Winter is a beautiful time of year. We enjoy snowy scenes and bare trees outside and warm blankets and cocoa by the fire inside. However, winter weather conditions can get dangerous quickly, and it’s important to know what to do when a calm snow flurry turns into a raging blizzard.

Travel as Little as Possible

Depending on where in the country you are, winter weather can have different effects on your day-to-day life. In northern states, cities are well prepared for snowy conditions, but in southern states, a few inches of snow and ice can close schools, offices, and roads. And even then, the worst winter weather can shut down any city, regardless of preparedness. If weather warnings are happening in your area, try to stay indoors and off the roads to help minimize congestion in emergency situations.

Driving during a winter storm is not recommended, but if you absolutely must, be careful to stay on main roads, as they will be better maintained than back roads. Inform someone of your route and how long you intend to be gone, and avoid driving at night if possible.

If You Are Stranded in a Car

warning triangle with winter car breakdown in background

Winter weather can go from navigable to impenetrable in the blink of an eye. If a snowstorm turns dangerous while you’re driving, the first thing you should do is pull off the highway if you can and turn on your hazard lights. This keeps the road from becoming an obstacle course for emergency services. Conserve fuel by keeping the car turned off as much as possible, but run the engine and heater for ten minutes every hour or so to keep warm. Open a window occasionally to ventilate the car, and on occasion, get out to make sure snow isn’t blocking your exhaust pipe. Keep an eye out for emergency services, and conserve your battery by keeping the interior lights and the radio turned off. Do not abandon your car unless outside conditions are safe for you to do so and shelter is nearby, you have the appropriate clothing, and the storm has passed.

Avoid Exposure and Know the Signs

Keeping dry and warm during cold weather is very important, as exposure to extreme cold can lead to frostbite and hypothermia.

  • Frostbite occurs when the skin and tissue immediately beneath the skin freezes, and it tends to happen first in extremities like the fingers, nose, and earlobes. Numbness and a pale appearance can be signs. If you suspect frostbite, cover the affected area, but do not rub it in an attempt to warm it up. Seek medical attention.

  • Hypothermia is a more serious condition than frostbite. If someone you know is shivering uncontrollably, disoriented, slurring speech, or appears to be exhausted, you may need to seek medical attention. To help keep someone in danger of hypothermia warm, pile on any available extra blankets or layers of clothing. Also try to confine yourselves to a small space so that your body heat won’t escape as easily.

The CDC recommends that a person showing signs of frostbite be immediately assessed for signs of hypothermia, as both conditions result from cold exposure.

Be Careful Shoveling Snow

man shovels snow in front of house

Snow shoveling is responsible for injuries and deaths every year. According to the National Safety Council, as many as 100 people die every year while doing this seemingly innocuous task. While it may seem like just another household chore, snow shoveling can take quite a toll on the body. To avoid injury while clearing your driveway, make sure to stretch beforehand, take it slow, and stop before you reach the point of exhaustion. Snow can get heavy, and cold weather already increases your heart rate and blood pressure. Moving hundreds of pounds of snow can strain your heart, especially if you don’t exercise. Be careful to shovel only fresh, powdery snow if you can help it, and push it instead of lifting it. Take plenty of breaks, and if you start to feel dizzy, stop immediately.

Knowing what to do during a snowstorm can save your life. Make sure you have a winter emergency plan in place and plenty of supplies in stock in advance of incoming weather. As long as you’re well prepared and keep our winter safety tips in mind, you will minimize the risks that come with a sudden storm.

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Sources: AccuWeather; CDC; FEMA; HowStuffWorks; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; National Safety Council; NBC New York;