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Staying Safe and Healthy when Winter Storms Strike

source U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

Many parts of the country get snow and ice from time to time, so winter weather can seem like it is no big deal.   And that is part of what makes winter storms so dangerous. But downed power lines, icy roads, power failures, and exposure to cold weather can all have serious health consequences.  

If you know what to look for and plan in advance, you have a better chance of staying healthy and helping those around you weather the storm. Here are a few things that you can do:

  • Plan with family, friends and neighbors before the storm strikes:  Knowing who you can count on – and who is counting on you – can help protect everybody’s health.  Before a storm, start a conversation on how you will help each other. You can plan to stay in touch during and after the storm through social networking sites, by texting or by knocking on your neighbor’s door. When disaster strikes, phone lines may be jammed, but texts may get through. Remember to charge your phone before a storm and have a backup power supply charged and ready.
  • Stock up on food, water, medicine and supplies for your car:  Power and water outages are common in a winter storm and roads may be unsafe. So make sure that you have the food, water, medicines, and first aid supplies to help you get through the storm.  Also make sure that you have the basic safety equipment for your car, including a full gas tank, shovel, windshield scraper, and emergency kit for the car. For a detailed checklist of supplies, see CDC’s Winter Weather Checklists.
  • Stay tuned to your local news and listen to state and local officials:  When winter storms strike, your local news station and your state and local officials will be able to provide you with the information you need to stay safe and healthy.  
  • Stay safe in a power outage: During a power outage, never use generators, grills, or other gasoline-, propane-, or charcoal-burning devices inside your home, garage, or carport or outside  near doors, windows, or vents. They produce carbon monoxide and fumes can kill.  Be sure that you know how to use generators safely and follow the manufacturer’s instructions before starting them up.  Food safety is also a common issue in power outages. If you are trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss, don’t guess. Use these charts to learn when to toss refrigerated and frozen foods.
  •  Plan for chronic conditions:  When disaster strikes, many people with chronic conditions end up in hospitals because they need care and don’t have anywhere else to go.  If you suffer from a chronic condition, talk to your doctor about preparedness. If you rely on refrigerated drugs, make sure you know what you would do if the power goes out. If you rely on dialysis, try scheduling dialysis early, be sure that you know where to find an alternate facility, and that you have taken other steps to prepare for emergencies. If you rely on electrically powered medical equipment, like an oxygen concentrator, make sure you know how to find the spare battery and charge it in case of a power outage.
  • Be a bystander who doesn’t stand by:  Winter storms can put people at risk for everything from hypothermia to injuries, causing hospitals may be overcrowded and EMS may be unable to reach people quickly given road conditions. So learn the signs of frostbite and hypothermia and what to do when someone is exhibiting those signs. Injuries are also very common during winter storms, and learning first aid and CPR could save a life. 

When winter weather comes, we hope everyone stays safe and healthy. Taking the time to prepare before an emergency strikes could help keep you, your family and even your community bounce back faster.