Winter is a Killer: Simple Steps to Stay Safe
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DON’T WAIT. COMMUNICATE!
During a disaster, does your family know how to stay in touch? Don’t wait for the worst to happen. Make a family communications plan to ensure that your family is prepared.
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On average, weather-related vehicle crashes kill 6,253 people and injure more than 480,000 each year, according to the Department of Transportation. Most of these accidents occur when the roadways are wet, snowy or icy. When the weather takes a turn for the worse this winter, take precautions if you have to be out on the roadways. Whether there is a coating of snow or ice on the roadways, or the asphalt just looks wet, SLOW DOWN! If the temperature is near freezing, drive like you’re on ice - you may be!
While dangerous road conditions are one of the most deadly hazards during winter, it’s not the only threat you may encounter. Other winter hazards include brutal cold, heavy snow and ice, dangerous flooding, extreme wind, and treacherous fog.
Nobody knows more about these weather hazards than NOAA’s National Weather Service. Here is what we recommend you do this winter:
1. Know Your Risk
- Check weather.gov every morning before you leave home. It may be sunny in the morning but snowing in the afternoon. Be prepared.
2. Take Action!
- Prepare for an emergency. Write a family communications plan so that everyone in your life knows how to stay in touch. Also, assemble an emergency supplies kit for your home. Make sure you have 72 hours of food, water and other necessary supplies in your kit.
- During a snow emergency, stay off the roads to allow emergency crews uninterrupted access to treat the roads, and if you must travel, allow extra time. Follow weather.gov to get the latest forecast information and expected conditions.
3. Be A Force of Nature
- You’re an inspiration. Let people know that you have an emergency supplies kit and family communications plan - doing so will inspire others to action. Share your preparedness story on social media. Help the National Weather Service build a Weather-Ready Nation.
What kind of weather hazards are most common during winter? Find out and learn what to do to prepare for them.
Cold temperatures can affect the entire country in winter, but extreme cold can be especially dangerous. More than 1,300 people die each year from hypothermia. Hypothermia sets in when your body’s temperature drops below 95 degrees. Frostbite may develop on exposed skin when temperatures are below freezing. Strong winds combined with below freezing temperatures can make frostbite occur even quicker. Many times during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand and send very cold air southward into portions of the United States. This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States. During late January through February 2015, much of the Northeast experienced the coldest conditions in decades. For parts of the Lower Great Lakes and New England some of the greatest total snowfall and coldest temperatures on record, many of which go back well over 100 years, occurred during this time.
What to Do: Dress for the season: wear loose warm clothing in layers. To prevent frostbite and hypothermia while outside, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing with water repellent outer garments. Remove layers during your activities to prevent sweating. Change wet clothing as quickly as possible to prevent loss of body heat. Cover all parts of your body, especially your head, hands, face, and mouth to protect your lungs from very cold air. Stay out of the wind when possible. Drink plenty of fluids since hydration increases the blood's volume, which helps prevent frostbite. Hypothermia can even happen inside your home, and is most likely to impact elderly and infants. Keep your thermostat at 68 degrees or warmer to avoid hypothermia from happening in your home. Make sure you know the warning signs associated with cold-related illness and what actions to take to protect you and your loved ones.
Winter flooding is particularly dangerous. It can occur due to snowmelt, ice jams and coastal storms such as Nor’easters. Last winter, coastal flooding slammed New England, breaching seawalls and flooding homes.
What to Do: Turn Around, Don’t Drown! Never drive into floodwaters. Also, visit floodsmart.gov to understand your risk and learn about flood insurance. Being prepared for a flood can not only help keep your family safe, it can also help minimize potential flood damage and accelerate recovery efforts.
High winds can occur during a severe thunderstorm, with a strong weather system, or can flow down a mountain. During strong thunderstorms, straight line wind speeds can exceed 100 mph.
Wind gusts are particularly dangerous for high-profile vehicles, such as trucks and RVs. Last winter, high winds caused a 17-vehicle pileup in Utah that killed one person and injured 16 more.
What to Do: If driving during high winds, keep a distance from high-profile vehicles such as trucks and buses. At home, make a list of items of items, like patio furniture, that need to be secured in case of high wind. When a high wind or severe thunderstorm watch is issued, immediately secure these items.
In 2012, fog caused a 140-car pileup in southeast Texas. Driving in fog is dangerous due to reduced visibility. A Dense Fog Advisory means that widespread visibility reductions of a quarter of a mile or less are expected or occurring.
What to Do: Slow down. This will give you more time to react to any obstacles you may encounter in the roadway. Leave extra space between you and the car ahead of you. Consider delaying your travel plans.
Solar storms have treated the U.S. to some fantastic aurora borealis displays so far this year, but it’s important to remember that these storms are as dangerous as they are beautiful. An extreme space weather event can impact the electrical power grid, leaving you and your loved ones in the dark. On March 13, 1989, a powerful geomagnetic storm triggered a major power blackout in Canada that left six million people without electricity for nine hours.
What to Do: Prepare for power outages by keeping extra batteries on hand or have a hand-crank charger. Ensure that your emergency kit has enough food and water in it to tide your entire family over for at least three days. Never use a generator or kerosene heater indoors - carbon monoxide poisoning is a silent killer.
Public Service Announcements
Safety and Health Information for Workers and Employers
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) provides resources for workplace preparedness and response to severe weather emergencies during the winter, including: floods and winter weather. Employers must ensure that workers involved in response and recovery are protected from potential safety and health hazards. OSHA also provides information and resources to assist in these efforts. OSHA and NOAA encourage workers and employers to be aware of weather forecasts, train workers on severe weather plans, and keep emergency supplies, including a battery-operated weather radio, on hand to be better prepared when severe weather strikes.
Get to Know NOAA
NOAA’s National Weather Service provides weather, water, and climate data and forecasts and warnings to protect life and property and enhance the national economy. Our goal is a Weather-Ready Nation, one that is prepared for and responds to weather-dependent events.
Here’s what we’re doing to prepare the public for winter weather hazards:
- NOAA’s National Weather Service leads Seasonal Safety Campaigns to prepare the public for seasonal weather hazards.
- NOAA issues a Winter Outlook every year to help the nation prepare.
- NOAA warns the public about severe weather through Wireless Emergency Alerts and NOAA Weather Radio.
- NWS has 122 Weather Forecast Offices around the country that issue winter weather watches, warnings and advisories.
- NOAA’s Weather Prediction Center provides snow and ice forecasts. It also recently added an experimental Day 4-7 Winter Weather Outlook.
For More InformationMake sure that you’re prepared for winter weather hazards by following NWS on Twitter and Facebook. Get the latest forecasts and learn more about weather preparedness.