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Preparing for Severe Winter Weather

Severe winter storms can be dangerous, even deadly. They can include blizzards, freezing rain, ice, sleet and dangerously low temperatures and wind-chill factors. Knowing how to prepare for a storm, and what to do during and after one, can help keep you and your family safe.

Advance planning

Take the following steps before a winter storm moves into your area:

  • Make sure your home is properly insulated. Insulate walls and attics. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows. Install storm windows, or cover windows with plastic.

  • Remove tree branches that could fall on power lines, a house or other structure during a storm.

  • Prepare for possible interruption of heat and electricity. Have extra wood for your fireplace. To prevent the risk of fire, avoid using candles. Instead use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns. 

  • Insulate water pipes with layers of insulation or newspaper wrapped with plastic tape.

  • Have rock salt to melt ice on walkways and snow shovels and other snow removal equipment ready for use.

  • Prepare your car for winter by checking the antifreeze level. Clean battery terminals; a car battery more than five years old should be replaced before winter, regardless of how it seems to be functioning. Make sure that windshield wipers are working and that there is enough washer fluid.

Develop a family disaster plan in advance that includes:

  • Places where family members should go if at home, school, work, outdoors or in a car when a storm warning is issued.

  • A designated friend or relative outside your town who can serve as a contact in case family members are separated during the storm.

  • An agreed-upon place where family members should meet if separated.

  • A disaster supply kit in your home with nonperishable food, bottled water, extra clothing, medications, flashlights, and extra batteries.

During a storm

Take these precautions during a storm:

  • Stay indoors. If you must go outside, wear several layers of warm clothing, gloves or mittens, and a hat.

  • Watch for signs of frostbite, such as a loss of feeling and a white appearance in your fingers, toes, nose, or ears.

  • Watch for signs of hypothermia, such as uncontrollable shivering, slow or slurred speech, memory lapses, stumbling, and exhaustion.

  • Use space heaters properly. Keep the heaters at least three feet away from furniture, drapes, and other flammable objects. Turn them off when you leave a room and never drape hats, gloves, socks, and other clothing over them to dry.

  • Don't use kerosene heaters or a gas stove to heat your home.

  • Be especially careful if you must drive. Be sure your car is in good working order and that you have plenty of gas. Pack extra food, water, and a sleeping bag or blankets in the vehicle in case you get stranded.

After a storm

Hazards can remain after a storm has passed:

  • Be careful walking on snowy, icy roads, and sidewalks.

  • Shovel snow slowly and take frequent breaks. Don't shovel if you have a heart condition or back problems.

  • Be careful driving. Snow that has fallen during the night or early morning can melt as the temperature rises during the day, then freeze again if the temperature drops.

  • Watch for fallen power lines.

Remember that the best protection against bad winter weather is preparation for the worst possible storms or power outages. For further information on how you can protect yourself and your family, contact your local American Red Cross chapter or visit the Centers for Disease Control and Preventions' "Winter Weather" online resource at: www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/winter/.