Consumer Bulletin

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE/Office of Consumer Affairs/Washington, D.C. 20230

This page was last updated 1/96

Number 7


As winter approaches, we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility of winter storms. Because winter storms put all of us potentially at risk, we should know their effects and the steps we need to take to protect ourselves.

Winter storms are often accompanied by strong winds, extreme cold, and heavy accumulations of ice and snow. Strong winds create blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow, severe drifting, and dangerous wind chill. Prolonged exposure to the cold can become life-threatening, particularly for infants and elderly people. Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down trees, electrical wires, telephone poles and lines, and communication towers; even small accumulations of ice may cause extreme hazards for motorists and pedestrians. Heavy snow can paralyze a city, stranding commuters, stopping the flow of supplies, and disrupting emergency and medical services. In rural areas, homes and farms may be isolated for days, and unprotected livestock may be lost.

Winter storms bring deaths. People shoveling snow have heart attacks. Other deaths result from traffic accidents caused by icy roads and from low body temperature (also called "hypothermia") produced by prolonged exposure to the cold.

Know the steps you need to take to protect yourself! Avoid strenuous exercise. The strain from the cold and hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating can lead to a chill and hypothermia.

Wear appropriate clothing--layers of loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing; trapped air insulates. Layers can be removed to avoid overheating, perspiration, and subsequent chill. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water-repellent, and hooded. Wear a hat; half your body heat loss can be from your head. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from the cold. Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves. Try to stay dry.

Be prepared before the storm strikes. At home and at work, your primary concerns are the potential loss of heat, power, telephone service, and a shortage of supplies if storm conditions continue for more than a day. Have the following items available: flashlight and extra batteries; battery-powered portable weatherband radio to receive emergency information (this may be your only link to the outside); extra food and water (high-energy foods, such as dried fruit or candy, and foods requiring no cooking or refrigeration are best); extra medicine and baby items; first-aid supplies; heating fuel (fuel carriers may not reach you for days after a severe winter storm); emergency heating sources, such as a fireplace, wood stove, or space heater; and fire extinguisher and smoke detector.

In cars and in trucks, carry a winter storm survival kit (blankets/sleeping bags; flashlight with extra batteries; first-aid kit; knife; high-calorie, non-perishable foods; extra clothing; a large empty can and plastic cover with tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes; a smaller can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking water; sand or cat litter; shovel; windshield scraper and brush; tool kit; tow rope; booster cables; water container; and compass and road maps). Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins. Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Try not to travel alone. Let someone know your timetable and primary and alternate routes.

On the farm, move animals to sheltered areas. Haul extra feed to nearby feeding areas, and have a water supply available; most animal deaths in winter storms are caused by dehydration.

Listen to the latest winter storm advisories, watches, and warnings provided by NOAA Weather Radio on frequencies 162.550 MHz to 162.525 MHz, commercial radio, and television.

A WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY tells you that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous; if caution is exercised, these situations should not become life-threatening.

A FROST/FREEZE WARNING tells you that temperatures below freezing are expected and may cause great damage to plants, crops, or fruit trees. A WINTER STORM WATCH tells you that severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, are possible within the next day or two; prepare now! A WINTER STORM WARNING tells you that severe weather conditions have begun or are about to begin in your area; stay indoors! A BLIZZARD WARNING tells you that snow and strong winds will combine to produce a blinding snow, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill; seek refuge immediately!

For more information on protecting yourself against winter storms, contact your local National Weather Service office.

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