National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce


Winter Deaths do happen. People die in traffic accidents on icy roads. People die of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold. Everyone is potentially at risk during winter storms. The actual threat to you depends on your specific situation.

Winter scene in eastern Washington.

Winter death statistics related to ice and snow:

  • About 70% occur in automobiles.
  • About 25% are people caught out in the storm.
  • Majority are males over 40 years old.

Winter death statistics related to exposure to cold:

  • 50% are people over 60 years old.
  • Over 75% are males.
  • About 20% occur in the home. 


Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by that tissue being frozen. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately! If you must wait for help, slowly rewarm affected areas. However, if the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.

Hypothermia is a condition when your body temperature gets dangerously low. Some warning signs include: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. To detect hypothermia, take the person's temperature. If below 95F (35C), immediately seek medical care! If medical care is not available, begin warming the person slowly. Warm the body core first. If needed, use your own body heat to help. Get the person into dry clothing, and wrap them in a warm blanket covering the head and neck. Do not give the person alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverage or food; warm broth is better. Do not warm extremities (arms and legs) first! This drives the cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure.


The wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by combined effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate, driving down the body temperature. Animals are also affected by wind chill. For more information on Wind Chill, visit the NWS Wind Chill page.

Avoid overextertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor may cause a heart attack. Sweating could lead to a chill and hypothermia.

CAUGHT OUTSIDE: Find shelter - try to stay dry cover all exposed parts of the body. 
With No Shelter:

  • Prepare a lean-to, wind-break, or snow cave for protection from the wind.
  • Build a fire for heat and to attract attention.
  • Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat.

Keep up your fluid intake. Drink plenty of water. Do not eat snow because it will lower your body temperature. Melt it first. 

CAUGHT IN VEHICLE: Stay in your car or truck. Disorientation occurs quickly in wind-driven snow and cold.

  • Run the motor about ten minutes each hour for heat.
  • Open the window a little for fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked.
  • Exercise from time to time by vigorously moving arms, legs, fingers, and toes to keep blood circulating and to keep warm.
  • Make yourself visible to rescuers by:
    • Turning on the dome light at night when running engine.
    • Tying a colored cloth (preferably red) to your antenna or door.
    • Raising the hood indicating trouble after snow stops falling.

CAUGHT AT HOME: Stay inside. 
When using ALTERNATIVE HEAT from a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc: Use fire safeguards and properly ventilate.

When no heat is available: Close off unneeded rooms. 
Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors. Cover windows at night.

Eat and drink. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Keep the body replenished with fluids to prevent dehydration. Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Remove layers to avoid overheating, perspiration, and subsequent chill. KEEP AHEAD OF THE STORM by listening to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, and television for the latest winter storm watches, warnings, and advisories.

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. Test units regularly to ensure they are working properly. Have available:

  • Flashlight and extra batteries.
  • Battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and portable radio to receive emergency information. These may be your only links to the outside.
  • Extra food and water. High energy food, such as dried fruit or candy, and food requiring no cooking or refrigeration is 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 source, such as a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc.
  • Learn to use properly to prevent a fire.
  • Have proper ventilation.
  • Fire extinguisher and smoke detector.

In cars and trucks, Plan your travel and check the latest weather reports to avoid the storm! Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins.


  • Blankets/sleeping bags.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • First-aid kit.
  • Knife.
  • High-calorie, non-perishable food.
  • Extra clothing to keep dry.
  • 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.
  • Sack of sand (or cat litter); shovel; windshield scraper and brush.
  • Tool kit.
  • Tow rope.
  • Booster cables.
  • Water container.
  • Compass and road maps.

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 or working outdoors:

  • Move animals to sheltered areas. Shelter belts, properly laid out and oriented, are better protection for cattle than confining shelters, such as sheds.
  • Haul extra feed to nearby feeding areas.
  • Have a water supply available. Most animal deaths in winter storms are from dehydration.
  • DRESS TO FIT THE SEASON. Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing in several layers. Trapped air insulates.
  • Layers can be removed to avoid 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 the head. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold. Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves. Try to stay dry.


Families should be prepared for all hazards that affect their area and themselves. NOAA's National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the American Red Cross urge each family to develop a family disaster plan. Where will your family be when disaster strikes? They could be anywhere at work, at school, or in the car. How will you find each other? Will you know if your children are safe? Disasters may force you to evacuate your neighborhood or confine you to your home. What would you do if basic services - water, gas, electricity or telephones - were cut off?

Follow these basic steps to develop a family disaster plan...

  • Gather information about hazards. Contact your local National Weather Service office, emergency management office or civil defense office, and American Red Cross chapter. Find out what type of disasters could occur and how you should respond. Learn your community's warning signals and evacuation plans.
  • Meet with your family to create a plan. Discuss the information you have gathered. Pick two places to meet: a spot right outside your home for an emergency, such as fire, and a place away from your neighborhood in case you can't return home. Choose an out-of-state friend as your "family check-in contact" for everyone to call if the family gets separated. Discuss what you would do if advised to evacuate.
  • Implement your plan:
    1. Post emergency telephone numbers by phones;
    2. Install safety features in your house, such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers,
    3. Inspect your home for potential hazards (such as items that can move, fall, break, or catch fire) and correct them;
    4. Have your family learn basic safety measures, such as CPR and first aid; how to use a fire extinguisher; and how and when to turn off water, gas, and electricity in your home;
    5. Teach children how and when to call 911 or your local Emergency Medical Services number; (6) Keep enough supplies in your home to meet your needs for at least three days. Assemble a disaster supplies kit with items you may need in case of an evacuation. Store these supplies in sturdy, easy-to-carry containers, such as backpacks or duffle bags. Keep important family documents in a waterproof container. Keep a smaller disaster supplies kit in the trunk of your car.
  • Put together a Distaster Supplies Kit. It should include: A 3-day supply of water (one gallon per person per day) and food that won't spoil one change of clothing and footwear per person one blanket or sleeping bag per person a first-aid kit, including prescription medicines emergency tools, including a battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and a portable radio, flashlight, and plenty of extra batteries an extra set of car keys and cash special items for infant, elderly, or disabled family member.
  • Practice and maintain your plan. Ask questions to make sure your family remembers meeting places, phone numbers, and safety rules. Conduct drills. Test your smoke detectors monthly and change the batteries at least once a year. Test and recharge your fire extinguisher(s) according to manufacturer's instructions. Replace stored water and food every six months.

For more information on winter storms, visit the NWS Winter Weather Awareness page.