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Winter Storm Disasters: Facts for Families

car covered in snow car covered in snow

What are winter storms?

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, heavy and/or blowing snow, which can severely reduce visibility, and icy conditions.

Why talk about winter storms?

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.

What can I do to prepare for a winter storm?

  • Learn about your area's winter storm risk. Contact your local Red Cross chapter or emergency management office for your area's winter storm risk and storm history.
  • Understand the hazards of wind chill, which combines the cooling effect of wind and cold temperatures on exposed skin.
  • Service vehicles and snow removal equipment before winter storm season.
  • Keep your car's gas tank full for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing.

What to do during a winter storm?

  • Listen to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, a portable battery-powered radio (or television), or a smart phone for updated emergency information.
  • Stay indoors and dress warmly during the storm.
  • Wearing layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing will keep you warmer than one bulky sweater.
  • Listen to a battery powered radio or television for updated emergency information.
  • Eat regularly. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat.
  • Keep the body replenished with fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • If you lose electricity, do not use a generator indoors or in an enclosed space.
  • Conserve fuel.

What to do after a winter storm?

  • Continue listening to local radio or television stations or a NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and instructions.
  • Help neighbors who may require special assistance.
  • Avoid driving and other travel until conditions have improved.
  • Avoid overexertion.
  • Follow forecasts and be prepared when venturing outside.

Additional Information:

Last Updated
Adapted from Family Readiness Kit: Preparing to Handle Disasters, 2nd Edition
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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