The impact of a winter storm can be severe. In addition to heavy snow, high winds, and extreme cold, winter storms can cause flooding, storm surges, and road closures, as well as bring down power lines. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and can cause power outages that may last for days. Roads and walkways may be impassable or closed except for critical transportation needs. Injuries may occur from exposure to cold temperatures and dangerous road conditions. Understand your risk before a weather event occurs with these tips.
Common Winter Weather Events
- Freezing Rain: Rain that falls on subfreezing surfaces, coating roads, walkways, trees, and power lines with ice
- Sleet: Rain that freezes into ice pellets before reaching ground
- Winter Storm: A storm with significant snow, sleet, and/or ice accumulations
- Blizzard: A winter storm with sustained wind speeds of 35 mph (56 kph) or greater, blowing snow, and reduced visibilities a quarter mile (400 meters) or less; conditions must occur for a period of three hours or longer
- Nor'easter: A strong winter storm that produces winds from the northeast along the Atlantic Coast of North America; often produce significant winter precipitation and coastal impacts
Familiarize yourself with location-specific winter weather advisories as these are different in regions around the world.
Reduce your risk exposure by understanding the impact of a winter weather event, how to prepare ahead of time, and what to during the event.
Before Winter Storms
- Reference your risk policy protocol for procedures and communication plans and make sure all employees who may be affected know what to do and how to stay in contact.
- Make an emergency kit that will last at least 3 days
- Encourage employees to prepare their home. Have them check their carbon monoxide detector and suggest they have a fire extinguisher on hand if they plan on using space heaters or generators. Now’s a good time to inspect the chimney, too.
- Check with your building facilities team to ensure the structural ability of the roof can sustain heavy weight from the accumulation of snow, ice, or water.
- Have extra blankets, sleeping bags, and/or winter coats available in case of a power outage.
During Severe Winter Weather Events and Extreme Cold
- Stay indoors during the storm.
- Seek updated weather and emergency information from local media (radio and television).
- Ensure proper nutrition by eating regularly. Drink fluids to avoid dehydration, especially if you must leave your house during the storm.
- Dress properly for winter weather. Use multiple layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing. Wear mittens or gloves, scarf, and hat - most body heat escapes through the top of the head. Ensure your face is covered.
- Monitor for signs of frostbite, including the loss of feeling and color in fingers, toes, earlobes, and nose.
- Monitor for signs of hypothermia, including uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, memory loss, incoherent slurred speech, drowsiness, and exhaustion.
- Avoid using gas-powered generators inside your home, as fumes produced by gas-powered generators can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Alternatives for heating during a winter storm include a kerosene-fueled heater or a wood-burning stove, if the area is adequately ventilated.
Driving in Winter Storm Conditions
A majority of winter weather-related deaths occur in automobiles. Consider using public transportation if available and if travel is necessary. If possible, limit driving to daylight hours, and avoid driving alone. Inform others of your departure time and estimated arrival time. Use major arterial roadways that are more likely to be treated. Secondary and rural routes could be impassable for several days.
Other winter driving suggestions:
- Prepare your vehicle for winter driving by using snow tires or tires with studs or chains. Always keep the gas tank full.
- Carry a supply kit in your vehicle that includes a shovel/scraper, flashlight, batteries, water/snacks, additional clothing, blankets, flares, and a battery-powered radio.
- If you become stranded in your car, do not leave the vehicle. Turn on your hazard lights, call for help on your cellphone, and stay with the car until authorities arrive. Leaving the vehicle increases the risk of being exposed to frostbite/hypothermia or being hit by other vehicles. Only leave the car if you are within sight of a building where you can seek shelter and get help.
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