Taking preventive steps is the best defense when dealing with extreme cold-weather conditions. You need to prepare before, during, and after a storm. It is important to understand that prolonged exposure to extremely cold temperatures can result in hypothermia, frostbite, and tragically, even death. Keep in mind that older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by exposure to cold weather. When winter weather makes it dangerous to go out, stocking up on staples such as food, water, medication, and personal goods will ensure that you can stay safely in your own residence for at least a few weeks.
Understanding Winter Weather Terms is Key to Prevention
Winter weather advisories are issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet that cause significant inconveniences that may lead to life-threatening situations if proper cautionary measures are not followed. The NOAA suggests that people familiarize themselves with key terms to help stay safe during inclement winter weather.
Winter Storm Warning: Issued when heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring and is likely to cause hazardous conditions. These warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.
Winter Storm Watch: Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. These alerts are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a winter storm.
Wind Chill Warning: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be hazardous within several minutes of exposure.
Wind Chill Advisory: Issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to cause a significant inconvenience with prolonged exposure, and if caution is not exercised, could lead to hazardous exposure.
Resources for Staying Warm
- Extra blankets, sleeping bags, and warm winter coats
- Fireplace with plenty of dry firewood or a gas log fireplace
- Portable kerosene heaters (check with your fire department to ensure they are legal)
- Electric space heaters with automatic shut-off switches and non-glowing elements
- Chemical fire extinguisher
- Smoke alarm in working order
- Carbon monoxide detector in working order
- Heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords to plug in other appliances
Heating and Cooking Safety Tips
- Do not use the stove or oven as a heat source
- Never leave children unattended near a space heater
- Keep heat sources at least three feet away from furniture and drapes
- Never use an electric generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your house due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning
- Do not use a generator or appliances when they are wet
- Do not store gasoline indoors because the fumes could ignite
- Do not use charcoal grills or portable gas camp stoves indoors because the fumes are toxic
- Never leave lit candles unsupervised due to the fire risk
Extremely cold weather can cause water pipes to freeze and sometimes break. It is helpful to keep the indoor temperature warm and leave taps slightly open so that they have a slow drip. If pipes freeze, do not thaw them out with a torch—instead, use an electric hair dryer. If the pipes cannot be thawed out, or if they break, use bottled water or ask a neighbor for buckets of water. In an emergency, bring in clean snow and put it in a pot. Boiling the snow will ensure that any dirt or chemical residue in the snow is removed and the water is safe to use.