Winter Survival Tips

There is more to surviving cold weather than just keeping warm!

Be prepared - Follow these Winter Survival Tips

First and foremost - One of the biggest threats during a major snow storm is Power Outages - leaving you without heat for your home, the ability to cook food, access to hot water, lighting and communication with the outside world.

Stop Sign in Blizzard Conditions

Take the steps now to obtain an emergency backup power supply; if you wait until there is a storm approaching or after it has passed there might not be anything left to purchase; generators are one of the first things to fly off the store shelves when there are power outages due to a major storm.

Know the Difference: Warnings, Watches & Advisories

Know what is coming your way so that you can be prepared.

A Watch is an alert indicating the possibility of winter precipitation. This is most often announced 12 - 48 hours prior to the start of a winter storm.

A Warning is a statement made by the National Weather Service (US) which means a winter storm is already occurring or is about to occur in the local area. If it is not occuring, it will typically occur in less than 24 hours.

Generally, a Warning is issued if at least 4 inches to 6 inches (10 cm - 15 cm) or more of snow is forecast. The forecast could also include freezing rain and sleet depending upon the local area. In the Southern United States where winter weather is far less common, warning criteria is lower.

Usually, a large accumulation of ice alone with no snow will result in an Ice Storm Warning, or in the case of light freezing rain, a Winter Weather Advisory, a Freezing Rain Advisory, or Drizzle Advisory.

Go to Intellicast.com to view their interactive snow cover map to get current snow conditions.

Winter Preparedness

Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep a winter storm disaster supply kit in your vehicle. You can purchase a kit or create your own.

Include these items in your kit:

    Personal Items Other Useful Items
    Change of Clothes Gas Can
    Hand Warmers Battery Powered Radio
    Pair of Boots and Extra Socks Jumper Cables
    Extra Pair of Gloves, a Hat & Scarf Flares & Flashlight
    Extra Blanket Lighter & Matches
    First-aid Kit Small Shovel
    Bottled Water Ice Scrapper
    Food - Energy Bars Bag of kitty litter or sand to provide traction if you are stuck in the snow

Winter Survival Tips During a Storm

Blizzard Conditions
  • One of the most important safety tips for winter driving is during the winter months, keep your gas tank full. This will keep the fuel line from freezing. Make sure your vehicle is winterized, too.

  • Listen to a NOAA Weather Radio or other local news channels for critical information on Winter Storm Watches and Warnings from the National Weather Service (NWS).

  • Dress in several layers of lightweight clothing, wear mittens and a hat (preferably one that covers your ears).

  • Feep your feet warm and your whole body will stay warmer longer. Wear waterproof, insulated boots. Make sure they have a good tread so that you can keep your footing on ice and snow.

  • Listen to your radio, television, or NOAA Weather Radio for weather reports and emergency information.

  • Eat regularly and drink ample fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Blizzard Survival Tips

Drive only if it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive, consider the following:

  • Travel in the day, don’ travel alone, and keep others informed of your schedule.
  • Stay on main roads; avoid back road shortcuts.

If a blizzard traps you in the car:Traffic jam in a blizzard

  • Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a brightly colored flag from the radio antenna or window. This will indicate that you are in distress.

  • 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, but remember that distances can be distorted by blowing snow.

  • Run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation. From time to time, clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid doing too much.

  • In extreme cold, use anything you have in your car to insulate yourself against the cold. That could be seat covers, napkins from a restaurant, and even your floor mats. Huddle with anyone else in the car and put your coat on top of everyone. Don't just use it as a jacket.

  • Sleep in shifts. One person should be awake at all times to look for and alert rescue crews.

  • Drink fluids to avoid dehydration. Do it over a period of time - not all at once.

  • Don't waste battery power. Avoid the use of lights and radio and use the heat sparingly.

  • Turn on the inside light at night if you hear rescuers near by. That way they 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 rescuers who may be surveying the area by airplane.

  • Once the blizzard passes, you can leave the car and proceed on foot.

  • Keep an emergency car kit in your vehicle packed with all the survival supplies you might need if you get stranded.

Outdoor Winter Survival Tips

  • 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.

  • Cover your mouth. 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.

Back to the Top

Treating Frostbite

Frosty ThermometerFrostbite is not a common problem, but can be a big problem for people who do not regularly experience severe cold weather.

Frostbite is the temporary (superficial) or permanent (deep) skin tissue damage caused by prolonged skin-tissue temperature of 23 degrees F and below.

It is the freezing of skin and damage to underlying blood vessels upon exposure to extreme cold.

Blood flow halts in frostbitten skin, and the area must be thawed and rewarmed swiftly to prevent tissue death (gangrene) and infection. The ears, nose, hands, and feet are particularly susceptible.

 

Surviving Hypothermia

Frostbite is sometimes accompanied by a life-threatening drop in internal body temperature, known as hypothermia, which must be treated first.

  • Get the victim to a warm location,
  • Remove wet clothing, put the person in dry clothing and
  • Wrap their entire body in a blanket - warm the center of the body first.
  • Give warm, non-alcoholic or non-caffeinated beverages if the victim is conscious.
  • Get medical help as soon as possible.

More Winter Survival Tips for the Aftermath

  • Blizzard Covered RoadGo to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.

  • Avoid driving when conditions include sleet, freezing rain or drizzle, snow or dense fog.

  • Before tackling strenuous tasks in cold temperatures, consider your physical condition, the weather factors and the nature of the task.

  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Stay indoors, if possible.

  • Help people who require special assistance such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.

  • Check on your animals and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice or other obstacles. If possible, bring them indoors.

De-icing Your Vehicle

  • You can prevent the ice from building up on your car windows by spraying the windshield with a two part solution of water & vinegar (2/3 v & 1/3 w) the night before.

  • If you forget to do this the night before, you can also spray this solution on your windshield in the morning to help quickly melt the ice.

  • Spray your windshield wipers and door jams the night before with nonstick cooking spray to prevent the ice from sticking to the blades and freezing your doors shut.

  • Replace your washer fluid with a winter-grade de-icer fluid to help melt the ice on your windshield and to keep the water line from freezing.

Ice Covered Vehicle Hazards

  • DO NOT pour boiling water on the windows to remove ice, it will crack them.
  • Caution should be taken when starting your vehicle - check to make sure the exhaust pipe and radiator grill are not blocked and don't leave your vehicle unattended because if the coolant is improperly mixed and the radiator is frozen, it will overheat and destroy your engine.

Sources

FEMA
http://www.fema.gov/hazard/winter/index.shtm

Red Cross
http://www.redcross.org/www-files/Documents/pdf/Preparedness/WinterStorms.pdf

The Weather Channel
http://www.weather.com/encyclopedia/winter/noreast.html


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