Before a Winter Storm, Prepare

Use the Navigation Bar Above to navigate each Section

Before a Winter Storm, Prepare

Prepare! Don’t Let a Winter Storm Take You by Surprise

Before the storm strikes, make sure your home, office and vehicles are stocked with the supplies you might need. Make sure farm animals and pets also have the essentials they will need during a winter storm. Know how to dress for varying degrees of cold weather.

Know Your Risk

WHAT: A winter storm occurs when there is significant precipitation and the temperature is low enough that precipitation forms as sleet or snow, or when rain turns to ice. A winter storm can range from freezing rain and ice, to moderate snowfall over a few hours, to a blizzard that lasts for several days, or be a combination of several winter weather conditions. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures.

WHEN: Winter storms can occur from early autumn to late spring depending on the region of the country.

WHERE: Winter storms and colder than normal temperatures can happen in every region of the country.

IMPACT: Extreme winter weather can immobilize an entire region. Ice and heavy snowfall can knock out heat, power, and communications services, sometimes for several days. Driving and walking can become extremely hazardous due to icy conditions, snowfall accumulation, low visibility, or extreme cold. People may need to stay at home or work without utilities or other services, until driving is safe. Pipes and water mains can break.

Prepare now in case a winter storm hits and you are home for several days without power and heat.

Prepare by gathering emergency supplies, making a family plan, and discussing emergency notifications and expectations with your workplace and/or schools.

Install battery-powered or battery back-up carbon monoxide detectors.

If you have access to an OUTSIDE generator, have an electric cord long enough to keep the generator at least 20 feet from any door, window, or vent.

Make specific plans for how you will avoid driving.

Be alert to changing weather conditions using local alerts, radio, and other news sources for information and instructions.


The National Weather Service (NWS) refers to winter storms as “deceptive killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storms. The majority of deaths caused by winter storms are from vehicle accidents due to ice and snow. In addition, people can die from carbon monoxide poisoning when using portable generators indoors, including in attached garages, or too close to the house. Generators should be used only outdoors and should be located at least 20 feet away from doors, windows, or vents. Individuals also suffer cold injuries, such as frostbite or hypothermia, from being outside too long and by not being well protected from wind and cold.

At Home and Work

Your primary concerns at home or 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 a day. In either place, you should have available:

Flashlight and extra batteries

Battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and portable radio to receive emergency information

Extra food and water such as dried fruit, nuts and granola bars, and other food requiring no cooking or refrigeration.

Extra prescription medicine

Baby items such as diapers and formula

First-aid supplies

Heating fuel: refuel before you are empty; fuel carriers may not reach you for days after a winter storm

Emergency heat source: fireplace, wood stove or space heater, properly ventilated to prevent a fire

Fire extinguisher, smoke alarm; test smoke alarms once a month to ensure they work properly


Winter storms and extreme cold are events with advance notice. The NWS of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issues advisories, watches, and warnings for significant accumulations of snow, freezing rain, sleet, or extreme cold. Emergency information will be provided through radio and TV broadcasts and via Wireless Emergency Alerts texted to cell phones.

In addition to commercial radios, NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts alerts and warnings directly from the NWS for all hazards. You may also sign up in advance to receive notifications from your local emergency services. Download Be Smart. Know Your Alerts and Warnings for a summary of notifications at: .

Free smart phone apps, such as those available from FEMA and the American Red Cross, provide information about finding shelters, providing first aid, and seeking assistance for recovery. (Search for the FEMA App or Red Cross Apps on your iPhone, android, or other mobile device.)

Extra pet food and warm shelter for pets

Review generator safety. You should never run a generator in an enclosed space

Make sure your carbon dioxide detector is working detector and that the outside vent is clear of leaves and debris. During or after the storm, make sure it is cleared of snow.

Home fires are common each winter when trying to stay warm. Review ways to keep your home and loved ones safe.

Get Ready for a Power Outage

Turn your heat up now, and close off any rooms that are not in use.

Check pipe insulation, and if you lose power, allow water to run at a trickle to prevent pipes from freezing.

Charge your battery-powered electronic and communications devices.

Keep a battery-powered radio on hand to stay aware of changing weather conditions.

Get out your flashlights, batteries, first aid kit and other emergency supplies

Each year, on average, more than 6,000 people are killed and more than 480,000 are injured due to weather-related vehicle crashes. If you need to drive in snow or cold conditions, TAKE IT SLOW IN THE SNOW. Black ice can be difficult to see. If the temperature is near freezing, drive like you’re on ice–you may be!

Before you leave the house, especially before a longer trip in winter, make sure all fluid levels are full and ensure that the lights, heater, and windshield wipers in proper condition. Keep your gas tank near full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines. Avoid traveling alone. Let someone know your timetable and primary and alternate routes. Then call 511 for the latest traffic and road incidents, including construction and weather conditions and restrictions. Every state offers this Department of Transportation service. Call before you leave, it might change your plans!


Your family may not be together when a winter storm hits, so it is important to know how you will contact one another in an emergency, and how you will get back together when it is safe to travel again. A storm may overwhelm landline and cellular phone systems. You may need to use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends. Keep important numbers written down in your wallet in case you cannot access the contact list in your phone. For more information, including a sample household communications plan, visit

Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins. Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit that includes the following:

  • Mobile phone, charger, batteries
  • Blankets/sleeping bags
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Firstaid kit
  • Knife
  • High-calorie, non-perishable food
  • Extra clothing to keep dry
  • Large empty can to use as emergency toilet, tissues and paper towels for sanitary purposes
  • Small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking water
  • Sack of sand or cat litter for traction
  • Shovel
  • Windshield scraper and brush
  • Tool kit
  • Tow rope
  • Battery booster cables
  • Water container
  • Candle and matches to provide light and in an emergency, lifesaving heat.
  • Compass and road maps, don’t depend on mobile devices with limited battery life


Winter driving conditions can be extremely dangerous. During the fall, before winter weather sets in, make sure you or a mechanic completes a winter weather check on your vehicle.

ANTIFREEZE LEVELS – Ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.

BATTERY AND IGNITION SYSTEM – Keep in top condition and clean battery terminals.

BRAKES – Check for wear and fluid levels.

EXHAUST SYSTEM – Check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.

FUEL AND AIR FILTERS – Replace and keep water out of the system by using additives. Maintain a full tank of gas to keep the fuel line from freezing.

HEATER AND DEFROSTER – Ensure they work properly.

LIGHTS AND FLASHING HAZARD LIGHTS – Check for serviceability.

OIL – Check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.

THERMOSTAT – Confirm it works properly.

WINDSHIELD WIPER EQUIPMENT – Repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.

INSTALL GOOD WINTER TIRES – Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require vehicles to be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs to drive on their roads

On the Farm, Pet Owners

Move animals to sheltered areas or bring pets inside. Shelter belts, properly laid out and oriented, are better protection for cattle than confining shelters, such as sheds.

Haul extra feed to nearby feeding areas.

Have water available. Most animals die from dehydration in winter storms.

Make sure pets have plenty of food and water and a warm shelter.