Don’t wait another day to prepare for winter storms

Closeup of man shoveling snow

It’s official. Winter has arrived! For most of us, that means the possibility of winter storms that bring freezing rain, ice, snow, and high winds. Extreme winter weather can immobilize an entire region. Storms can knock out heat, power, and communications. It can make driving and walking hazardous. You may need to stay at home or work without utilities or other services until driving is safe. Pipes and water mains can break. By the time severe weather hits, it’s already too late. But a little planning and preparation can help you manage the impact of a winter storm and keep you and your family cozy and safe.

Protect your home.

  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand and make sure everyone knows how to use them.
  • Insulate water pipes. Allow faucets to drip to avoid freezing. Learn how to shut off water valves if a pipe bursts.
  • Hire a contractor to check the structural ability of your roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from snow or ice.
  • Winterize your home by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-­‐stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
  • Clear rain gutters, repair roof leaks, and cut away tree branches that could fall on a structure. Keep pathways and driveways clear between storms to avoid icing or buildup of snow.
  • Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year by a qualified professional.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors that are either battery-­‐operated, or electric detectors with battery backup.

Winterize your car.

Before bad weather sets in, make sure you or a mechanic completes a winter weather check on your vehicle, This should include checking antifreeze levels, battery and ignition system, brakes, exhaust system, fuel and air filters, heater and defroster, lights and flashers, oil, thermostat, windshield wipers, and tires.

Create a communication plan.

Your family may not be together when a winter storm hits. So it’s important to know how your family will contact one another in an emergency, and how you will get back together once it is safe to travel again. A storm may overwhelm landline and cell phone systems. You may need to use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends. Be sure to keep important numbers written down in your wallet in case you cannot access the contact list in your phone. To see a sample household communication plan, visit ready.gov/make-a-plan

Know what’s coming.

Winter storms and extreme cold usually come with advance notice. The NWS, or National Weather Service, issues advisories, watches, and warnings for significant accumulations of snow, freezing rain, sleet, and extreme cold. This information will be provided through radio and TV broadcasts, and via Wireless Emergency Alerts texted to cell phones. You can sign up in advance to receive notifications from your local emergency services. Download Be Smart, Know Your Alerts and Warnings for a summary of notifications. Visit ready.gov/prepare Free smartphone apps are also available from FEMA, which is the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the American Red Cross with information about finding shelters, first aid, and seeking recovery assistance.

Learn the lingo

You often hear these terms used to describe changing weather conditions. Here’s what they mean:

  • Advisory: The NWS issues a winter weather advisory when conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous.
  • Frost/freeze warning: Expect below-­‐freezing temperatures.
  • Watch: 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.
  • Warning: A winter storm warning is issued when the storm is in or entering the area. Take action immediately.
  • Blizzard warning: Seek refuge immediately. A blizzard warning indicates the presence of snow and strong winds, near-­‐zero visibility, deep snowdrifts, and life-­‐threatening wind chill.
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