During extremely cold weather or winter storms, staying warm and safe can be a challenge. Winter storms can bring cold temperatures, power failures, loss of communication services and icy roads. To keep yourself and your loved ones safe, you should know how to prepare your home and your car before another winter storm hits.

General precautions

  • Listen to local officials
  • Have emergency supplies at home, work and in the car
  • Stay off the road during and after a winter storm
  • Install a carbon monoxide/fire alarm detector combo
  • Place heating devices in a safe location
  • Talk with your family about how to get prepared for extreme cold weather
  • Make a plan to connect before a winter storm
  • Check on family, friends and neighbors, especially if they are elderly
  • Charge cell phones; keep a portable charger ready for use; reduce the screen brightness and close apps not in use to conserve battery
  • Find flashlights and radios (check batteries)
  • Run a hot bath to draw in heat to the house
  • Trickle water to prevent the pipes from freezing
  • Talk to your job about weather policies and procedures
  • Bring your furry friends inside when temperatures take a dip and wipe paws to remove ice-melting chemicals or rock salt

Outdoors and traveling

When a winter storm is passing through, stay home. It is best to stay off icy roads when winter storm advisories and watches are issued. If you do hit the road or go outdoors, here are some reminders to help you stay safe and warm.

  • Pace yourself when you are shoveling – heart attacks can happen
  • Clear snow and ice off of fire hydrants so fire departments can gain access
  • Prepare your vehicle for winter – adequate tires, tire chains, shovel, tool kit, windshield scraper and brush
  • Build or update a car emergency kit
  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight clothing to keep you warm
  • “Don’t crowd the plow!”
  • Take it slow – slower speed, slower acceleration, slower steering and slower braking.
  • Keep your gas tank near full to help avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines
  • Stay on main roads and highways, and stick to the flattest roads you can. Avoid hills and roads with sloping surfaces wherever possible
  • Drive only during daylight hours and avoid driving alone if you can
  • Let family members know where you’re going and when you’re expected to return
AAA winter car kit

According to AAA, these are the items to keep in your winter car kit.

If a snowstorm or blizzard forces you to stop, pull off the highway and turn on your hazard lights. If you have a distress flag or sticker, hang it from your radio antenna or apply it to your window. Remain in your car, where rescuers are most likely to find you. If you’re stranded for an extended period of time, run your engine for about 10 minutes every hour to stay warm. Open a window slightly for ventilation while the car is running to prevent any carbon monoxide buildup. Remove any snow that builds up on your car’s exhaust pipe. Exercise periodically by vigorously moving arms, legs, toes and fingers. If you have to spend the night in your car, turn on the interior overhead light so rescuers or work crews can see you.

Heating

  • Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet away from a fireplace, wood stove or space heater
  • Never use a generator, camp stove, charcoal grill gasoline or propane heater indoors
  • Never heat a home by using the stovetop or oven
  • Keep generators outside at least 20 feet away from doors, windows and vents to avoid accidental CO poisoning
  • Wear layered clothing and use blankets to stay warm during a winter storm
  • Space heater
    • Make sure it has an auto shut-off in case it tips over
    • Purchase and use only heaters that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory
  • Fireplace and Wood Stove
    • Keep a metal or heat tempered screen around it
    • Do not burn paper in your fireplace or wood stove
    • Put the fire out before you go to sleep or leave your home
    • Have your chimney inspected and cleaned each year by a professional
    • Put ashes in a metal container with a lid. Place the container outside at least 10 feet from your home

Power outage

Ice storms and blizzards can snap power lines just as easily as any hurricane, spawning prolonged power outages during the darkest days of the year. Listed below are some helpful tips to survive the cold.

Tips for staying warm when power is out

How to stay warm when the power goes out.

Taking the time to prepare for a winter storm can mean the difference between comfortably riding it out or barely surviving. It is highly recommended that you go through the checklist to see if you are prepared. Don’t get stuck in the cold! For more helpful resources, please see the links below.

CDC: Stay Warm & Informed

FEMA: Build & Maintain a Kit

FEMA: Power Outages Tips

FEMA: When the Sky Turns Gray (YouTube video)

FEMA: Stay Safe Before, During, & After Winter Storms

FEMA: Games to Help Prepare

FEMA: Plan & Kit for Pets & Animals

FEMA: Portable Heater Safety

By Kristin Daniel is an emergency management specialist for the Office of Emergency Management & Resilience

Share this story

Published on Jan. 24, 2022

Estimated reading time is 4.4 min.

Views to date: 854

More Stories

  • Each September, we raise awareness about the importance of preparing for emergencies that can happen at any time with little or no warning. September 25-30 is the last week of the annual National Preparedness Month.

  • National Preparedness Month occurs each September to raise awareness and strengthen resilience against the effects of disasters and emergencies.

  • Preparedness for disasters takes prior planning. Here is valuable information to help you know what to do before, during and after an emergency.