FORT BELVOIR, Va. –
December 21 is the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere. While some regions have already experienced snow and winter conditions, people can prepare for a variety of weather events during the winter months and save lives.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Ready Campaign, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are promoting winter weather preparedness this month.
Winter weather doesn’t mean just blizzards and heavy snowfall that can knock out heat, power and communication services. It also includes freezing rain, high winds, hail and other conditions. Exposure to the cold, dangerous conditions on roads, and improper use of heaters are all concerns during winter months.
Following are tips for preparing for bad weather, planning travel and how to stay informed:
Preparing for Winter Weather
- With winter approaching, be sure to look through your emergency kit and add supplies specific to winter, such as:
- Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways. (Remember that these products can be harmful to dogs, so be sure to choose a non-toxic brand if you or your neighbors have pets.)
- Sand/gravel to improve traction.
- Snow shovels or other snow removal equipment.
- Heating fuel. If you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove, keep a supply of good, dry wood for heating in case you lose power.
- Adequate clothing and blankets to keep warm, including coats, sweaters, hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, etc.
- Keep your NOAA Weather Radio in your kit to receive broadcast alerts and warnings directly from the NWS for all hazards. You may also sign up in advance to receive notifications from your local emergency services.
- Make a Family Communications Plan. Your family may not be together when disaster strikes, so it is important to know how you will contact one another, how you will get back together, and what you will do in case of an emergency.
- Before the storm hits, download free smartphone apps, such as those available from FEMA and the American Red Cross, which provide information about finding shelters, providing first aid and seeking assistance for recovery.
- Be prepared to bring your pets/animals inside in the event of a winter storm. Move animals and livestock to a sheltered area with non-frozen drinking water.
Plan Your Travel during Winter Weather Carefully
- During a winter storm, minimize your travel by car. Even if winter weather conditions aren’t obviously present, conditions like black ice can cause vehicles to lose control.
- If you plan on traveling by vehicle during the winter, make sure to winterize your vehicle. Check (or have a mechanic check) the following items in your car:
- Ensure that antifreeze levels are sufficient to avoid freezing.
- Ensure your battery and ignition are in top condition and battery terminals are clean.
- Check for wear and fluid levels of brakes.
- Check for leaks and crimped pipes in your exhaust system, and repair/replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually there is no warning of its presence.
- Fuel and air filters - replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
- Ensure your heater and defroster are working properly.
- Check your lights and hazard lights to ensure they’re working properly.
- Check your oil level and weight. Heavier oils can congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
- Repair any problems with your windshield wipers and maintain proper washer fluid levels.
- Install good winter tires with adequate tread. Remember that some jurisdictions may require vehicles be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
- Keep a winter weather supply kit in your vehicle, including:
- Windshield scraper and small broom
- Battery-powered radio
- Extra batteries
- Extra clothing and blankets to keep warm, such as coats, hats, socks, mittens, etc.
- First aid kit
- Tow chain or rope
- Jumper cables
- Road salt and sand
- Emergency flares
- Fluorescent distress flag
If you’re traveling overseas, remember to enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive important information from the embassy about safety conditions in your destination country, helping you make informed decisions about your travel plans.
- By enrolling, the U.S. Embassy can contact you in an emergency, whether a natural disaster, civil unrest or family emergency.
- Take a look at the U.S. Department of State’s Traveler’s Checklist too, where you can get helpful tips about safety and security, crisis planning, health precautions and money matters.
- Know the below terms and what actions to take. Be alert to weather reports and tune in for specific guidance when these conditions develop.
- 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.
- Wind Chill: Wind chill is the temperature it “feels like” when you are outside. The NWS provides a to show the difference between air temperature and the perceived temperature and the amount of time until frostbite occurs.
- Winter Weather Advisory: The NWS issues a winter weather advisory when conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous. If caution is used, these situations should not be life-threatening.
- Winter Storm Watch: A winter storm is possible in your area. The NWS issues a winter storm watch when severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, may affect your area but the location and timing are still uncertain.
- A winter storm watch is issued 12 to 36 hours in advance of a potential severe storm. Tune in to your NOAA Weather Radio, local radio, TV, or other news sources for more information.
- Monitor alerts, check your emergency supplies, and gather any items you may need if you lose power.
- Winter Storm Warning: A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.
- Blizzard Warning: Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
- Frost/Freeze Warning: Below freezing temperatures are expected.
- Carbon monoxide-related deaths are highest during colder months and are likely due to increased use of gas-powered furnaces and alternative heating, cooking, and power sources used inappropriately indoors during power outages.
- Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors. Keep these devices at least 20 feet from doors, windows and vents.
- The primary hazards to avoid when using alternate sources for electricity, heating, or cooking are carbon monoxide poisoning, electric shock and fires.
- Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide.
- If the carbon monoxide alarm sounds, move quickly to a fresh air location outdoors or by an open window or door.
- Call for help from the fresh air location and remain there until emergency personnel arrive to assist you.
Winterize your Home
- 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 house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment. Clear rain gutters, repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.
- Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
- Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
- All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
- Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk during the winter, as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
- Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
- Hire a contractor to check the structural ability of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the accumulation of snow or water if drains on flat roofs do not work.