The term “winter storm” can cover anything from a light snow over a couple hours to a blinding blizzard with straight-line winds and sub-zero temperatures that could last for days. Small winter storm systems can cause problems at the community level while others can be large enough to cause power outages and property destruction in multiple states. Hallmarks of winter storms include extremely low temperatures, high winds, sleet, freezing rain, ice, and wind-driven snow. Black ice, a condition where roads become dangerously icy but do not appear slick, can make driving treacherous. No matter which of the above conditions are present most often in your area, you should be prepared when the situation arises to be safe.
- Winter Storm Outlook – There is a possibility of winter storm conditions in the next two to five days.
- Winter Weather Advisory - Winter storm conditions may cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If one exercises caution, these situations should not be life-threatening.
- Winter Storm Watch – Possibility of winter storm conditions in the coming 36 to 48 hours. If you are in the watch area, you should review your winter storm plans and keep informed about weather conditions.
- Winter Storm Warning – Severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. If you are in the warning area, you should take precautions right away, as conditions could become life-threatening.
Steps you can take to prepare for a winter storm:
- Keep the gas tank in your vehicle full; the gas will help to keep fuel lines from freezing.
- Install storm windows or cover windows from the inside with plastic sheeting; this will help to keep the heat in and cold air out.
- Perform regular maintenance on your heating equipment and chimneys; make sure they are cleaned and inspected every year. Also, replace your furnace air filter regularly to prevent added stress on the equipment.
- If you plan to leave during cold weather, set the heat to 55° F or higher; this can help to prevent freezing and bursting of pipes.
- If you have a sink attached to the inside of an exterior wall of your residence, leave the faucet dripping slightly to keep water moving through the pipes.
- Use foam pipe wrapping to insulate exposed water lines in basements, under sinks, and along walls.
Steps you can take during a winter storm:
- Listen to your National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio and local TV and radio stations for guidance on what to do next.
- If you have a pet or guide animal, bring it inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to a sheltered area and make sure they have access to food and water that is not blocked by snow drifts or ice.
- All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.
- If you have a garage, keep the doors closed, especially if there are water lines present.
- Running water, even at a trickle, will help prevent pipes from freezing.
- Open your kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate around the plumbing. Make sure to move any harmful cleaners and chemicals out of the reach of children.
- Keep the thermostat set at the same temperature during the day and at night during the storm. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you might have a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more expensive repair job if water pipes freeze and burst.
- Go to a friend or relative's house, or designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.
- Avoid driving during sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow, or dense fog. If travel becomes necessary, add a disaster supply kit to your vehicle before departing.
- Before tackling difficult tasks in cold weather, consider your physical condition, the weather factors, and the nature of the work.
- Prevent frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in multiple layers. Stay inside as much as possible.
- If you know any elderly people living alone or people with disabilities, call them and offer assistance once you are secured.