Wintertime poses a wide range of threats to the American public. Whether it be exposure to the cold, vehicle accidents caused by slick roads, or fires resulting from the improper use of heaters, hundreds of people are injured or killed each year as a direct result of winter weather.
Winter storms range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a massive blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Some winter storms are large enough to affect several states while others affect only a single community.
High winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall, and dangerously cold temperatures are the main hazards associated with winter storms. Impassable snow drifts often maroon people at home without utilities or other services for days after an event. Heavy snowfall and blizzards easily trap motorists in their vehicles and make walking to find help a deadly effort. Severely cold temperatures and wind chills during and after a winter storm can lead to hypothermia and kill anyone caught outside for too long. The aftermath of a winter storm can impact a community or region for days, weeks or even months, incurring steep economic costs.
Terms to Know:
The chart below shows how the different types of winter precipitation are formed.
How the National Weather Service Keeps You Informed
The National Weather Service issues four "tiers" of alerts to inform you of incoming hazardous weather. Please take a moment to review and understand the differences between them.
Below is a break down the different alerts issued by the National Weather Service in Des Moines
|Product||What It Means||You Should...|
|Hazardous Weather Outlook||
If any hazardous winter weather is expected, check back for later forecasts, information, and possible watches.
|Winter Weather Advisory||
1. Snow: Between 3 and 5 inches in 12 hours
2. Sleet: Less than 1/2 inch in the next 24 hours
3. Blowing Snow: Visibility occasionally reduced
On the Road: Unplowed/less traveled roads may be slick, so drive with caution. If blowing snow is occurring, drive at a safe speed and leave plenty of space between you and other drivers.
At Home: Make sure you have the proper snow removing equipment to clear your sidewalks and driveways.
When any of the following criteria is expected to occur:
On the Road: Seriously consider postponing any non-essential driving. If you must drive, carry a winter survival kit in your car and be prepared for delays.
At Home: Make sure you have the proper snow removing equipment to clear your sidewalks and driveways. If an exceptionally high amount of snow is forecast, be prepared to remain at home for a day or two.
On the Road: Refrain from driving except in emergency situations, especially in open country. Always carry a winter survival kit in your car if you must drive. High winds and white-out conditions will make driving extremely dangerous.
At Home: Be prepared to remain at home for a few days, especially if you live in a rural area. Snow drifts may be higher than 10 feet, so make sure you have the proper snow removing equipment.
|Freezing Rain Advisory||
On the Road: Drive at a safe speed. Allow more space between you and the car ahead of you and be cautious when coming to a stop and making turns.
At Home: Be careful of slipping and falling when walking on untreated sidewalks and roads.
|Ice Storm Warning||
On the Road: Refrain from driving except in emergency situations. Roads will likely be treacherous and maintaining control of your car will be very difficult.
At Home: Be prepared for possible long duration power outages and refrain from walking on ice covered surfaces outside.
|Wind Chill Advisory||
On the Road: Pack extra clothes and blankets in addition to your winter survival kit in your car in case you become stranded.
At Home: If you go outdoors, dress accordingly by wearing well-insulated hats and gloves and putting on extra layers of clothing to keep warm. Frostbite could take place in as little as 30 minutes.
|Wind Chill Warning||
On the Road: Pack extra clothes and blankets in addition to your winter survival kit in your car in case you get stranded.
At Home: Seriously consider postponing any outdoor plans. Wear well insulated clothing if you must go outdoors. Frostbite could take place in as little as 10 minutes.
The wind chill temperature is not the actual air temperature, it is a “feels like” temperature when one factors in cold temperatures AND wind speeds. Increasing winds will accelerate the amount of heat lost by the body via exposed skin, driving down the body temperature. Animals are also affected by wind chill.
The only effect wind chill has on inanimate objects, such as car radiators and water pipes, is to shorten the amount of time for the object to cool. The inanimate object will not cool below the actual air temperature. For example, if the temperature outside is -5°F and the wind chill temperature is -31°F, then your car's radiator will not drop lower than -5°F.
The wind chill chart below was developed based on joint U.S.-Canadian research. The chart includes a frostbite indicator, showing the points where temperature, wind speed and exposure time will produce frostbite on humans. Each shaded area shows how long a person can be exposed before frostbite develops.
Note: Wind chill temperature is only defined for temperatures at or below 50°F and wind speeds above 3 mph. Bright sunshine may increase the wind chill temperature by 10 to 18°F.
Cold and the Body
Unusually cold temperatures are especially dangerous in areas not accustomed to them because residents are generally unprepared and may not realize the danger severe cold presents. Always remember to wear light, dry, loose fitting layers, mittens or gloves (mittens are warmer than gloves) and a hat to prevent the loss of body heat. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from frigid air.
Exposure to cold can cause frostbite and life-threatening hypothermia.
What To Look For and Actions To Take:
|Frostbite||Loss of feeling in the affected area and skin that appears waxy, is cold to the touch or is discolored (flushed, white, grey, yellow or blue).||Handle the affected area gently and do not rub it. Warm gently by soaking the affected area in warm (not hot) water until it appears red and feels warm. Loosely bandage the area with dry, sterile dressings. If the person’s fingers or toes are frostbitten, place dry, sterile gauze between them to keep them separated. Avoid breaking any blisters and do not allow the affected area to refreeze.|
|Hypothermia||Uncontrollable shivering, numbness, glassy stare, incoherence, slurred speech, weakness, or loss of consciousness.||Gently move the person to a warm place. Give rescue breathing and CPR as needed. Remove any wet clothing and dry the person. Warm the person slowly by wrapping him or her in blankets or putting on warm clothing. Hot water bottles or hot packs may be used to help warm, but must be wrapped in a towel or blanket before applying.
Warm the core first (trunk, abdomen), not the extremities (hands, feet). Warming extremities first could cause shock, or drive cold blood towards the heart, causing heart failure. Do not warm the person too quickly, such as immersing him or her in warm water, as this could lead to dangerous heart arrhythmias.
Being safe in dangerous winter weather means not only to taking the appropriate steps during the storm, but also having the right supplies beforehand. If you wait to stock up on supplies until a watch or warning is issued, you run the risk of the supplies being out of stock or the store being closed.
The checklist below provides some basic guidance on what to have in your house/apartment during the winter should you be trapped by the snow or lose electricity. This is not an exhaustive list.
Food and water are vital necessities during a winter storm; however, these foods should be safe to consume should power be lost. Use the checklist below to help stock your shelves.
Additional information on assembling home disaster kits can be found on the FEMA website.
During the Event
During severe winter weather, the best advice is to stay inside your house. Plummeting temperatures and high winds that often accompany winter storms allow frostbite and hypothermia to set in quickly if you are outside. Also, road conditions will likely be very treacherous, especially if you live in rural areas. Monitor local media outlets for the latest information on the storm.
Each fall, take the time to go through your vehicle and winterize it. This can include:
During the Event
Below are some tips for staying warm if you must venture outside in a winter storm or cold weather.
If you are planning to take a hunting, camping, or other extended outdoor trip in the mid fall to mid spring timeframe, pay attention to the weather in the days leading up to the trip. If severe winter weather is forecast, consider postponing the trip. If you do head out: