie a brightly colored
flag on the antenna or raise the hood).
- If stuck in snow or mud, occasionally run the engine to keep warm. Make sure
the exhaust pipe is clear of snow and open a downwind window slightly for
- Tap your brake as you approach intersections.
- Drive as conditions permit. Driving slowly is usually safer than driving
faster on ice and in snow.
- Make sure than all of your windows are cleaned and you can see through them
(include cleaning your side mirrors as well).
- Keep your mobile phone charged and with you.
- If you don’t have a mobile phone, keep at least three (3) envelopes in your
glove box, each with .35 cents and a telephone number of someone you know can
be contacted. Slide the envelope through a slightly rolled down car window to
someone who may stop and want to help you. This will prevent having to open
your car door to a stranger.