Are Your Prepared? Winter Storms & Extreme Cold

Updated: Feb 21, 2018

Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, ice, sleet and freezing rain. A primary concern is that winter storms can knock out heat, power and communications services to your home or office, sometimes for days at a time. Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region.


The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as “deceptive killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. People die in traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold. Because of this, it is important to be prepared for winter weather before it strikes.


Know the Terms

Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify winter storm hazards:

  • Freezing rain – Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.

  • Sleet – Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.

  • Winter weather advisory – Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life-threatening.

  • Winter storm watch – A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, commercial radio or local television for more information.

  • Winter storm warning – A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.

  • Blizzard warning – Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.

  • Frost/freeze warning – Below-freezing temperatures are expected.


Before Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

To prepare for a winter storm you should do the following:

Add these supplies to your emergency kit:

  • Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways o Sand to improve traction o Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment o Sufficient heating fuel o Adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm

  • Make a family communications plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together and what you will do in case of an emergency.

  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information from the National Weather Service (NWS). Be alert to changing weather conditions.

  • Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep a disaster supply kit in your vehicle.

  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.


Winterize Your Home

  • Winterize your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment. Clear rain gutters, repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.

  • Extend your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.

  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.

  • Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little du