Tips for winter storm safety

Virginia may not be a snow-heavy state, but almost every year we have at least one big storm. Whether you run for your skis and sleds as soon as possible or hunker down until the spring, a little preparation will help keep you safe this winter.

icy road

What Does “Winter Storm Warning” Mean?

The first question is, what is the likelihood of dangerous winter weather?  When forecasters mention a “winter storm watch,” that means a winter storm is possible. A “winter storm warning” means a winter storm is coming your way. A “blizzard warning” means it’s time to get inside immediately. According to, a blizzard is a weather event lasting at least three hours which includes low temperatures (usually below 20 degrees Fahrenheit), winds of at least 35 mph, and snow falling or blowing at a rate which will generally reduce visibility to less than a quarter of a mile.

Choosing the Right Clothing

Once a winter storm hits, avoid going outdoors unless it’s absolutely necessary. Be mindful of your clothing choices. Cotton can absorb up to 27 times its weight in water and steals your body heat quickly, leaving you cold and shivering. Opt for synthetic materials, such as polypropylene. If you must shovel snow, be sure to warm up first.  Shoveling can be as strenuous as an intense sport. Also, watch for any signs of hypothermia or frostbite, such as burning, numbness, tingling or itching. The affected areas may appear white or frozen. Other symptoms of hypothermia may include extreme shivering, stiffness, stumbling, drowsiness, slow speech and exhaustion.[1] If you see these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.

Prepare a Winter Storm Emergency Supply Kit

To help protect yourself and your family at home in the case of a power outage, make sure you have extra blankets available, and that each member of your household has a warm coat, gloves or mittens, a hat, and water-resistant boots. The Red Cross recommends an emergency supplies kit that includes the following items:

  • First aid kit and any necessary prescription medications
  • Battery operated NOAA weather radio, flashlight and extra batteries.
  • At least three days’ worth of foods that require little or no water and no refrigeration or preparation. Think about items such as dry cereal, ready to eat soup, granola or energy bars, peanut butter or canned tuna. Check these food items periodically to make sure they have not expired.
  • At least three gallons of bottled water per person (enough to last three days).

Driving Tips

Don’t drive anywhere unless absolutely necessary. Fill your gas tank prior to any storm, which will help keep the fuel line from freezing. Never leave on a road trip without making sure you have extra blankets, water and food with you.  While driving exercise caution – slamming on the breaks won’t work on black ice. Take your foot off the gas to slow down. Keep the wheel as straight as you can, or, if you feel the ice is pulling your back wheels to the right or left, gently turn the wheel in that direction. This combination will help bring your vehicle to a safe stop.

Of course, snow isn’t required for winter weather to be hazardous. Our recent experiences with polar vortexes remind us that extreme cold alone can be very dangerous, particularly when wind chill temperatures – referring to how cold it actually feels outside — drop to single digits or lower.

Whether you revel in the winter or are anxiously looking for the first signs of spring, a little preparation and extra caution will go a long way towards making the winter weather safer and more enjoyable.

[1] Click here for more information about hypothermia.


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