Winter Safety Tips

Emergency Preparedness
Winter Storms

Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. Even areas that normally experience mild winters can be hit with a major snowstorm or extreme cold. Winter storms can result in flooding, closed highways, blocked roads, downed power lines and hypothermia after prolonged exposure to cold.

Understand Winter Storms

  • Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
  • Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
  • Winter Storm Watch: A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather radio, commercial radio or television for more information.
  • Winter Storm Warning: A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.
  • Blizzard Warning: Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 mph or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than one-quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
  • Frost/Freeze Warning: Below-freezing temperatures are expected.

Before Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

  • Your emergency supply kit should contain: rock salt to melt ice on walkways; sand to improve traction for your vehicles; and snow shovels and other snow-removal equipment.
  • Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
  • Winterize your car. Keep blankets and warm clothes in a car emergency kit.

During a Winter Storm

  • Listen to your radio, television or NOAA weather radio for weather reports and emergency information.
  • Eat regularly and drink ample fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite. These include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.
    • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside.

    • Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your residence cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat to some rooms.

    • Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid buildup of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

    • Drive only if absolutely necessary. If you must drive

    • Travel during the day, don’t travel alone and keep others informed of your schedule.

    • Stay on main roads; avoid back-road shortcuts.

      Power Outages or “Rolling Blackouts”

      Power outages may occur throughout the year for a variety of reasons, including ice storms, thunderstorms and power station failures.  Your emergency kit is designed to help your family during periods without power. For example, when power goes out, water purification systems may not function fully, so you may need to boil or treat water for drinking and cooking if you do not have enough bottled water on hand.

      Food Safety

      If the power is out for less than two hours, the food in your refrigerator and freezer should be safe to consume. While the power is out, keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed to keep food cold longer. If the power is out for longer than two hours, follow the guidelines below:

      • A freezer that is half full will hold food safely for up to 24 hours. A full freezer will hold food safely for 48 hours. Do not open the freezer door if you can avoid it.
      • In the refrigerated section, pack milk, other dairy products, meat, fish, eggs and spoilable leftovers into a cooler surrounded by ice. Inexpensive Styrofoam coolers are fine for this purpose.
      • Use a digital, quick-response thermometer to check the temperature of your food right before you cook or eat it. Throw away any refrigerated or frozen food with a temperature of more than 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
      • When in doubt, throw it out.

      Extreme Cold

      If the power goes out during extreme cold, you will need to take special precautions.

      To avoid hypothermia when without heat in a power outage, wear additional layers of clothing, use extra blankets when stationary, stay dry and take in plenty of food and water. Avoid alcohol use.

      Power Line Hazards

      Some power failures may be due to downed power lines. If a power line falls near your house, call your electric utility company. Do not go near the power line to remove debris or belongings and don’t let children play outside until the line is repaired.

      Indoor Safety

      If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace, or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and remember these safety tips.

      • Use fireplace, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into the indoor air space. 
      • Do not burn paper in a fireplace. 
      • Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater. 
      • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don’t substitute.
      • Do not place a space heater within 3 feet of anything that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater. 
      • Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water. 
      • Never leave children unattended near a space heater. 
      • Make sure that the cord of an electric space heater is not a tripping hazard but do not run the cord under carpets or rugs. 
      • Avoid using extension cords to plug in your space heater. 
      • If your space heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, do not use it.
        • Store a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated. Light and Cook Safely If there is a power failure: 
        • Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns rather than candles, if possible. 
        • Never leave lit candles unattended. 
        • Never use a charcoal or gas grill indoors—the fumes are deadly. Never use an electric generator indoors, inside the garage, or near the air intake of your house because of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning:
        • Plug in appliances to the generator using individual heavy-duty, outdoor-rated cords.
        • Do not use the generator or appliances if they are wet because of the risk of electrocution.
        • Do not store gasoline indoors where the fumes could ignite.

          Conserve Heat

          You may need fresh air coming in for your heater or for emergency cooking arrangements. However, if you don’t need extra ventilation, keep as much heat as possible inside your home. Avoid unnecessary opening of doors or windows. Close off unneeded rooms, stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors, and close draperies or cover windows with blankets at night.

          Keep a Water Supply

          Extreme cold can cause water pipes in your home to freeze and sometimes rupture. When very cold temperatures are expected:

          • Leave all water taps slightly open so they drip continuously.
          • Keep the indoor temperature warm.
          • Improve the circulation of heated air near pipes. For example, open kitchen cabinet doors 
beneath the kitchen sink.
          • If your pipes do freeze, do not thaw them with a torch. Instead, thaw them slowly by directing the warm air from an electric hair dryer onto the pipes
          • If you cannot thaw your pipes, or the pipes are ruptured, use bottled water or get water from a neighbor’s home

          Monitor Body Temperature

          Infants less than one-year-old should never sleep in a cold room because (1) infants lose body heat more easily than adults; and (2), unlike adults, infants can’t make enough body heat by shivering. Provide warm clothing for infants and try to maintain a warm indoor temperature. If the temperature cannot be maintained, make temporary arrangements to stay elsewhere. In an emergency, you can keep an infant warm using your own body heat. If you must sleep, take precautions to prevent rolling on the baby. Pillows and other soft bedding can also present a risk of smothering; remove them from the area near the baby. 
Older adults often make less body heat because of a slower metabolism and less physical activity. If you are over 65 years of age, check the temperature in your home often during severely cold weather. Also, check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are adequately heated.

          Eat and Drink Wisely

          Eating well-balanced meals will help you stay warmer. Do not drink alcoholic or caffeinated beverages—they cause your body to lose heat more rapidly. Instead, drink warm, sweet beverages or broth to help maintain your body temperature. If you have any dietary restrictions, ask your doctor. 

          Outdoor Safety

          When the weather is extremely cold, and especially if there are high winds, try to stay indoors. Make any trips outside as brief as possible, and remember these tips to protect your health and safety.

          Adults & children should wear

          • a hat
          • a scarf or knit mask to cover face and mouth
          • sleeves that are snug at the wrist
          • mittens (they are warmer than gloves)
          • water-resistant coat and boots
          • several layers of loose-fitting clothing

          Be sure the outer layer of your clothing is tightly woven, preferably wind resistant, to reduce body- heat loss caused by wind. Wool, silk, or polypropylene inner layers of clothing will hold more body heat than cotton.

          Avoid Exertion

          Cold weather puts an extra strain on the heart. If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s advice about shoveling snow or performing other hard work in the cold. Otherwise, if you have to do heavy outdoor chores, dress warmly and work slowly. Remember, your body is already working hard just to stay warm, so don’t overdo it.

          Stay dry

          Wet clothing chills the body rapidly. Excess perspiration will increase heat loss, so remove extra layers of clothing whenever you feel too warm. Also, avoid getting gasoline or alcohol on your skin while de-icing and fueling your car or using a snow blower. These materials in contact with the skin greatly increase heat loss from the body. Do not ignore shivering. It’s an important first sign that the body is losing heat. Persistent shivering is a signal to return indoors.

          Understand Wind Chill

          The Wind Chill index is the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed. It is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather- related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.

          Avoid Ice

          Walking on ice is extremely dangerous. Keep your steps and walkways as free of ice as possible by using rock salt or another chemical de-icing compound. Sand may also be used on walkways to reduce the risk of slipping

          Recognizing Hypothermia

          Adult Warnings signs of hypothermia

          • shivering, exhaustion
          • confusion, fumbling hands
          • memory loss, slurred speech
          • drowsiness

          Infants Warnings signs of hypothermia 

          • bright red, cold skin
          • very low energy

          What to Do

          If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately. 
If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:

          • Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
          • If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
          • Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
          • Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
          • After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
          • Get medical attention as soon as possible.

          A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided.


          Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.

          Recognizing Frostbite

          At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin—frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:

          • a white or grayish-yellow skin area 

          • skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
          • numbness

          A victim is often unaware of frostbite until someone else points it out because the frozen tissues are numb.

          What to Do

          If you detect symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Because frostbite and hypothermia both result from exposure, first determine whether the victim also shows signs of hypothermia, as described previously. Hypothermia is a more serious medical condition and requires emergency medical assistance. Taking preventive action is your best defense against having to deal with extreme cold-weather conditions.

          Walking Workouts in Winter Weather

          Walking in the winter offers you a refreshing change of pace. The invigorating cold air can clear your mind and reduce stress, which can be helpful for weight loss. Research shows that stress can increase levels of cortisol, a hormone that may increase appetite and promote fat storage. Getting outside during daylight hours also increases levels of serotonin, a hormone that helps calm cravings. Even if you have to walk slower because of the weather, you may be burning more calories. And trudging through snow or walking into the wind takes more energy.

          Richland Public Health encourages healthy exercise but remember that winter weather requires some special preparation. Keep these tips in mind:

          • Allow at least 10 minutes to warm up. When it’s cold, your heart and muscles need more time to get ready.
          • Wear a scarf or mask loosely over your nose and mouth to prevent the sting of icy cold air when you inhale. This is especially important if you have asthma or heart problems.
          • Choose shoes with lugged soles for traction, and buy an inexpensive pair of ski or walking poles to help keep your balance. (The poles will also help you burn extra calories because your upper body is getting a workout too.)
          • Take your workout indoors if you’d be risking frostbite (temperatures around -20 degrees F, including any windchill), if it’s icy, or if you’d encounter dangerous traffic.

          When you step outside, you should feel slightly chilled but not cold. During your workout, you want to feel warm, not hot and sweaty. That means you need to dress in layers so that you can take them off or put more on as needed. Here are the basics of layering:

          • An inner layer made of synthetic fabric such as CoolMax to wick sweat away so you stay dry
          • A middle, or insulating, layer (or two) of light-weight fleece fabric such as Polartec to keep you warm
          • An outer layer of waterproof, breathable fabric such as Gore-Tex to buffer you from the elements and let sweat escape
          • Don’t forget a hat, gloves, and sunscreen!
          • If you may be walking/running in an area with traffic, consider wearing a brightly-colored scarf or hat, or reflective gear.
          • Always cross the street at intersections.
          • If you have to walk in the street, be sure to walk against traffic.

          Winter Pedestrian Safety

          Walking in winter weather, including snow and ice, is something that people either have to do or like to do. But be aware of the unique safety hazards associated with winter weather while “walking in a winter wonderland.”

          In Ohio in 2015, driving in snow or freezing rain caused 15,733 crashes that included 22 fatalities and 3,154 injuries. 118 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes that year although not all were weather-related. Those pedestrians most often killed were either children or the elderly.

          “Weather can play a major role in crashes whether you are walking or driving,” said Reed Richmond, Health Educator at Richland Public Health and a Richland County Safe Communities Coalition partner. “Make sure you know the hazards before venturing out.”

          • If the sidewalks and walkways are impassable and you have to walk in the street, walk against traffic and as close to the curb as you can.
          • Proper gear is a must, but wearing dark “winter” colors can make it hard for motorists to see you, especially if they aren’t expecting you. Consider wearing a brightly-colored scarf or hat, or reflective gear, especially if you have to walk in the street. And don’t forget gloves, and shoes or boots with non-slip soles.
          • Snow that has accumulated into drifts can muffle the sounds of approaching motor vehicles. Wearing hats and scarves that cover your ears can also distort or even eliminate these sounds. Keep warm, but make sure you can hear what’s going on around you.
          • If you can, shop before the storm hits. If you have to shop, don’t buy more than you can easily carry. Remember – the streets may be slippery and carrying heavy packages can impair your balance.
          • When traveling with babies or small children, make sure they are dressed in brightly colored or reflective clothing. If you have to push a stroller or walk in the street, the child should be in front of you and as close to the curb as possible.
          • Because of road conditions, motorists may not be able to stop at traffic signals or slow down for pedestrians. Before you step off the curb into the street, make sure that any approaching vehicles have come to a complete stop.
          • 76% of traffic crashes involving pedestrians happen at non-intersections. If you must cross the street, do so at an intersection.
          • Low light conditions contribute to pedestrian-vehicle crashes, with 13% happening at dawn (6 a.m. to 9 a.m.) and 23% happening at dusk (6 p.m. to 9 p.m.). Try to walk when the visibility is best for both you and the traffic.
          • Bending your knees a little, and taking slower steps can greatly reduce your chances of falling.

          Driving in Winter Weather

          Driving in the winter means snow, sleet and ice that can lead to slower traffic, hazardous road conditions, hot tempers and unforeseen dangers. To help you make it safely through winter, here are some suggestions from the National Safety Council to make sure that you and your vehicle are prepared.


          At any temperature — 20° Fahrenheit below zero or 90° Fahrenheit above — weather affects road and driving conditions and can pose serious problems. It is important to monitor forecasts on the Web, radio, TV, cable weather channel, or in the daily papers.

          Necessary Equipment

          An emergency situation on the road can arise at any time and you must be prepared. In addition to making sure you have the tune-up, a full tank of gas, and fresh anti-freeze, you should carry the following items in your trunk:

          • Properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tripod-type jack
          • Shovel
          • Jumper cables
          • Tow and tire chains
          • Bag of salt or cat litter
          • Tool kit

          Driving in Snow and Ice

          The best advice for driving in bad winter weather is not to drive at all, if you can avoid it. Don’t go out until the snow plows and sanding trucks have had a chance to do their work, and allow yourself extra time to reach your destination.

          If you must drive in snowy conditions, make sure your car is prepared (see Winterize Your Car below), and that you know how to handle road conditions. It’s helpful to practice winter driving techniques in a snowy, open parking lot, so you’re familiar with how your car handles. Consult your owner’s manual for tips specific to your vehicle.

          If your rear wheels skid…

          • Take your foot off the accelerator.
          • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
          • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
          • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
          • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

          If your front wheels skid…

          • Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don’t try to steer immediately.
          • As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in “drive” or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

          If You Become Stranded…

          • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation.
          • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna.
          • If you are sure the car’s exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank.
          • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.
          • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.
          • Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.

          Your Car

          Prepare your car for winter. Start with a checkup that includes:

          • Checking the ignition, brakes, wiring, hoses and fan belts.
          • Changing and adjusting the spark plugs.
          • Checking the air, fuel and emission filters, and the PCV valve.
          • Inspecting the distributor.
          • Checking the battery.
          • Checking the tires for air, sidewall wear and tread depth.
          • Checking antifreeze levels and the freeze line.

          Your car should have a tune-up (check the owner’s manual for the recommended interval) to ensure better gas mileage, quicker starts and faster response on pick-up and passing power.

          Essential Supplies

          Be prepared with a “survival kit” that should always remain in the car. Replenish after use. Essential supplies include:

          • Working flashlight and extra batteries
          • Reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth
          • Compass
          • First aid kit
          • Exterior windshield cleaner
          • Ice scraper and snow brush
          • Wooden stick matches in a waterproof container
          • Scissors and string/cord
          • Non-perishable, high-energy foods like unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits, and hard candy.

          In addition, if you are driving long distances under cold, snowy, and icy conditions, you should also carry supplies to keep you warm such as heavy woolen mittens, socks, a cap and blankets.

          Driving safely on icy roads

          • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
          • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
          • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
          • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
          • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
          • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
          • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
          • Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
          • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

          If you get stuck…

          • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
          • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
          • Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
          • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
          • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
          • Try rocking the vehicle. (Check your owner’s manual first — it can damage the transmission on some vehicles.) Shift from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.

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