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Preparing For Winter Storms & Extreme Cold



Introduction

In this post, we'll discuss how to best prepare yourself, your family and friends, and your home/workplace for Severe Winter Weather.


Hazardous winter weather can come in many forms, in this post we'll be focusing on the more "long-duration" events and how these events can impact day-to-day life.


When we talk about severe winter weather a lot of things come to mind; heavy snow, difficult travel, wind, power outages, school closings, ice, cold temperatures, and the need to get that accursed shovel out of the attic.


We'll talk about 3 main types of "storms," or systems, in this article and how you can prepare for each type of storm. Keep in mind that there is often overlap with these systems in terms of potential impacts.


As a general rule of thumb, before we get into the specifics; the best thing you can do to prepare yourself and your family is to make plans ahead of time! Impactful winter storms are almost always well-forecasted thanks to advancements in forecasting technology and the brilliant minds at your local NWS Weather Forecast Office.

  • Best Option: Have weather plans in place before significant weather is even forecasted and update these plans yearly.

  • A Good Option: When significant winter weather is forecasted for your area you should start preparing. Avoid last-minute preparation! Follow the steps on the graphics below courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Graphics Courtesy of the National Weather Service. See our article on "Building An Emergency Supply/Evacuation Kit" for more details on what you should have in you're Emergency Supplies.


Snow Storms & Blizzards

Perhaps most commonly, Western Michigan is faced with Snow Storms, and sometimes even Blizzards, that bring very heavy snow and strong winds to the region.


When a Winter Storm is forecasted it's important to do the following:

  1. Find several reliable sources of weather information... (the guy at McDonald's who said his neighbor said that a foot of snow is going to fall is not a good source).

    1. Rely on the National Weather Service, local broadcast media, and West Michigan Weather to get you the most accurate information possible.

  2. Follow the action steps listed in the graphic above.

  3. Make plans to avoid travel unless it is necessary.


The largest impacts we see from these types of storms are most definetly the impacts to travel and road conditions.


Very heavy snow and strong winds can cause rapid accumulation of snow and slush on roadways and strong winds can cause blowing and drifting snow leading to blocked roads, reduced visibilities, and even white-out conditions. These impacts happen very rapidly, can be extremely localized, and there aren't many noticeable warning signs. Every year west Michigan sees hundreds of accidents and even pile-ups on roads like I-96, US-131, and I-94. Once again, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is avoid travel period. If you must travel make sure that you slow down, turn your headlights on, and are properly prepared in case something does happen out on the road. See our article on "Driving In Winter Weather" for more info!


Other impacts can include isolation from being snowed in and roof damage from the weight of the snow accumulation. We'll also discuss the possibility of power outages later in this article.


When it is safe to do so make sure that you get outside to shovel. While taking frequent breaks for rest and hydration, make sure that you get your walkways and driveway cleared, your roof cleared to the best of your ability, and that you are checking in on your neighbors, especially the vulnerable in your communities.


Shoveling your walkways and driveways can help prevent accidents if you need to go outside and ensures quick and easy access for emergency responders to respond to any potential emergencies that may occur in or around your home during the storm. Remember storms are unpredictable. An emergency is definetly not in your plan for the storm but you always want to be prepared for that eventuality.


Ice Storms & Freezing Rain

The next type of storm is thankfully much less frequent than ordinary snow storms but has the potential to be much more impactful to the average Michigander.


Ice Storms are winter storms that bring widespread mixed precipitation, often in the form of Freezing Rain, that cause widespread impacts and have the potential to easily be catastrophic.

During ice storms rain falls from the areas of warmer air trapped above the surface of the earth to the surface where the temperature is below freezing. That causes the rain to freeze almost instantly on contact with surfaces like roads, tree branches, power lines, vehicles, and buildings.


This rapid accumulation of this ice leads to extremely hazardous road conditions and possibly even impossible travel, widespread tree damage, and power outages as tree branches and power lines fall or snap under the weight of the ice.


Power outages and the possibility of roads becoming impassable can have huge impacts on day-to-day life. It is extremely important to avoid travel during ice storms and to check in on those who are without power, especially the vulnerable populations.


Dangerously Cold Temperatures

Winter storms also frequently bring periods of very cold surface temperatures. These very low temperatures are often further impacted by gusty winds and dangerously cold wind chills that result.


Health hazards and frozen/burst pipes become concerns during times when cold temperatures and dangerous wind chills exist. These dangerous temperatures can be made further concerning when power outages exist in the same areas.


Take action to protect yourself and your home/business during extreme cold. Take a look at these excellent graphics from the National Weather Service to learn more.


What Should I Do If I Lose Power? If you lose power there are several action steps you can take to ensure the safety of your family, home, and workplace.

  • Turn off breakers to major appliances and expensive electronic devices. Power surges may occur during and after the power outages or as part of restoration efforts.

  • Avoid the use of candles for lighting. Use flashlights as a safe alternative.

  • Use generators only outdoors in well-ventilated areas away from pathways for dangerous Carbon Monoxide gas to enter your home or business.

  • Open/prop up any cabinets, closets, and ceiling tiles that house pipes to expose them to heated air. Insulate as many pipes as possible.

  • Wear multiple layers of warm, loose-fitting clothing and stay mobile to circulate warm blood and increase body temperature. Stay hydrated.

  • Stuff blankets or other cloth material in the cracks of doors and windows to keep warm air inside.









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