What are winter storms?
Winter storms can include large snow accumulation, extremely cold temperatures, coastal flooding, beach erosion and heavy, wet snow or ice.
Extreme winter weather can shut down an entire region. It can lead to roof collapses, communications disruptions and power outages. Winter storms are associated with storm-related deaths caused by:
- Automobile accidents
- Heart attacks due to overexertion
- Freezing to death
- Carbon monoxide incidents
To minimize the dangers associated with winter storms, take the proper safety precautions to protect yourself and your family.
Winter storm watches and warnings
The National Weather Service issues watches and warnings for winter storms and blizzards to alert the public of those potential weather events. It is important to understand the difference between these warnings so you know what to do to stay safe. Winter storm watches: It is likely that winter storm warning, blizzard warning, or ice storm warning criteria will be met due to the conditions of an upcoming storm. Winter storm warning: Six inches of snow or more in a 12-hour period (or 8″ of snow or more in a 24-hour period) expected within next 12 to 36 hours. Blizzard warning: Sustained wind gusts greater than or equal to 35 miles per hour and considerable falling and/or blowing snow, resulting in reduced visibility of less than quarter-mile for at least three hours. Ice storm warning: Half inch or more of freezing rain.
Before a winter storm
- Be informed by receiving alerts, warnings and public safety information before, during and after emergencies.
- Create and review your family emergency plan.
- If you receive medical treatments or home health care services, work with your medical provider to determine how to maintain care and service if you are unable to leave your home for a period of time.
- Assemble an emergency kit. Add seasonal supplies to your emergency kit, such as extra winter clothing and blankets.
- Follow instructions from public safety officials.
- Prepare for possible power outages.
- Fully charge your cellphone, laptop and other electronic devices before a storm if power outages are expected.
- Consider purchasing a generator to provide power during an outage. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions, and before an outage learn how to use it safely.
- Prepare your home for possible emergencies.
- Remove dead or rotting trees and branches around your home that could fall and cause injury or damage.
- Clear clogged rain gutters to allow water to flow away from your home. Melting snow and ice can build up if gutters are clogged with debris.
- Ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working and have fresh batteries.
- Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
- Make sure your home is properly insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows to keep cold air out. Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide insulation.
- Ensure you have sufficient heating fuel and consider safe backup heating options, such as a fireplace or woodstove.
- Ensure your vehicle is ready for safe winter driving. Keep the gas tank at least half-full and have a winter emergency car kit in the trunk.
During a winter storm
- Minimize outdoor activities. Drive only if it is necessary. If you must drive, utilize the winter driving safety tips of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).
- Keep your pets safe with MEMA’s Winter Pet Safety Tips.
- Dress for the season to protect against the elements. Dress in several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing instead of a single heavy layer. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear a hat, mittens (not gloves) and sturdy waterproof boots to protect your extremities. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
- During extreme cold weather, follow MEMA’s Extreme Cold Safety Tips.
- Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
After a winter storm
- Continue to monitor media for emergency information.
- Follow instructions from public safety officials.
- Call 911 to report emergencies, including downed power lines and gas leaks.
- Check with your local authorities or call 211 to find locations of warming centers or shelters near you or for other storm-related questions.
- In the event of power outages during cold weather, you might need to go to a warming center or emergency shelter to stay warm. Report power outages to your utility company.
- Stay away from downed utility wires. Always assume a downed power line is live.
- Stay off streets and roads until they are clear of snow.
- Use caution and take frequent breaks when shoveling snow to prevent overexertion. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack – a major cause of death in the winter.
- Clear exhaust vents from direct vent gas furnace systems to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working – it is a silent, odorless killer.
- Clear snow from around vehicle exhaust pipes before starting the vehicle to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Make sure emergency generators or secondary heating systems are well ventilated because their fumes contain carbon monoxide. See MEMA’s Generator Safety Tips.
- Dig out fire hydrants and storm drains in your neighborhood.
- Clear snow from the sidewalk on your property, including nearby curb cuts, to allow access for wheelchair users. Regulations and requirements for homeowners and businesses to clear sidewalks vary by community, but even if not required, please clear sidewalks to make safe travel for all.
- Property owners and businesses should clear snow from walkways, entrances and access ramps and handicapped parking spots and might be required to do so.
- Check your roof and clear accumulated snow to avoid roof collapses.
- Don’t park too close to corners so public safety vehicles and plows can maneuver safely.
- Be aware of children playing in the streets, particularly climbing on or running out from behind large snowdrifts. Parents should remind their children to be aware of plowing operations and traffic.
- Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions and those who might need additional assistance.