Severe Winter Weather
to cold temperatures and snow and ice, winter brings dangerous driving
conditions and the potential for damaging and deadly storms. Severe
winter storms can be extremely dangerous. Transportation can come
to a standstill and electricity can be out for days, often with
very cold temperatures. Making preparations in advance of a storm
can make getting through it easier. According to the Department
of Health and Senior Services, there were 15 cold weather-related
deaths in Missouri during the winter of 2009-10. The National Weather
Service, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services,
the State Emergency Management Agency and Missouri’s local
emergency managers team up each fall to promote a day as Winter
Weather Awareness Day in Missouri. The idea is to encourage Missourians
to think about safety and the safety measures they can take in advance.
Preparedness tips before a Severe Winter Storm
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a winter
- Winter Storm Watch indicates that severe winter
weather may affect your area within 12-48 hours.
- Winter Storm Warning indicates severe winter
weather is in the area or expected immediately and can be life
- Ice Storm Warning is issued for ice accumulations
of a quarter-inch or more.
- Blizzard Warning is issued when 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 is issued when below freezing
temperatures are expected.
- Freezing Rain is rain that freezes when it
hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways,
trees, and power lines.
- Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before
reaching the ground.
Missourians can prepare for winter by:
- Creating a family emergency plan and creating
an emergency kit with bottled water and canned and dried food
that can be prepared without cooking in case of a power outage.
- Adding the following supplies to your disaster supply
kit: rock salt to melt ice on walkways; sand to improve
traction; snow shovels and other snow removal equipment.
- Securing an alternate fuel source such as firewood
or a generator. Make sure your fireplace functions properly. If
you have a generator, make sure you have fuel and that it functions
properly. Only operate the generator outdoors. Keep a fire extinguisher
- Creating a winter car kit in the trunk of the
car. This includes: windshield scraper and small broom, flashlight,
blanket, spare radio with batteries, snacks or energy-type food,
water, jumper cables, flares and matches, shovel, sand or shingles
to give tires traction, extra hats, socks and mittens, first aid
kit, fluorescent distress flag.
- Learning how to shut off water valves in case
a pipe bursts.
What to do during a severe winter storm
- Listen to radio, television, or NOAA
for weather reports and emergency information.
- Wear several layers of loose fitting, lightweight
warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer
garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear mittens,
which are warmer than gloves. Wear a hat. Cover your mouth with
a scarf to protect your lungs. Protect your lungs from extremely
cold air by covering your mouth when outdoors. Try not to speak
unless absolutely necessary.
- Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to
prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating
value and transmits heat rapidly.
- Watch for signs of frostbite. These include
loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such
as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms
are detected, get medical help immediately.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include
uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence,
slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.
- Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion
can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death in the
winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside
and take frequent breaks.
- Drive only if absolutely necessary. If you
must drive, consider the following: Check the Missouri Department
of Transportation’s Web site for road conditions: www.modot.mo.gov
or call the Missouri Road Condition Report line at (800) 222-6400.
Travel in the day, don’t travel alone, and keep others informed
of your schedule. Stay on main roads, avoid back road shortcuts.
If you need assistance while on the road, or need to report and
accident, broken down car, or vehicle off the road, call the Missouri
State Highway Patrol’s Emergency report line by dialing
*55 on your cell phone. It connects you to the nearest MSHP troop
headquarters. From a land line call (800) 525-5555.
If a blizzard traps you in the car:
- Pull off the highway, turn on hazard lights and hang a distress
flag from the radio antenna or window.
- Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely
to find you. Do not set out on foot unless you can see
a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful:
distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close,
but be too far to walk to in deep snow.
- Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour
to keep warm. When the engine is running, open an upwind
window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from
the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide
poisoning. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor
mats for insulation. Huddle with others in the vehicle and use
your coat for a blanket.
- Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake
at all times to look for rescue crews.
- Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance
electrical energy needs - the use of lights, heat, and radio -
- Turn on the inside light at night so work crews
or rescuers can see you.
- If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block
letters in an open area, spelling out HELP or SOS and line with
rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel
who may be surveying the area in the air.
- Leave the car and proceed on foot - if necessary
- once the blizzard passes.
If you do not have heat in your residence:
- Temporarily close off some rooms and remain
in one area of the residence.
- Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters
to avoid a build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside
and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.
- Eat regularly and drink ample fluids, but avoid
caffeine and alcohol.
- If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation
or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open
all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where
they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most
likely to penetrate).
What to do if you have unmet needs following a severe winter storm
Throughout the recovery period, it is important to monitor local
radio or television reports and other media sources for information
about where to get emergency housing, food, first aid, clothing,
and financial assistance. The following section provides general
information about the kinds of assistance that may be available.
Direct assistance to individuals and families may come from any
number of organizations
In addition, the Red Cross publishes a Winter
Other volunteer and faith-based organizations
These organizations provide food, shelter, supplies and assist
in clean-up efforts.
Detailed additional information can be found at the following websites:
in 3 Program also provides free family safety guides to help
prepare your family and household or call (636) 456-3786 or (636)
456-7474 to order a free family safety guide. The family safety
guide is available in several languages.
Additional long-term preparations
- Prepare for possible isolation in your home
by having sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be
cut off. For example, store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood
for your fireplace or wood-burning stove.
- 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. Make sure fireplaces and generators function properly.
- 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.
- Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers
and plastic, and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather
to avoid freezing.
- Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure
everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose
an additional risk, as more people turn to alternate heating sources
without taking the necessary safety precautions.
- Know ahead of time what you should do to help elderly
or disabled friends, neighbors or employees.
- Hire a contractor to check the structural integrity
of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the
accumulation of snow - or water, if drains on flat roofs do not
- Check or have a mechanic check the following items on
- Antifreeze levels - ensure they are sufficient
to avoid freezing.
- Battery and ignition system - should be
in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
- Brakes - check for wear and fluid levels.
- Exhaust system - check for leaks and crimped
pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide
is deadly and usually gives no warning.
- Fuel and air filters - replace and keep
water out of the system by using additives and maintaining
a full tank of gas.
- Heater and defroster - ensure they work
- Lights and flashing hazard lights - check
- Oil - check for level and weight. Heavier
oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate
- Thermostat - ensure it works properly.
- Windshield wiper equipment - repair any
problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.
- Install good winter tires. Make sure tires
have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate
for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require
that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains
or snow tires with studs.
- Maintain at least a half tank of gas during
the winter season.