Winter Weather

blizzardA major winter storm can last for several days, with high winds, freezing rain, heavy snowfall, and cold temperatures. Extreme cold can bring on health emergencies for people who live in poorly insulated homes and those who are stranded and attempt to walk for help. Each year, dozens of Americans die from exposure to cold and fires due to dangerous use of heaters. Space heaters and fireplaces increase the risk of household fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.  

Know the terms

  • Wind Chill - One of the gravest dangers of winter weather is wind chill. The wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. Animals are also affected by wind chill.

  • Winter Weather Advisory - Winter weather advisories are issued when conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If you are cautious, these situations should not be life threatening.

  • Winter Storm Watch - A winter storm watch alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow or heavy sleet. Winter storm watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a winter storm.

  • Winter Storm Warning - A winter storm warning is issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow and heavy freezing rain is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.

How to stay healthy

When temperatures drop below normal, heat can leave your body more rapidly causing hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. Normal body temperature is around 98.6 °F. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If you see someone showing these symptoms, seek medical care immediately!
 
If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

  • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.

  • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.

  • Warm the center of the body first-chest, neck, head, and groin-using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.

  • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.

  • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry, and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.

  • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately.  
 
Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of -20° Fahrenheit will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately! If you have to wait for help, slowly rewarm affected areas. However, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.

How to prepare

Preparing your home and car in advance for winter emergencies can reduce the risk of weather-related health problems. Be ready to shelter-in-place for three days.

  • Keep sand, rock salt, or non-clumping kitty litter available to make walkways and steps less slippery.

  • Dress in several layers of lightweight clothing, wear mittens, and a hat (preferably one that covers your ears).

  • Wear waterproof, insulated boots to keep your feet warm and dry and to maintain your footing in ice and snow.

  • Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep a full tank of gas and an emergency supply kit in your vehicle.

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

  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.

  • Maintain heating equipment. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.

  • Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing. 

What should you do after the storm?

  • Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.

  • Avoid driving when conditions include sleet, snow, or dense fog.

  • Dress warmly and work slowly when shoveling snow or doing other hard work in the cold. Cold weather makes your body work harder to stay warm and puts extra strain on the heart. Follow your doctors advise if you have heart disease or high blood pressure.

  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose- fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers.

  • Help people who require special assistance such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.

  • Check on your animals and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snowdrifts, ice, or other obstacles. 

Learn more about severe winter weather