Winter weather

Habitat Ready: Disaster preparedness for homeowners

The dangers of winter weather are often overlooked. From extreme cold to ice storms to blizzards, winter weather can knock out heat, power, communications and transportation networks, and can immobilize entire regions.

In order to protect your home and family, it is important to be prepared before winter weather strikes.

Before winter weather

  • Review your family preparedness plan.
  • Establish a family communications plan.
  • Assemble a disaster supply kit.
  • Winterize your home:
    • Insulate walls and attics, caulk and weather-strip doors and windows, and install storm windows or cover windows with plastic.
    • Learn how to shut off water valves.
    • Clear rain gutters, repair roof leaks, and trim tree branches that could fall on your home.
    • Maintain chimneys and heating equipment by having them cleaned and inspected.
    • Insulate pipes with insulation, newspaper or plastic to keep from freezing.
    • Hire a contractor to check the structural ability of your roof to hold heavy weight from snow accumulation.
  • Know the difference between an ADVISORY, WATCH and WARNING.
    • ADVISORY: Inconvenient winter weather is possible.
    • WATCH: Hazardous winter weather is likely within 36 hours. Stay tuned to a TV or radio for more information, and be prepared.
    • WARNING: Dangerous winter weather is expected or occurring. Take shelter immediately.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • Unless you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, it is recommended that you make a plan to shelter-in-place in your home, if it is safe to do so.
  • If you live in a mandatory evacuation zone, make a plan with friends or family to shelter with them where you will be safer and more comfortable.
  • Only evacuate to shelters if you are unable to shelter at home or with family or friends. Note that your regular shelter may not be open this year. Check with local authorities for the latest information about public shelters.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During winter weather

  • Listen to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radio or TV for updated information.
  • Stay indoors. If you must go outside, dress appropriately, and walk carefully on snow and ice.
  • Drive only if necessary. If you must drive, travel during the day, do not travel alone, let someone know your destination, avoid backroads, and have a disaster supply kit in your car.
  • Keep all fuel-burning equipment vented to the outside to avoid trapping toxic fumes.
  • Keep your home cooler than usual, and close off rooms not being used in order to conserve fuel.
  • To prevent your pipes from freezing, allow faucets to drip a little. If pipes do freeze, remove any insulation and wrap in rags. Open all faucets and pour hot water over pipes.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to allow warmer air to circulate around plumbing.
  • Protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by staying dry and wearing several layers of warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing.
  • If stranded in a vehicle:
    • Pull off the road, turn on hazard lights, and remain in the vehicle.
    • Run the engine for only 10 minutes every hour for heat. When the engine is running, open a window slightly for ventilation.
What are the signs of frostbite and hypothermia?


If you experience symptoms of frostbite, seek medical care. Hypothermia is much more serious and requires immediate medical attention.

  • Frostbite: Loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes and nose.

  • Hypothermia: Uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.

After winter weather

  • Continue listening to a NOAA weather radio or TV for updated information.
  • Inspect your home:
    • Leave the house if you smell gas or chemical fumes.
    • Check for damage to walls, the roof, the foundation, the electrical system and water lines.
    • Notify your insurance company if your home is damaged.
  • Avoid downed power lines.
  • Be aware of flooding caused by melting snow.
  • Avoid making phone calls except in serious emergencies.

Additional considerations for COVID-19

  • You should continue to use preventive actions like washing your hands and wearing a face covering during clean up or when returning home.
  • It may take longer than usual to restore power and water if they are out. Take steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning if you use a generator.
  • If you are injured or ill, contact your medical provider for treatment recommendations. Keep wounds clean to prevent infection. Remember, accessing medical care may be more difficult than usual during the pandemic.
  • Dealing with disasters can cause stress and strong emotions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is natural to feel anxiety, grief, and worry. Coping with these feelings and getting help when you need it will help you, your family and your community recover.
  • People with preexisting mental health conditions should continue with their treatment and be aware of new or worsening symptoms. Additional information can be found at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration page.
  • When you check on neighbors and friends, be sure to follow social distancing recommendations (staying at least 6 feet, about two arms’ length, from others) and other CDC recommendations to protect yourself and others.
  • If you need to go to a disaster shelter, follow CDC recommendations for staying safe and healthy in a public disaster shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If you are sick and need medical attention, contact your healthcare provider for further care instructions and shelter-in-place, if possible. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 9-1-1 and let the operator know if you have, or think you might have, COVID-19. If possible, put on a cloth face covering before help arrives. If staying at a shelter or public facility, alert shelter staff immediately so they can call a local hospital or clinic.

Additional resources

Emergency/preparedness information

Current winter weather information

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