Winter Storm

Why Talk About Winter Storms?

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A major winter storm can last for several days and be accompanied by high winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall, and cold temperatures. People can become trapped at home, without utilities or other services. Heavy snowfall and blizzards can trap motorists in their cars. Attempting to walk for help in a blizzard can be a deadly decision.

Winter storms can make driving and walking extremely hazardous. The aftermath of a winter storm can have an impact on a community or region for days, weeks, or even months. Storm effects such as extremely cold temperatures and snow accumulation, and sometimes coastal flooding, can cause hazardous conditions and hidden problems for people in the affected area.

What Are Winter Storms, and What Causes Them?

A winter storm can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow that lasts several days. Some winter storms may be large enough to affect several states, while others may affect only a single community. Many winter storms are accompanied by low temperatures and heavy and/or blowing snow, which can severely reduce visibility.

Winter storms can be defined differently in various parts of the country. Heavy snow in the south can be a dusting in the mountains. Check with your local emergency management office, National Weather Service (NWS) office, or local American Red Cross for terms and definitions specific to your area. Sleet is raindrops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet usually bounces when hitting a surface and does not stick to objects; however, it can accumulate like snow and cause a hazard to motorists. Freezing rain is rain that falls onto a surface with a temperature below freezing; this causes it to freeze to surfaces, such as trees, cars, and roads, forming a glaze of ice. Even small accumulations of ice can cause a significant hazard. An ice storm occurs when freezing rain falls and freezes immediately on impact; communications and power can be disrupted for days, and even small accumulations of ice may cause extreme hazards to motorists and pedestrians.

Learn about winter storm risk in your area. Contact your local emergency management office, National Weather Service office, or American Red Cross chapter for more information.

Awareness Information

Know what winter storm and blizzard WATCHES and WARNINGS mean.

Winter storms are considered deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm.

The leading cause of death during winter storms is from automobile or other transportation accidents. Exhaustion and heart attacks caused by overexertion are the two most likely causes of winter storm-related deaths. Elderly people account for the largest percentage of hypothermia victims. Many older Americans literally "freeze to death" in their own homes after being exposed to dangerously cold indoor temperatures, or are asphyxiated because of improper use of fuels such as charcoal briquettes, which produce carbon monoxide.

House fires occur more frequently in the winter due to lack of proper safety precautions when using alternate heating sources (unattended fires, disposal of ashes too soon, improperly placed space heaters, etc.). Fire during winter storms presents a great danger because water supplies may freeze and it may be difficult for firefighting equipment to get to the fire.

Plan for a Winter Storm

Develop a Family Disaster Plan. Please see the "Family Disaster Plan" section for general family planning information. Develop a winter storm-specific plan. Learn about your area's winter storm risk. Different areas have different risks associated with winter storms. Contact your local Red Cross chapter, emergency management office, or local National Weather Service office about your area's winter storm risk.

If you are at risk from winter storms:

Assemble a Disaster Supplies Kit

Please see the section "Disaster Supplies Kit" for general supplies kit information. Winter Storm-specific supplies should include the following:

What to Tell Children

How to Protect Your Property

Media and Community Ideas

What to Do Before a Winter Storm

What to Do During a Winter Storm WATCH

What to Do During a Winter Storm WARNING or a Blizard WARNING

If you must go outside, protect yourself from winter storm hazards

If you must go out during a winter storm, use public transportation if possible. About 70 percent of winter deaths related to ice and snow occur in automobiles.

Winter Driving

What to Do After a Winter Storm

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