Weathering the Worst Winter has to Bring

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Disaster Response and Recovery
Greg Tucker

The blizzard that whacked the Northeast last weekend paralyzed the hardest-hit areas, and created a gigantic task for workers mobilized to clear roads and restore electricity to areas that lost power. The storm is a reminder that this season can pack a punch, and we need to be prepared to handle winter's wrath.

As the storm recovery begins, some AmeriCorps teams working with Hurricane Sandy will provide assistance in the region. Those looking for ways to help the affected areas are asked to visit the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster site to find locations to donate or volunteer. Do not self-deploy -- but you can help by checking on others in your community to make sure they are safe.

Watch the Weather Warnings

A snow plow works to keep streets passable during a December 2006 blizzard in Denver, CO, that was forecast to bring up to 28 inches of snow. (FEMA photo by Michael Rieger)

When winter storms loom, keep an eye on your local National Weather Service forecast and heed the warnings:

  • Winter Weather Advisory – Conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.
  • Winter Storm Watch – Conditions are favorable for a winter storm event – any combination of heavy snow, heavy sleet, ice storm, and blowing snow. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information about the forecast.
  • Winter Storm Warning – A winter weather event is occurring or will occur in your area.
  • Blizzard Warning – Sustained wind or frequent gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph accompanied by falling and/or blowing snow, frequently reducing visibility to less than 1/4 mile for three hours or more.

Consider taking these steps adapted from the National Weather Service and when severe winter weather threatens.

Before the Storm

  • Create a basic disaster supplies kit that includes a NOAA Weather Radio. You can find a list of items needed to make one for your home at the FEMA site.
  • Make sure your disaster supplies kit is stocked for a winter weather event, including items such as rock salt, ice melt, or sand; snow shovels or other snow removal equipment; and blankets to keep your family warm. Also keep an emergency supply kit in your vehicle if you have to travel during winter weather.
  • Make sure to have sufficient fuel for your home and in your vehicle. Wood supplies for fireplaces or stoves need to be kept dry.
  • Learn the location of water shut-off valves in case a pipe bursts.

During and After the Storm

  • Stay put at home if possible, and drive only if it's absolutely necessary – travel could be treacherous and there may be emergency restrictions on auto travel.
  • Use kerosene heaters in well-ventilated areas to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel the heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.
  • Don't use generators, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal-burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, or any partially enclosed area to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Make sure outdoor units are away from doors, windows, and vents that could allow carbon monoxide fumes inside.
  • Use caution when walking on snowy or icy walkways.
  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of winter deaths. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside and take frequent breaks if you feel tired.

You can find more-detailed directions for surviving winter weather at the National Weather Service and


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