Winter Weather and You

Injuries and deaths due to winter weather can be prevented through proper winter safety measures. As the holiday season and upcoming winter months approach, now is an excellent time to educate your family and friends about winter weather safety rules. There is no better gift than improving the awareness of safety measures that could save a life. Everyone is urged to make this a safe and happy holiday and winter season by using proper winter safety precautions.

The National Weather Service, an agency of the United States Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), issues timely warnings providing information about the hazards of winter weather. Twenty-four hours a day, National Weather Service meteorologists work to detect disturbances which may become winter storms. If these storms become potentially hazardous, outlooks, watches, warnings, and/or advisories are issued to keep people informed and to put those safety plans into motion.

A Winter Storm Watch means severe winter conditions may affect the area within the 12 to 48 hour time frame. This includes heavy snow, which is locally defined as more than two inches in a 12 hour period, accumulations of freezing rain or freezing drizzle with accumulations of 0.25 inches or more, sleet accumulations of one inch or more or a combination of these events. A watch is usually issued first and gives a longer notice of the potential for winter weather.

A Winter Storm Warning or Winter Weather Advisory is used to alert people that a winter storm is occurring, is imminent or has a very high likelihood of occurrence. A warning is used for conditions posing a serious threat to life and property. Advisories are for less serious conditions that may cause significant inconvenience and could lead to a life threatening situation if caution is not exercised. People in the warning or advisory area should listen for the latest information over radio and television or the National Weather Service's own continuous VHF broadcasts on NOAA Weather Radio All- Hazards and be prepared for winter weather. The Winter Storm Warning or Advisory requires immediate action to protect life and property.

When winter weather approaches, many people may feel some apprehension about severe winter weather and how it may affect them, their home or their family. Information here will help you prepare for this hazardous winter weather and will help you handle many winter emergencies. For more information on winter safety, please contact your state or county Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service or your local American Red Cross chapter.

The American Red Cross suggests keeping a disaster supply kit in your home. This kit should include a variety of items to meet your survival needs such as:

- A three-day supply of water and food that will not spoil. One gallon of water per person per day and canned or dried goods are appropriate. Do not forget that non-electric can-opener

- A change of clothing, footwear and at least one blanket or sleeping bag per person

- Hats, gloves, scarves and other warm clothing

- A first aid kit that includes your family's prescription medications

- Emergency tools including a battery-powered radio, flashlight and plenty of extra batteries. A NOAA Weather Radio All-Hazards is very helpful

- An extra set of car keys and a credit card, cash or traveler's checks

- Sanitation supplies

- Special items for infants, the elderly or disabled family members

- An extra pair of glasses, fire extinguisher and important phone numbers

- Your family's disaster plan

- Keep important family documents in a waterproof container

- Update your disaster supply kit at least once a year by checking batteries, updating clothing and checking all other items

- Keep a disaster supply kit in your car, a smaller version of the kit for your home

However, there are a few additional items which specifically pertain to road safety that should be included such as:

- Sturdy shoes or work boots

- Rain gear

- A signal flare or a bright colored cloth

- Paper and a writing utensil

- A shovel

- A bag of sand

- Tire chains

- Jumper cables

- Antifreeze

- Water

Keep these items in a sturdy, water-proof container such as a nylon or plastic duffel bag. Update the disaster supply kit at least once per year.

In order to help your family be prepared for a disaster, your family should have a disaster plan. There are four steps in preparing a family disaster plan:

1. Find out what could happen to you. What are the weather risks in your area? Are you in a valley where flash flooding occurs? We already know the dangers of winter storms.

2. Create a disaster plan. Meet with your family and discuss the types of disasters most likely to happen. Know what to do with your water and gas lines during a winter storm. If your family is separated, have predetermined meeting places or a contact person, preferably one outside your disaster risk area. How will you evacuate if you need to? What will you do with your pets?

3. Complete the following checklist

-Post emergency telephone numbers by phones

-Teach children how and when to call 911

-Show each family member how and when to turn off gas, water and electricity at the main switches

-Check if you have adequate insurance coverage

-Teach family members how to use the fire extinguisher and where it is kept

-Install smoke detectors on each level of your home

-Conduct a search for potential hazards in your home

-Stock emergency supplies and assemble a disaster supply kit

-Take a Red Cross first aid and CPR class

-Determine the best escape routes from your home. Conduct exit drills

-Find the safe spots in your home for each type of disaster

4. Practice and maintain your plan.

Remember to check on your neighbors if a snow storm is predicted, particularly if they are elderly, disabled or have small children. is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.