News Flash

Public Health

Posted on: January 18, 2019

Winter Weather Safety

An image of a dog wearing a coat and boots with the caption "There's snow reason to be unprepa

Winter storms are dangerous

Winter storms can bring extreme cold, heavy snows, freezing rain, ice, and high winds. They can:

  • Cause hypothermia and frostbite,
  • Make it unsafe to travel on roads and cause car accidents,
  • Knock out heat, power, and communication services, and
  • Increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Before the storm

Prepare your home

  • Make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working.
  • If you have a generator, place it 20 feet or more from windows, doors, or vents.
  • Keep heat sources, like space heaters, at least 3 feet from furniture, drapes, and other items that can catch fire.An illustration of a house in winter. It includes tips to get your home winter ready such as

Have supplies on hand

  • Have food and drinking water on hand. Food that doesn’t require cooking is helpful for if the power goes out.
  • Check on your first aid kit and make sure you have enough of your prescription drugs and other medicine, so you don’t run out.
  • Battery-powered flashlights, lamps, or lanterns are good for lighting if your power goes out. Avoid using candles as they can cause house fires.

An image titled

Check your car

  • Avoid dangerous winter travel problems by planning ahead.
  • Keep your car fueled and in good working order.
  • Make sure your car emergency kit is ready if you have to travel during winter storms. Items like extra hats, coats, blankets, and mittens can help you stay warm if something happens while you are on the road.

An image title

During the storm

Stay off roads if possible

  • If there is ice or snow, take it slow.
  • Leave extra space between you and the vehicle in front of you.An image of a snowy road with the text

If your car gets stuck in 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.

Limit your time outside

  • If you need to go outside, wear layers of warm clothing.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
    • Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color in in your fingers, toes, and face.
      • Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
      • What to do: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.
    • Hypothermia happens when your body temperature is unusually low.
      • Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness.
      • What to do: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, and head. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.

An illustration with people showing the warning signs of hypothermia including: confusion, shivering

Stay safe shoveling

Reduce the risk of a heart attack and injury by shoveling carefully. Heavy snow can cause injury and put strain on your heart.

  • Stay hydrated and take frequent breaks.
  • Don’t lift too much at a time.
  • Check on your neighbors.

An image of a shovel stuck in snow titled

Prevent frozen pipes

  • Leave faucets dripping.
  • Keep the indoor temperature warm.
  • Open cabinet doors under sinks to help keep pipes warm.
  • If your pipes do freeze. Try to thaw them slowly with warm air from an electric hair dryer.

If your power goes out

  • Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows. Never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven.
  • Identify and throw away food that may not be safe to eat.
  • Check with local authorities to be sure your water is safe.
  • Wear layers of clothing and use blankets to stay warm.
  • Avoid downed power lines. They could hurt or kill you. Call 911 or your utility company.


Learn more about preparing for winter weather with the following resources:

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