Winter weather can be fun, but it's also important to know the risks that come along with it. Knowing what to look out for can help you stay safe and focused on enjoying the good parts!
A. Know Your Watches and Warnings
First things first - winter storms happen (think snow, sleet, wind, ice, etc.) and can be dangerous. You'll probably hear alerts talking about watches, warnings, and advisories - check out
our Winter Weather page to
learn what they mean.
B. Dry Is Your Friend
Did you know that warm clothing actually
lets cold in when it gets wet? It's true! Wet or damp fabrics can transfer warmth away from your body quickly. So when you're outside shoveling, playing, or traveling in the snow, be sure to change out of wet clothing as soon as you're able. Keep that warmth where it belongs!
C. Health Risks Can Sneak Up on You
We're probably all familiar with some of the risks of the cold - especially
frostbite (look out for numbness, gray/white skin, or a waxy texture on your skin) and
hypothermia (look out for things like shivering, exhaustion, confusion, or dizziness). But less obvious is the risk of
Shoveling all that snow can stress your heart, and the cold outside can keep you from noticing the normal signs of needing to slow down (e.g., sweating, overheating). Heart attacks are a major cause of death in the winter, so if you're going to shovel, be sure to stretch beforehand, take it slow and steady, and take breaks to stay hydrated.
Click here to
learn more about identifying frostbite, hypothermia, overexertion, and their friends...and how to care for them if you get them. (Sneak preview: If you're ever in doubt, get medical help as soon as possible.)
D. Driving Gets Dangerous
You should always be careful when driving, but winter conditions can make this especially important. Snow and ice can make roadways slippery, or shut down certain roads altogether as plowing crews work to clear them of snow and anything the snow's brought with it, like fallen trees or downed power lines.
Remember: It doesn't take a
lot of snow or ice to send a vehicle sliding, so leave yourself extra time and take extra care now matter how much or little you can see.
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Winter doesn't mean you should stop keeping up with your normal preparedness routines - those
disaster supply kits are still important! But since it does present some unique hazards, it means we have to adapt and expand how we prepare to keep up.
A. Home and Family Matters
This step may be the simplest - in addition to your normal disaster supply kit, add on some extra blankets, mittens, hats, and warm clothing to make sure everyone's properly equipped for the weather. Water-resistant boots are even better! Throw in some old newspaper too, to serve as insulation in a pinch.
B. Keeping Your Home Warm, Safely
It seems straightfoward, right? It'll be cold, so it's time to break out the space heaters and extra furnaces and crank them up! Well, it's not quite so simple - heating equipment causes a large percentage
of the house fires we see in winter months.
So be sure to use them safely -
check out this guide! They're a great resource, but we want the heat they create to help, not hurt.
If your home uses a woodstove or other more traditional heating tool, be sure you have enough fuel in stock, and that your stove has been properly cleaned and vented. Visit
our Winter Weather page to learn more about keeping your home warm, cozy, and safe.
C. Vehicles Need Winter Attention, Too
It's best to have your vehicle "winterized" before the winter season really gets started - your mechanic will check things like your windshield wipers, battery, heater, brakes, and antifreeze levels to make sure your car or truck's existing cold-weather protections are working.
Once you've done that, you can give it a hand too, by always driving with a windshield scraper, small broom, securely stored matches, sand or kitty litter for traction, extra blanket, and red cloth (to be tied on the antenna to signal help if you're stranded). And don't forget your normal preparedness kit, of course!
D. Don't Forget Your Pets!
Your pets are just as much a part of your family as anyone, but it can be easy to overlook them when planning - and they'll have winter-specific needs just like you do. Some ways to lend them a helping paw include:
Making sure they're part of your household evacuation plan in case of heavy snows or long-term power outages
- If you're planning to travel with them for the holidays,
check out our interview with Pip the Beach Cat (and his assistant Emily Meadows) on how to keep them safe and comfortable on the ride.
- Bring as many as you can indoors. Make sure to account for their bathroom and sleeping needs (extra space for pet beds, kitty litter, etc.) while you're at it, so you and your temporary fuzzy roommates can get along nicely.
- For those that can't our shouldn't be brought in the house, make sure there's a safe, sturdy shelter of some kind for them, where they can stay out of the elements and have access to food and water.
- If you own a farm or have a large amount of grazing area, consider installing
snow fences to help stop drifting snow from blocking your access routes to barns, shelters, and other facilities.
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A. Keeping Warm Indoors
If at all possible, when winter weather strikes...stay inside! Keep warm with layers of loose fitting clothing, be sure to eat regularly and stay hydrated, and conserve fuel by lowering your thermostat (especially at night) or closing off unused rooms so you have less space that needs to be actively heated. Your heating system will work less hard, and your heating bill may be (a little) less painful.
And for those things you do turn on for the season (e.g., space heaters, candles, ovens, christmas trees, etc.), prevent house fires by never leaving them on unattended.
B. Don't Go It Alone
People are as much a winter safety resource as anything! Lend a hand by checking on neighbors, friends, and relatives affected by winter weather - especially if they're elderly and/or live alone. And let others lend you a hand in case of emergency: Before traveling, tell someone you trust where you plan to, your planned route, and expected timeline. That way, if you get stuck and need help, someone can guide first responders where to find you.
C. Keeping Safe Outside
If you do have to go outside (to travel, shovel, etc.), up your layer game and add outerwear (e.g., jackets, boots, gloves) that are water- and wind-resistant. A scarf or mouth covering can minimize the amount of cold air reaching your lungs - it'll save you at least one sore throat per season! And like we said before, keep an eye out for fatigue, hypothermia, frostbite, or signs your clothing's getting wet - slow, steady, and dry are all your friends.
When you're on the move on foot, go slowly and walk on ice and snow carefully. Slips and falls are common in winter, and while they might sound minor, they can actually cause some serious injuries. If you're in a vehicle, plan to travel by daylight when you can - it may never be easy to see ice on a road, but it's a lot harder in the dark.
D. Stay Informed
Keep up to date on the latest forecasts, power outages, and weather news by listening to local area radio stations, NOAA Weather Radio (you can
buy one here), or local television channels for updates.
And while we all hope it's never necessary, make sure to have a plan to evacuate in the event of a truly severe winter storm, extended power outage, or the like. Make sure your family knows the plan, and be aware of the
locations of weather shelters in case you need them.