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Ice / Winter Storm

Toppled trees and power lines from excess ice.
Toppled and power lines down from excess ice.

When winter storms hit, the danger comes from several places. There are freezing temperatures, snow blocking access and the buildup of ice on surfaces.

The storm itself can trap people in their homes for a few hours to several days. Disruptions can cut off heat, power and communication services. That means you need a way to keep yourself fed, hydrated and warm.

The risk of death is very real. In February of 2021, one winter storm took out the power for almost 5 million customers in the state of Texas. It's estimated that more than 700 people lost their lives from a combination of hypothermia, accidents involving ice, carbon monoxide poisoning and the additional stress on people with underlying conditions.

That's over 700 people, from a single storm, in 2021, in the state of Texas. Here's how to prepare.

Winter storm warnings will be issued if:

• Snow accumulation is 6 inches (15 cm) or more in 12 hours, or 8 inches (20 cm) or more in 24 hours.
• Blowing snow is reducing visibility in large areas at winds less than 35 mph (16 m/s).
• Ice accumulations on surfaces are 0.25 inches (0.64 cm) or more.
• Ice pellets larger than 1 inches (2.5 cm) are formed.
• Wind chill index is less than −35 °F (−37 °C) for more than 3 hours and sustained wind speed of at least 10 mph (4.5 m/s).
• Snowstorms with wind speed of more than 35 mph (16 m/s) and reduced visibility for 3 hours or more, are called blizzards.

Winter Storm Warning

Issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.

Winter Storm Watch

Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. Winter Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a Winter Storm.

Winter Weather Advisory

Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.


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Preparation - Before Storm

Preparing for Winter Weather

Prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking and weather stripping. Learn how to keep pipes from freezing. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups. Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Remember the needs of your pets. Have extra batteries for radios and flashlights. 

In Case of Emergency

Be prepared for winter weather at home, at work and in your car. Create an emergency supply kit for your car. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water and non-perishable snacks. Keep a full tank of gas.


Preparation - Survival

According to the National Weather Service, here's what to do.

If you're caught OUTSIDE.

Find Shelter: Try to stay dry and cover all exposed body parts.

When There Is No Shelter Nearby: Build a lean-to, windbreak 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.

Melt Snow for Drinking Water: Eating unmelted snow will lower your body temperature.

Exercise: From time to time, move arms, legs, fingers and toes vigorously to keep blood circulating and to keep warm. Avoid overexertion such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow if you are not in good health. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.

If you're caught in a VEHICLE.

If you must drive during a storm, take the following precautions:

Slow down! Even if the roads just look wet they could still be slick. More than 5,000 fatalities occur on the roadways each year due to weather conditions.

Make sure your vehicle is completely clear of ice or snow before starting the trip. Flying snow from cars causes accidents.

Let someone know where you are going and what route you will take. If something happens, this person will know where to start a search.

Don't leave the house without the following a fully charged mobile phone, car charger and an emergency supplies kit in your car.

If you are driving and begin to skid, remain calm, ease your foot off the gas and turn your wheels in the direction you want the front of the car to go. If you have an anti-lock braking system (ABS), apply steady pressure to the brake pedal. Never pump the brakes on an ABS equipped vehicle.

If you are having trouble seeing due to weather conditions, pull over to the side of the road and stop your car until visibility improves. Turn off your lights and use your parking break when stopped so that another car won't mistakenly follow your tail/brake lights and end up hitting you.

If your car gets stuck during a storm:

Stay in the vehicle!

    If you leave your vehicle, you will become disoriented quickly in wind-driven snow and cold.

    Run the motor about 10 minutes each hour for heat.

    While running the motor, open the window a little for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

    Clear snow from the exhaust pipe to avoid gas poisoning.

Be visible to rescuers.

    Turn on the dome light at night when running the engine.

    Tie a bright colored cloth, preferably red, to your antenna or door.

    After snow stops falling, raise the hood to indicate you need help.

If you're caught INSIDE.

Stay Inside: When using heat from a fire place, wood stove, space heater, etc., use fire safeguards and properly ventilate. If you have a gas furnace, make sure it is not not blocked by a snowdrift as soon as it's safe to go out. If you have an upstairs gas furnace which vents out the roof, you may need to turn off the upstairs unit until the snow melts off your roof.

If Your Heat Goes Out

Close off unneeded rooms to avoid wasting heat.

Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.

Close blinds or curtains to keep in some heat.

Eat and drink. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Drinks lots of water and other non-caffeinated, non-alcholohic drinks to prevent dehydration. Cold air is very dry.

Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Remove layers to avoid overheating, perspiration and subsequent chill.

Click Here for information on what to do from the United States government website, Ready.gov.

Click Here for the Red Cross Winter Storm Safety Information.

Click Here for the Disaster Safety information on Severe Winter Weather from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.

Click Here to download a PDF file with information on what to do from the United States government website, Ready.gov.

PDF Information from Ready.gov

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This information is presented to make people aware of the larger world around them. If you can prepare for something as devastating as this, you're much more likely to be ready for smaller disruptions. Be aware and prepare.

6/6/2020
Updated 4/15/2021
Updated 6/17/2021
Updated 7/1/2021