Winter Weather Types and Hazards
Blizzard: Blizzards are winter storms having 35+ mph winds, and considerable falling/blowing snow that reduces visibility to ¼ mile or less; said conditions last for a period of 3 or more hours.
Lake Effect Snow: Snow caused by the flow of cold air over a warm body of water (usually a lake). These events are especially common near the Great Lakes regions.
Freezing Rain: Freezing rain occurs when air temperatures are above and ground surfaces are below 32°F (0°C), respectively; precipitation falls as a cold rain, then freezes on contact.
Sleet: Sleet occurs when air temperatures aloft and at the surface are below freezing, and a layer of warm air is sandwiched in-between; precipitation starts as snow, melts to rain, then refreezes before hitting the ground.
Wind Chill: A measure of how the combined effects of wind and cold are perceived by the body. A wind chill of -20 °F is generally regarded as the danger threshold; it can cause frostbite within 30 minutes’ time.
Stay InformedDepending on storm severity and the threat to your region, the National Weather Service will issue one of the following statements:
A winter weather outlook is issued when the potential for hazardous winter weather exists over the next 2-5 days.
A winter storm watch is issued when there is potential for heavy snow or significant ice accumulations to occur over the next 24-36 hours.
A winter weather advisory is issued to caution of hazardous conditions associated with a developing winter storm.
A winter storm warning is issued when a winter storm is producing or is forecast to produce heavy snow or significant ice accumulations within a specified area.
Take Action before the StormBuild an emergency kit, develop and implement a family disaster plan, and winterize your car and home with these suggestions:
- Identify an emergency heat/power source (such as a fireplace, wood or gas stove, generators, candles, batteries, and flashlights)
- Keep your thermostat set above 55 °F to avoid frozen pipes
- Keep vehicle gas tanks half-full to help discourage freezing of fuel lines
- Stock up on non-perishable food items and bottled water for drinking
- Move plants and animals inside or to sheltered areas
In a vehicle: Approximately 70% of winter weather injuries result from car accidents. It’s best not to travel at all during inclement weather, but if you must,
- Travel during daylight hours
- Do not travel unaccompanied
- Always inform family/friends/neighbors of your travel schedule and anticipated arrival time
- Travel by main roads/avoid secondary roads
- Park your car off of the roadway and turn on hazard lights
- Remain in your vehicle unless a nearby building is visible and you can safely travel there on foot
- Run the engine and heater every 10 minutes; to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning, vent a window and keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow
If outdoors: Dress in light-weight, loose-fitting layers of clothing to insulate the body. Because as much as 50% of body heat escapes from the head, wear a hat. If clothing gets wet, change it immediately to prevent loss of body heat.
If indoors: Monitor alternate heating sources for fire hazards. Keep rooms well ventilated to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Know Your Cold Illnesses: If you begin to exhibit signs or symptoms of any of the below, seek emergency medical assistance immediately.
- Frostbite: freezing of the skin and its tissue; the extremities (fingers, toes, nose, ears, etc.) are most at risk
- Hypothermia: a life-threatening condition in which the body dips below a temperature of 95°F (35°C) due to prolonged exposure to cold
- Carbon Monoxide poisoning: overexposure to carbon monoxide reduces the body’s ability to absorb oxygen and can lead to serious tissue damage, and even death