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Safety Center > Emergency Preparedness > Weather

Winter Storm Preparation and Safety Tips

It is the time of year again when people should be prepared to deal with winter and the storms that it brings. To assist you in preparing we have outlined some information on winter storms and how you can prepare you and your family.

Winter storms can have devastating effects on your community that can last for days, weeks or even months. Snow, high winds and ice can cause hazardous conditions and are deceptive killers.

1. What are winter storms?
2. Weather watches and warnings
3. Preparing for winter storms
4. Protecting your property from winter storms
5. What to do when a winter storm is forecast
6. What to do during a winter storm or blizzard warning
7. Winter Driving
8. What to do after a winter storm
9. Other external links

1. What are winter storms?
Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over several hours to blizzard conditions over several days.

  • Sleet - Raindrops that freeze into ice pellets before reaching the ground
  • Freezing Rain - Rain that hits objects that are below freezing, causing it to freeze on surfaces, such as trees, cars and roads, forming a glaze of ice
  • Ice Storms - Freezing rain falls and freezes immediately on impact, causing disruptions to power supplies and extreme hazards for motorists and pedestrians

2. Weather watches and warnings
To be able to prepare ourselves for any emergency weather conditions, we must understand the weather advisory systems. The two main advisories are:

  • Watch - A condition that favors the occurrence of a certain type of hazardous weather and may be forecast 12-36 hours in advance
  • Warning - Indicates that a hazardous event is occurring or is imminent in 30 minutes to and hour

3. Preparing for winter storms
It is important to plan ahead for winter and the storms that it brings. There are several things that you and your family can do to prepare yourself:

  • Develop a family disaster plan specifically for winter storms.  Additional items should include warm winter clothing, waterproof shoes, extra blankets and clumping kitty litter or ice-melting products.
  • Understand the hazards of wind chill. Wind chill is a calculation on how cold it feels when wind speed and temperature are combined. This will determine how you should dress for outside activities.
  • Service snow removal equipment before you need it.
  • Have a battery-operated radio to keep you up to date on current watches and warnings. A tone alert NOAA weather radio is recommended.
  • Establish a family disaster plan and discuss with all family members how to respond to winter storm watches and warnings.
  • Winterize your car. Have a mechanic check your battery, antifreeze, windshield washer fluid, wipers, ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster and oil level. Also make sure your tires have adequate tread.
  • The following links have additional preparedness info. They are in PDF format. Viewing PDF files requires the Acrobat Reader, which you will need to download and install if you don't have it already.

4. Protecting your property from winter storms
Before a storm there are several things you can do to protect your property against damage, including:

  • Check your home for proper insulations. This will help conserve energy and reduce your home's power demands for heat.
  • Install storm windows or cover with plastic from the inside.
  • Prevent exposed pipes from freezing by wrapping pipes with insulation or newspapers (cover newspaper with plastic to keep moisture out) and let the faucet drip a little. If pipes freeze remove insulation or newspaper and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they are most exposed to the cold.
  • Install and check smoke alarms.
  • Consider keeping safe emergency heating equipment. Make sure you understand the precautions and hazards for using and storing these additional heating sources. Check with your local fire department for more information on safe alternative heating.

5. What to do when a winter storm is forecast
There are several things you can do to prepare for winter storm, including:

  • Listen to your radio for additional information.
  • Keep your car gas tank full. This will ensure you have enough gas if you are required to evacuate; it will also prevent the gas line from freezing.
  • Know where emergency shelters are in case of a power or heat loss.
  • Move animals to shelter areas and ensure they have adequate water supplies.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel. 70% of winter deaths related to ice and snow occur in automobiles.
  • Ensure you have adequate food supply for several days.

6. What to do during a winter storm or blizzard warning
During a winter storm or blizzard it is important for you and your family to take certain steps to ensure your safety; these include:

  • Stay indoors and dress warmly.
  • Listen to radio or TV for updates.
  • Eat regularly and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Conserve fuel.

If you must go outside, consider the following:

  • Wear layered clothing including hat and gloves.
  • Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from bitterly cold air.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
  • Keep dry.
  • Stretch before you go out to shovel snow.
  • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing cars or walking in deep snow.
  • Walk carefully on snowy or icy sidewalks as slips and falls can occur.

7. Winter Driving
Driving is not advised during winter storms. However, if you must go out there are several things you can do to reduce the likelihood of problems and increase your chance of survival, including:

  • Winterize your car before storms arrive.
  • Keep a charged cell phone with you when driving.
  • Keep an ice scraper in your car.
  • Always travel with someone else.
  • Keep a disaster supply kit in your car.  Additional items for winter conditions include small sack of sand, tire chains or traction mats for generating traction; brightly colored cloth to tie around antenna; additional warm winter clothing.
  • Keep gas tank full.
  • Plan long trips carefully and leave travel plans with neighbors or family members.
  • Be aware of current weather conditions at all times.

If you unfortunately get stuck in your vehicle during a winter storm, the following points may help you survive:

  • Stay with your vehicle.
  • Hang something bright on your antenna to display a trouble sign and to make your vehicle more visible.
  • Occasionally run the engine to keep warm.
  • Crack a window away from the wind to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Leave overhead light on when engine is running so you can be seen.
  • Do minor exercises to keep up your circulation.
  • If there is more than one person in the car, take turns sleeping.
  • Huddle together for extra warmth.
  • Use anything available to keep warm, including newspapers, maps or car mats.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia or frostbite.

8. What to do after a winter storm
After a storm has passed you still need to keep vigilant and take certain precautions, including:

  • Continue listening to radio or TV for updated information and instructions.
  • Check on neighbors.
  • Avoid driving until conditions have improved.
  • Avoid overexertion.

For more information on winter storm or how to prepare for other disasters, please contact the American Red Cross of Central New Jersey.

Training courses are available in disaster preparedness and winter storm safety.  Please contact the Community Disaster Education Administrator at (609) 951-2107 for additional information.

9. Other external links:
National Weather Services - New Jersey

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