Blizzards, ice storms, snowstorms, and other winter storms don’t seem as scary as other natural disasters. You just wait out the snow and you’re fine—right? Not necessarily. Ice, sleet, snow, and extreme cold can be just as deadly as fires or hurricanes, especially if you underestimate them.
Even after the snow stops, you can still feel the nasty effects of a winter storm. Frozen pipes, freezing temperatures, power outages, and black ice are just a few of the dangerous situations created by winter storms. The key to staying safe is remaining cautious, even after you think you’re in the clear. Stacker compiled recommendations from the National Weather Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and other experts to put together this list of steps to take after a winter storm hits. Read on for tips on preventing frostbite, shoveling snow safely, assessing damage to your property, and more.
Stay informed about the latest weather conditions by watching local news or listening to NOAA weather radio. Even if you think the danger has passed, it’s important to know about road closures, changing weather patterns, and other community alerts.
Just because the snow is no longer falling doesn’t mean it’s safe to drive. Snow can melt, then refreeze at night, creating an even slicker sheet of ice. Black ice—nearly invisible patches of frozen dew—can also create dangerous road conditions. If possible, wait until all snow and ice melts to venture outside, either on foot or in your car.
After a storm hits, check on your pets and livestock to make sure they still have food, water and heat. If you’re able, call any neighbors, relatives, or friends who may need help, such as the elderly and people with disabilities.
Get in touch with your friends and family after a winter storm to let them know that you’re OK. You don’t want them to worry!
Even if the snow has stopped, you still might not be able to get to the grocery store safely. Conserve food and other supplies until you know for sure that you’ll be able to buy more. You should also check with your local water company to ensure that the water is safe to drink before using it, as excess precipitation from storms can contaminate the water supply.
If the storm caught you unaware and you were forced to shelter in your parked car, wait until it ends to leave. Do not set out on foot when snow is still falling.
If your heat goes off during a winter storm, you may be forced to find somewhere else to stay. Text SHELTER and your zip code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the closest shelter in your area.
Wear lightweight layers of warm, loose-fitting clothes to stay warm and prevent frostbite. Don’t forget your boots, mittens, and hat!
It’s all too easy to overexert yourself in extreme temperatures. If you need to shovel snow, use proper form to prevent injury to your back. You should also take breaks every 15 to 20 minutes to stretch your back and prevent exhaustion. Overexertion can also lead to heart attacks, a major cause of death in the winter.
If you spend any time in extremely cold temperatures, you should pay attention for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Your skin will turn white or gray, feel firm or wavy, and go numb as frostbite sets in. Telltale signs of hypothermia in adults include shivering, exhaustion, confusion, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness; In children, it may present as bright red skin that’s cold to the touch or extreme energy loss.
Once the storm passes, survey the scene outside before you leave the safety of your home. Look for downed power lines that may have been felled by high winds or heavy snow. If you see any, report them to your local power company immediately and do not go outside. Electricity might still be coursing through the lines.
After storms, frozen gutters and ice dams on the roof will slowly melt as the temperature rises, leaking in through the shingles and into your home. Inspect every inch of your ceiling for leaks. If you see any potential structural damage, find somewhere else to stay or at least move your family to the other side of the house.
When it’s safe to go outside, look closely at any trees near your home. Check for broken limbs and damaged trees that are still standing. If they haven’t fallen yet, they could come down at any moment. Call a professional to remove any broken limbs as soon as possible.
Every year, an average of 430 people die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of these incidents occur during the winter, often due to people using gas- or charcoal-burning appliances in enclosed spaces. No matter what, do not attempt to use a gas- or charcoal-powered grill, camp stove, generator or other appliance inside your home—even if the power is out. It’s also a good idea to check that your carbon monoxide detector is in good working order.
It’s completely natural to feel exhausted, stressed, and drained in the aftermath of a severe winter storm or other emergency. Remember to nurture your mental health as well as physical health after a natural disaster. Eat healthy, get plenty of rest, be patient with yourself, and try to stay positive. If you need to talk to someone, call the 24-hour Red Cross Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990 or text “TalkWithUs’ to 66746.