Winter storms create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning and heart attacks from overexertion. Winter storms including blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice and high winds.
Winter storms can last a few hours or several days cutting off heat, power and communication services. This can put older adults, children and sick individuals at greater risk. Ready.Gov Winter Weather has helpful information for surviving winter storms. Risk increases with remoteness and isolation for people (and animals) living on rural farmsteads. If you are under a winter storm warning, find shelter right away. Stay off roads. Stay indoors and dress warm. Prepare for power outages. Use generators outside only and away from windows. Listen for emergency information and alerts. Look for signs of hypothermia and frostbite. Check in with neighbors, family and friends.
Planning ahead is essential before experiencing a winter storm. Weather in northern North Dakota can be harsh in the winter. Severe winter storms can leave entire areas without utilities or other services for long periods of time. Winterize with insulation, caulking and weather stripping. Learn how to keep pipes from freezing. Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups. Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic to provide an extra layer of insulation and to keep cold air out. Weatherization assistance may be available through the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Weatherization Program or each region’s Community Action Partnership Weatherization Program.
The following are winter weather terms:
A watch is generally issued 24 to 72 hours before a hazardous winter weather event is expected. A watch is intended to provide enough lead time to get prepared. A Winter Storm Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a winter storm event that meets or exceeds local winter warning criteria (heavy sleet, heavy snow, ice storm, heavy snow and blowing snow or a combination of events). Criteria for snow are seven inches or more in a 12 hour time period, nine inches or more in a 24 hour time period. Criteria for ice are ½ inch or more. A Wind Chill Watch is issued when conditions are favorable for wind chill temperatures to reach or exceed -25o F.
A warning is issued when hazardous winter weather occurs, is imminent or has a high probability of occurring. A warning is used for conditions posing a threat to life or property. A Blizzard Warning is issued when a blizzard is imminent or expected within 12 to 36 hours. Sustained winds or frequent gusts greater than or equal to 35 mph will accompany falling and/or blowing snow to frequently reduce visibility to less than ¼ mile for three or more hours. An Ice Storm Warning is issued when an ice storm event is expected within 12 to 36 hours when ice is expected to be ½ inch or more over 50% of the area. A Winter Storm Warning is issued when a winter storm event (heavy sleet, heavy snow, ice storm, heavy snow and blowing snow or a combination of events) is expected within 12 to 36 hours. Criteria are seven inches or more in a 12 hour time period, nine inches or more in a 24 hour time period and for ice ½ inch or more. A Wind Chill Warning is expected within 12 to 36 hours when wind chill temperatures are expected to reach or exceed -25o F.
A Winter Weather Advisory is issued when conditions are favorable for a winter storm event (heavy sleet, heavy snow, ice storm, heavy snow and blowing snow or a combination of events) but does not yet meet warning criteria. Criteria are four inches or more in 12 hours or less and/or accumulation of ice less than ½ inches over at least 50% of the area. A Wind Child Advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to reach or exceed -15o F in the next 12 to 36 hours.
Winter Weather Tips
Primary concerns at home or at work during a winter storm are loss of heat, power and telephone service and a shortage of supplies if storm conditions continue for more than one day. Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Discuss winter storms ahead of time to reduce fear, particularly for young children. Remember the needs of pets and other animals. Have extra batteries for radios and flashlights. Keep a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, water-resistant boots and extra blankets and warm clothing for each member of the household. Create an emergency kit for your home .
Nationally, on average more than 5,000 people are killed and 418,000 injured due to weather related vehicle crashes annually. In North Dakota about 100 people are killed and 500 seriously injured annually with 13% of accidents attributed to weather conditions and 80-90% of traffic accidents resulting in death or serious injury occur in rural areas.
When driving in adverse winter conditions such as snow, ice or cold – take it slow. In near freezing temperatures black ice can be difficult to see. Assume you are driving on ice as you may be.
Winterize your vehicles to decrease the chance of being stranded in cold weather. Keep the gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Keep fluid levels full; ensure lights, hazard lights, ignition, exhaust systems, brakes, defrosters, heaters and windshields are in property working condition. Install good winter tires with adequate tread.
Avoid traveling alone. Notify someone of your timetable, primary and alternate routes of planned travel. Call 511 for an update of road conditions in your planned travel area. This is a free service available through every state Department of Transportation.
Create an emergency kit for your vehicles. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water, flares or brightly colored cloths and non-perishable snacks. An emergency supply should include extra warm clothing.
When a vehicle gets stuck during a storm, stay in the vehicle. It is easy to become disoriented in a storm. Run the motor for ten minutes every hour to stay warm, opening the window to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Attempt to be visible to rescuers by turning on the dome light at night when running the engine. Tie a bright colored cloth to the antennae or door. After the storm, open the hood as an indication help is needed.