Winter Storms & Extreme Cold
A severe winter storm typically drops 4 or more inches of snow during a 12-hour period or 6 or more inches during a 24-hour period. The amount of snow accumulation depends on the geographic location.
Winter Storm Facts
- All winter storms are accompanied by low temperatures and blowing snow, which can severely reduce visibility.
- A winter storm can range from moderate snow over a few hours to blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow that can last several days.
- Most deaths related to winter storms occur in traffic accidents on icy roads.
- Elderly people account for the largest percentage of hypothermia victims. Many older Americans freeze to death in their homes after being exposed to dangerously cold indoor temperatures, or are asphyxiated (i.e., suffocated) because of improper use of fuels, such as charcoal briquettes, that produce carbon monoxide (CO) .
- A bag of kitty litter (non-clumping) is an extremely useful item in a winter storm disaster supply kit. It can be used on walkways to prevent slipping and it provides traction to vehicles stuck in ice and snow.
Know the Terms
- Winter Storm Watch: Indicates that severe winter weather may affect your area.
- Winter Storm Warning: Indicates that a winter storm is occurring, or will occur, in your area .
- Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
- Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
- Wind Chill: Calculation of how cold it feels outside when the effects of temperature and wind speed are combined.
- Blizzard Warning: Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 mph or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow are expected for a period of 3 hours or longer.
- Frost/Freeze Warning: Below-freezing temperatures are expected,
- Heavy Snowfall: Snow accumulation of 4 inches in a 12-hour period or 6 inches in a 24-hour period (depending on location).
- Ice Storm: An ice storm is an occasion when damaging accumulations of ice are expected during freezing rain situations. Significant ice accumulations are 1/4 inch or more.
Actions to Consider Before a Winter Storm
- Assemble a disaster supply kit and make a family communication plan.
- Winterize your emergency kit. Include rock salt, sand, kitty litter, snow shovels, heating fuel (e.g., wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove), extra clothes and blankets.
- Insulate the walls and attic.
- Caulk and weather-strip the doors and windows.
- Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
- Keep pipes from freezing: wrap pipes in insulation or layers of old newspapers; cover the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture; let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing; know how to shut off water valves.
- If you plan to leave your residence for an extended period of time, do not turn off the heat. Open cabinets under sinks to keep water pipes from freezing. Consider turning off water, if appropriate.
- Acquire safe emergency heating equipment.
- Install and check smoke alarms and CO detectors and keep fire extinguishers on hand and know how to use them
- Keep an emergency kit in your vehicle.
- Keep a windshield scraper and small broom for ice and snow removal.
- Install winter tires with plenty of tread; install snow chains as necessary.
- Maintain a full tank of gas during the winter season.
- Interstate and state highway travel and roadwork information is available at: www.cotrip.org. Sign up for alerts or download the CDOT Mobile app.
- Local travel conditions are broadcast on local TV stations and News Radio 850 KOA. Information about road conditions and closures can be found at: www.cotrip.org
- Dress warmly, wearing loose-fitting, layered, light-weight clothing, and try to stay dry.
- If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body beforehand. Use caution, take breaks, push snow instead of lifting.
- Avoid overexertion; cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Exercise you are unaccustomed to, such as shoveling snow or pushing a car, can cause a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Take frequent breaks when performing strenuous activities.
- Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extremely cold air.
- Stay indoors and dress warmly.
- Conserve fuel. Lower the thermostat to 65"F during the day and SS"F at night. Close off unused rooms.
- Open cabinets under sinks to prevent pipes from freezing.
- 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).
- Monitor local media for the latest updates.
- Stay dry and warm.
Frostbite and Hypothermia
- Frostbite is a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, tip of the nose and earlobes.
- Hypothermia is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 90F degrees. Symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness and exhaustion.
- If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical help. Warm the person's trunk first. Use your own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because stimulation of the limbs can drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure. Put the victim in dry clothing and wrap his or her entire body in a blanket.
- Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim caffeine (coffee or tea) or alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant; consuming either can worsen the ill effects of cold temperatures on the body.