Winter weather can range from moderate snow over a few hours to a whiteout blizzard with snow that lasts for days. The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as “deceptive killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. People are injured or killed in traffic accidents on icy roads, or suffer from hypothermia due to prolonged exposure to the cold. Winter storms can knock out heat, power and communications. Regardless of the severity, you should always be prepared in order to keep your family safe.
Basic Winter Safety
- Listen or watch for National Weather Service information to find out when and how winter weather is affecting your community.
- Make an emergency plan specifically for winter-related events.
- Have a Go Bag for both your home and vehicle. Go Bags should include a four-day supply of essentials like water, food, first aid, medicine, flashlights, a radio, batteries and additional clothing or blankets to keep you warm.
- Keep winter specific items like snow shovels, rock salt, rope and jumper cables in your car.
- Help those who require special assistance, such as elderly people living alone, people with disabilities and children.
- Go to a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold.
- Continue to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose‐fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers.
- If you lose power, use battery‐powered flashlights rather than candles or other open flames for light. Many injuries and deaths result from accidental fires caused by candles during winter storms.
Safety at Home
- Have your heating system checked by a professional annually. This will ensure that your system is working safely and efficiently which, in turn, will save you money.
- If you heat by wood, clean your fireplace or stove. Have your chimney flue checked for any buildup of creosote and then cleaned to lessen the risk of fire.
- Make sure your home is well insulated and that you have weather stripping around your doors and windowsills to keep the warm air inside.
- Close off unused rooms, stuff towels or rags in the cracks under doors and cover windows at night.
- Use extreme caution when using alternative heating sources. Avoid placing electric space heaters near curtains or other flammable materials. Make sure all portable heaters are unplugged when not in use.
- Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning devices inside your home as a source of heat.
- Disconnect garden hoses and shut off and drain water from pipes leading to outside faucets.
- Bring your pets inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure they have access to food and water.
- Go to an emergency contact’s home or a designated public shelter if your home loses power or heat during periods of extreme cold. Municipalities around Cook County open up warming centers for residents when temperatures dip to dangerous levels.
Safety While Traveling
- Plan ahead for winter travel. Be sure to share your departure and arrival details with someone, travel with a fully charged cell phone or consider delaying your plans.
- Prepare your vehicle for winter by checking or having your mechanic check your car. This includes antifreeze levels, battery and ignition systems, breaks, air filters, lights, oil, windshield wipers and fluids.
- If you get trapped in your car during a blizzard, pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from your antenna or window.
- Avoid overexertion from shoveling or pushing your car in a storm situation. Don’t risk an injury or getting overheated; wet clothing loses insulation value and can make you susceptible to hypothermia.
- 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 and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe to guard against possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Huddle with other passengers and use your coat as a blanket.
- Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look for rescue crews.
- Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs (use of lights, heat and radio) with supply.
- Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you. Do not set out on foot during a blizzard unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. If you do leave the vehicle, write down your name, address, phone number and destination on a piece of paper. Place the piece of paper inside the front windshield for someone to see.
- 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 rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.