Know the Hazards: Winter Storms

Maryland's many climates mean winter weather can look very different - and present different hazards - in different areas of the state. Areas in mountainous Western Maryland, like Garrett County, can see as much snowfall as New York, New England, o​r the plains states; while the Eastern Shore might see very little snow or none at all. And in the populous central regions of the state, every year's winter will be unique - some covered in snow, others just extremely cold or windy.

It's important to remember those non-snow hazards, too: Winter weather can include dangerously low temperatures, strong winds, ice, sleet, and freezing rain, in all kinds of combinations. No matter the mix, though, they can all leave your home or office without power, heat, or communications...sometimes for several days.

But it's not all doom and gloom i​n December; there are plenty of ways to prepare, and plenty of tips that'll help you enjoy a beautiful Maryland winter safely, with warmth and peace of mind. Click the links below to find out more!


Preparing Your Home & Family

  • Make sure your home is well-insulated, and consider adding weather stripping or caulk to your doors and windows to help keep warm air inside.
  • Include blankets, hats, mittens, and other warm clothing in your preparedness kit during winter months.
  • Bring pets inside if possible, or create a safe space for outdoor animal companions to keep warm, safe from the elements, and able to find food.
  • Winterize your vehicle and keep your gas tank at least half full to keep ice from building up in your gas tank and fuel lines.
  • Keep a supply of driveway salt or non-clumping kitty litter ready to go. You can spread either on outdoor surfaces to combat ice and make them less slippery.
  • Check your home's smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, and make sure they work and have good batteries. They're essential to using your heating sources safely!
  • Get a weather radio for updates from the National Weather Service, and sign up for MdReady text alerts so you've always got the latest news on storms, watches, and warnings.

Keeping Yourself Warm

  • Stack those layers! Wearing several warm, loose-fitting layers of clothing is better for retaining warmth than one heavy one.
  • Wear hats, mittens/gloves, scarves, and waterproof boots to cover up. Exposed skin doesn't just lose heat quickly; it can also be more vulnerable to frostbite.
  • Stay dry! If your clothing gets wet, change into a dry set as soon as you can. Wet clothing loses its ability to insulate you, and actually transmits heat away from you more quickly.
  • It's good to keep a space heater or other extra heating source, but be sure they have enough fuel, and that you're using them safely. [via Consumer Reports]

Staying Safe During & After a Storm

  • Avoid overexerting yourself when shoveling snow. Shoveling in the cold weather can cause more muscle stress than is safe, often without you noticing. That can cause heart attacks - a major cause of death in the winter.
    • When you do safely shovel snow, be sure to stretch first!
  • Watch for symptoms of hypothermia or frostbite - it can set in quickly, especially if you have exposed skin and/or have been outside in the cold for an extended period of time.
  • If at all possible, stay inside and off of the roads during a winter storm or its aftermath! You'll keep yourself safer, and help keep the streets clear for roadplows to do their work.
    • If you must travel, be sure to let someone know your route and destination before you go. That way, help will have a much easier time finding you if you get stuck.
  • Know your evacuation routes and be prepared to evacuate if power goes down or conditions or unsafe for an extended period of time.
  • If you're able, check on older neighbors or relatives who may live alone to see if they're doing well or need assistance.

Hypothermia & Frostbite

FROSTBITE is damage to your body caused by your skin and nerves beginning to freeze. Symptoms and warning signs include:

  • Numbness or loss of feeling around fingers, toes, ears, or other extremities
  • White or grayish-yellow skin on your fingers, toes, ears, or other extremities
  • Firm or waxy-looking skin
  • Get out of the cold as soon as possible. Go to a warm room and warm the affected body parts with body heat, blankets, or by soaking in warm water.
  • DO NOT rub, massage, or use heating pads on the affected areas. That can actually cause more damage!
  • If symptoms don't resolve, get medical help immediately.

HYPOTHERMIA is when you have an unusually (and unsafely) low body temperature. Any temperature below 95 degrees Fahrenheit is an emergency!
Symptoms and warning signs include:
  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Drowsiness or slurred speech
  • Fumbling hands or reduced motor function
  • Get out of the cold as soon as possible, and remove any wet clothing.
  • Keep dry and wrapped in warm blankets - again, more layers is better.
  • Warm the center of the body first: chest, neck, head, and groin.
    • Drinking warm, non-alcoholic beverages can help with this, if the affected person is conscious.
  • Stay wrapped up and warming until normal body temperature returns.
  • If symptoms don't resolve, get medical help immediately.
Both hypothermia and frostbite can set in quickly, and may progress without the victim noticing. If you're ever in doubt about how far a condition has gotten, or not sure if the treatments above are helping, get medical help immediately. It's far better to ask a professional and end up not needing them than it is to wait and discover worse damage later.

It's a good idea to adapt your regular preparedness kits and disaster supplies for the winter months. For details about how to do that, visit our Disaster Kits page and check out the section on winter weather items.

Related Resources

CDC Winter Weather Emergency Preparedness and Response.aspxCDC Winter Weather Emergency Preparedness and Response - Winter Weather - Winter Weather Information Emergency Emergency Plan
NOAA Winter Weather Safety and Awareness.aspxNOAA Winter Weather Safety and Awareness Supply Supply Checklists


 Live Weather Map


Winter Storm Warning
Means that severe, hazardous winter weather (e.g., heavy snow, freezing rain, sleet) is either happening right now, or will happen very soon.

Winter Storm Watch
Means that conditions are right for severe, hazardous winter weather to happen, and it could happen within the next 12-48 hours, so you should be alert and plan accordingly.

Winter Weather Advisory
Means that winter conditions (e.g., snow, freezing rain/drizzle, ice, sleet) are going to cause some significant inconveniences, which could become more dangerous if people aren't cautious and paying attention.