Winter storms can include high winds, freezing rain, sleet or hail, and extreme cold as well as the beautiful snow. Whether you get caught on the road or at home, they can be deadly. The leading cause of death during winter storms is automobile accidents and the second leading cause of death is heart attacks. Hypothermia or freezing to death is common with the elderly who die inside their homes if it gets too cold.
Before the Storm
- Make sure you have a family emergency/communications plan and your disaster supplies kit (bug out bag) is up to date
- Add the following items to your emergency kit:
• Calcium chloride is good for melting ice on walkways (rock salt can blister concrete and kill plants)
• Sand or kitty litter to remove traction
• Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment
• Emergency heating supplies to include wood for wood burning stoves or fireplaces; gas or diesel fuel for generators; or kerosene for kerosene heaters
• Extra blankets
• If you have a wood burning stove or fireplace, make sure the chimney is in good working order
• Make sure you have a charged fire extinguisher
- Check the batteries on your NOAA Weather Radio
- Minimize travel – if travel is necessary keep an emergency kit in your car; keep gas tank filled
- Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter storms. Move livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water
- Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows, and insulating storm windows or covering them with plastic.
- If you are going away during cold weather, leave the heat setting on set the thermostat to come on at 55º
During Snowstorms and Extreme Cold
- Stay inside during the storm
- Listen to the radio or television for updates on the weather conditions. With early warning you may avoid being caught in a storm or be better prepared to cope with it.
- Dress for the season:
• Wear layers of thin clothing. You’ll be warmer and as the temperature changes you can remove layers to remain comfortable
• Mittens are warmer than gloves
• Wear a hat; most body heat is lost through the top of the head
• Cover your mouth with scarves to protect lungs from directly inhaling extremely cold air
- Avoid over-exertion when shoveling snow. Take breaks and lift lighter loads; push instead of lifting when possible. Keep dry and stay aware of signs of frostbite and hypothermia
- Drive only if absolutely necessary. Let someone know your destination, your route and when you expect to arrive. If you get stuck help can be sent along your predetermined route to find you.
- Maintain ventilation when burning fires inside, especially kerosene to avoid carbon monoxide build-up; conserve heat by closing off some rooms and keep family close together for sleeping.
After the Storm
- If your home loses power or heat for more than a few hours or if you do not have adequate supplies to stay warm in your home overnight, you may want to go to a designated public shelter, if you can get there safely. Text SHELTER + your ZIP CODE to 43362 (4FEMA)
- Take any personal items that you would need to spend the night – take your bug-out-bag including toiletries and medicines. Be careful traveling to the shelter. Dress in layers, wear boots, mittens and a hat.
- Continue to protect from frostbite or hypothermia by wearing warm layers. Stay indoors as much as possible
- If you lost power, check food in both refrigerator and freezer to ensure it didn’t spoil. Foods in a well-filled, well-insulated freezer won’t go bad until several days after power is off. If there are ice crystals in the center of food, it is okay to eat or refreeze.
- Don’t over do it – either working or playing in frigid conditions
- Restock items you used so you will be ready for the next one
- Learn from every storm – assess how well your supplies and family plan worked. What could you have done better? Take time to improve the plan and supplies
- Talk to your neighbors and colleagues about their experiences and share tips with each other
- If your home suffered damage review the tips on disaster recovery
Billie Nicholson, Editor