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Winter Weather Preparedness

snow coveringThe best time to prepare for severe winter weather is now, before temperatures drop significantly and staying safe and warm becomes a challenge.

Early Predictions for 2015 – 2016 Winter Season:
Winters in Virginia can vary each season and predicting severe winter weather far in advance is very difficult. However, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a winter influenced by El Niño conditions. This year’s El Niño, among the strongest on record, is expected to influence weather and climate patterns this winter. This year it will indicate above-average precipitation and below average temperatures. Seasonal outlooks do not project where and when snowstorms may hit or provide total seasonal snowfall accumulations. Snow forecasts are dependent upon the strength and track of winter storms, which are generally not predictable more than a week in advance. Snow, icy roads and cold temperatures can make can make winter dangerous. Make sure you and your loved ones are prepared for hazardous weather this winter by ensuring emergency plans and supplies are in place.

VDOT provides weather advisories on current road conditions and weather forecasts. Travelers can easily access weather information by dialing 511 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This information is also available on the website at

Here are several steps you can take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe this winter.

  • Have an emergency kit prepared with supplies such as an alternate fuel source for heating your home, flashlights and batteries in your home and car, blankets, food that needs no cooking or refrigeration, a 3 day supply of water, prescription medicines, a battery operated radio and flashlights, battery powered cell phone chargers, snow shovel etc. Learn more about preparing a winter preparedness plan by visiting,
  • Winterize your home by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows. In addition, if you use woodstoves or fireplaces to heat your home, remember to have them professionally serviced and cleaned.
  • Check batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors.
  • Prepare your vehicle with emergency supplies and have maintenance service on your vehicle as often as the manufacturer recommends.
Outdoor Activities and Hazards

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. It is very important to remember to take caution during extremely cold temperatures and severe winter weather to prevent injuries and illness, such as hypothermia and frostbite. Hypothermia occurs most commonly at very cold environmental temperatures, but can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. Redness or pain in any skin area may be due to frostbite, an injury to the body that is caused by freezing.
During extreme cold or severe winter weather, take these precautions to lower your risk of illness:

  • Wear cold weather appropriate clothing like gloves, hats, scarves and snow boots.
  • Be aware of the wind chill factor.
  • Remove any wet clothing immediately.
  • Limit your time outdoors.

Seek medical care if you suspect that you may be suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, as these are serious medical conditions.

Be mindful of the amount of time spent outdoors shoveling snow and removing debris after snowstorms. Dress warmly and work slowly to avoid exertion and to prevent back injury. Other steps to take to help prevent muscle and bone injury include:

  • Use teams of two or more to move bulky objects.
  • Avoid lifting any material that weighs more than 50 pounds.
  • Use proper automated-assist lifting devices.
  • Use caution or seek professional assistance when removing fallen trees, cleaning up debris or using equipment, such as chain saws.
  • Wear eye goggles while removing or cleaning up debris to prevent eye injuries.
Car Safety

Severe snow storms may limit visibility and create hazardous road conditions. If you must travel during severe weather, consider checking road conditions by visiting Should you become stranded, staying in until help can arrive is the safest thing to do.

Be sure to prepare an emergency kit for your car with items such as:

  • Blankets
  • First Aid Kit
  • Windshield scraper
  • Booster cables
  • Mobile phone/charger
  • Tool kit
  • Bag of sand or cat liter
    (to pour on snow for added traction)
  • Tow rope
  • Collapsible shovel
  • Water
  • Canned or dried foods and a can opener
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Canned compressed air with sealant (for emergency tire repair)
  • A brightly colored cloth to tie to the antenna as a signal to rescuers
Fire Hazards

During a power outage, use flashlights instead of candles for lighting and keep extra batteries in stock. If you plan to use a wood stove, fireplace or space heater, be extremely careful. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and remember these safety tips:

  • Store a multipurpose, dry chemical fire extinguisher near the area to be heated.
  • Do not burn paper in a fireplace.
  • Ensure adequate ventilation by opening an interior door or slightly opening a window if you must use a kerosene heater.
  • Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use—don't substitute.
  • If your heater has a damaged electrical cord or produces sparks, don't use it.
  • Use fireplaces, wood stoves, and other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside. Take care when using these heating sources and make sure they do not leak gas from the flue into the indoor air space. Make sure chimneys and flues are cleaned periodically.
  • Do not place space heaters near things that may catch on fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding.
Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is poisonous to breathe. Deadly levels of carbon monoxide can quickly build up when the exhaust from grills or generators is not properly vented. The gas emitted by these sources can linger for hours, even after the generator or grill has shut off. Operate all gasoline-powered devices such as generators outdoors and never bring them indoors.

If you suspect that you are experiencing CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Leave the home immediately and seek medical attention. Depending on the level of exposure, symptoms of carbon monoxide may resemble the flu.

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Chest pains for those with heart disease
  • Shortness of breath upon exertion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Lack of coordination
  • Impaired vision
  • Loss of consciousness
  • In severe cases, death
Electrical Hazards
  • If snow/water is present anywhere near electrical circuits and electrical equipment, turn off the power at the main breaker or fuse on the service panel. Do not turn the power back on until electrical equipment has been inspected by a qualified electrician.
  • Never touch electrical equipment if the ground is wet, unless you are certain that the power is off.
  • Never touch a downed power line.
  • When using gasoline and diesel generators to supply power to a building, switch the main breaker or fuse on the service panel to the off position prior to starting the generator.
  • If clearing or other work must be performed near a downed power line, contact the utility company to discuss de-energizing and grounding or shielding of power lines.
  • Extreme caution is necessary when moving ladders and other equipment near overhead power lines to avoid inadvertent contact.

Learn more about getting ready for winter weather:

Last Updated: 12-01-2015

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