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What to do after a winter storm

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What to do after a winter storm

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.

Michal Bělka // Wikicommons

Monitor the weather closely

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.


Avoid walking or driving on ice and snow

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.

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Check on animals and people who require special assistance

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. 


Let your loved ones know you’re safe

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!


Conserve food and water

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.


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If you’re stranded in your car, wait until the storm has passed completely to leave

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.


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Find the nearest shelter, if you need to

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.


Dress for the weather

Wear lightweight layers of warm, loose-fitting clothes to stay warm and prevent frostbite. Don’t forget your boots, mittens, and hat!

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Shovel snow carefully

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.


Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia

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. 


Use flashlights rather than candles

If your power goes out, use battery-powered flashlights or headlamps from your emergency kit to light your way instead of candles. Open flames can easily cause accidental injuries or fires during storms.

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Check for downed power lines near your home

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.

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Look for broken windows

You should also check your home for broken windows. Not only can the shattered glass be dangerous, but openings can also let in cold air and cause the temperature to drop. If you find any broken windows, cover them with plywood and taped-up blankets to temporarily block out the weather


Call a plumber to inspect your pipes

Frozen pipes can cause up to $15,000 dollars in damage—especially if you don’t catch the problem until its too late. If you suspect that your pipes might be frozen, turn off the water supply and get a plumber to inspect them as soon as possible.


Look for ceiling leaks

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.   

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Check nearby trees for broken limbs

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.


Avoid using alternate sources for electricity, heating, or cooking that can cause carbon monoxide poisoning

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. 


Pay attention to your emotional recovery

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.

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