Winter can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds that can knock out power and increase the risk of accidents, hypothermia, and frostbite. In extreme cold, limit time outside for you and your pets and dress warmly
Snowstorms are usually caused by rising moist air within an extratropical cyclone (low-pressure area. The cyclone forces a relatively warm, moist air mass up and over a cold air mass. If the air near the surface is not sufficiently cold over a deep enough layer, the snow will fall as rain instead
Winter storms create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion. Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. A winter storm can:
- Last a few hours or several days;
- Knock out heat, power, and communication services; and
- Place older adults, young children, and sick individuals at greater risk.
What Makes Them Happen?
First, it is essential that the air be very cold. It has to be below freezing for the snow to fall. What’s more, the temperature must be cold both up in the clouds where snowflakes form, and down at ground level. If the air near ground level is too warm, the snow will melt on its way down, changing to rain or freezing rain.
Second, there has to be enough moisture in the air for all those snowflakes to form. Moisture in the air is called water vapor. Air blowing across a body of water, such as a large lake or the ocean, is an excellent source of water vapor. As the wind blows over the water, some water leaves the surface and hops into the air through the process of evaporation. “Lake effect snowstorms” and “Nor’easters” pick up so much moisture by traveling over bodies of water. However, very cold air is not able to hold much water vapor and can’t make much snow. So it needs to be cold, but not so cold that moisture can’t be held in the air.
For a snowstorm to form, warm air must rise over cold air. It might seem illogical that warm air would have anything to do with making a snowstorm, but it does. When warm air and cold air are brought together, a front is formed and precipitation occurs. Winds pull cold air toward the equator from the poles and bring warm air toward the poles from the equator. Warm air can also rise to form clouds and blizzard snows as it flows up a mountainside.
Snowstorms are one type of winter storm. Icy winter storms bring freezing rain or sleet as well as snow. Blizzards are snowstorms with high winds.
Types of Winter Weather Events
Blizzards are dangerous winter storms that are a combination of blowing snow and wind resulting in very low visibilities. While heavy snowfalls and severe cold often accompany blizzards, they are not required. Sometimes strong winds pick up snow that has already fallen, creating a ground blizzard.
An ice storm is a storm which results in the accumulation of at least .25” of ice on exposed surfaces. They create hazardous driving and walking conditions. Tree branches and powerlines can easily snap under the weight of the ice.
Lake effect storms
Lake effect storms are not low-pressure system storms. As a cold, dry air mass moves over the Great Lakes regions, the air picks up lots of moisture from the Great Lakes. This air, now full of water, dumps the water as snow in areas generally to the south and east of the lakes.
Snow squalls are brief, intense snow showers accompanied by strong, gusty winds. Accumulation may be significant. Snow squalls are best known in the Great Lakes region.
IF YOU ARE UNDER A WINTER STORM WARNING, FIND SHELTER RIGHT AWAY
- Stay off roads.
- Stay indoors and dress warmly.
- Prepare for power outages.
- Use generators outside only and away from windows.
- Listen for emergency information and alerts.
- Look for signs of hypothermia and frostbite.
- Check on neighbors.
HOW TO STAY SAFE WHEN A WINTER STORM THREATENS:
Step 1: Put together a plan by discussing these 4 questions with your family, friends, or household to start your emergency plan.
How will I receive emergency alerts and warnings?
What is my shelter plan?
What is my evacuation route?
What is my family/household communication plan?
Step 2: Consider specific needs in your household.
As you prepare your plan to tailor your plans and supplies to your specific daily living needs and responsibilities. Discuss your needs and responsibilities and how people in the network can assist each other with communication, care of children, business, pets, or specific needs like the operation of durable medical equipment. Create your own personal network for specific areas where you need assistance. Keep in mind some of these factors when developing your plan:
Different ages of members within your household
Responsibilities for assisting others
Medical needs including prescriptions and equipment
Disabilities or access and functional needs including devices and equipment
Languages are spoken
Cultural and religious considerations
Pets or service animals
Households with school-aged children
Step 3: Fill out a Family Emergency Plan
Download and fill out a family emergency plan or use them as a guide to creating your own.
Driving in the snow results in less grip, which ultimately means you need to change your driving behaviors to make sure you maintain control of the vehicle. This video explores the ideas of different driving conditions, and how each of these driving conditions affects the overall grip of a vehicle. We'll also look at how stopping distances and cornering speeds will be changed by various road conditions, such as dry, wet, snow, or ice. We'll discuss how different tire types can alter your vehicle's performance in snow and ice conditions, and also discuss driving tips to help maintain control of your vehicle when weather conditions are poor.
- Know your area’s risk for winter storms. Extreme winter weather can leave communities without utilities or other services for long periods of time.
- Prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking, and weather stripping. Learn how to keep pipes from freezing. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups.
- Pay attention to weather reports and warnings of freezing weather and winter storms. Sign up for your community’s warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
- Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Do not forget the needs of pets. Have extra batteries for radios and flashlights.
- Create an emergency supply kit for your car. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water, and non-perishable snacks. Keep the gas tank full.
- Learn the signs of, and basic treatments for, frostbite and hypothermia.
- Stay off roads if at all possible. If trapped in your car, then stay inside.
- Limit your time outside. If you need to go outside, then wear layers of warm clothing. Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
- Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows. Never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven.
- Reduce the risk of a heart attack. Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow.
- Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia and begin treatment right away.
- Check on neighbors. Older adults and young children are more at risk in extreme cold.
RECOGNIZE AND RESPOND
- Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers, and toes.
- Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.
- Hypothermia is unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
- Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
Until Help Arrives
You Are the Help Until Help Arrives (Until Help Arrives), designed by FEMA, are training that can be taken online or in-person, where participants learn to take action and, through simple steps, potentially can save a life before professional help arrives. The program encourages the public to take these five steps when there is an emergency.
Protect the injured from harm;
Position the injured so they can breathe; and
National Weather Service (link)
American Red Cross (link)
Winter Storm Playbook (PDF)
References all from USA.gov