Winter is here. As the temperatures continue to drop, it’s best to
be prepared for all the good and bad that winter throws your way. While
winter weather can be peaceful and beautiful, it can also be unexpected
and tragic if you or a loved one experiences a weather-related injury.
Consider these winter-safety checklists before the first winter storm hits.
How to Prepare for a Winter Storm
Winter storms are dangerous. To keep yourself and your loved ones safe,
prepare well in advance, before a storm hits.
Creating a communication and emergency disaster plan and keeping a few safety tips in mind can help your family prepare ahead of time.
To weatherproof your home:
- Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
- Cutaway tree branches that could fall on your home or car during a snow
or ice storm.
- Have your chimney or flue inspected annually.
- Install a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector and check to make
sure the batteries are working properly.
- Install storm or thermal-pane windows.
- Insulate walls, attics, and water lines that run along exterior walls,
- Make sure your furnace system and vents are functioning correctly.
- Repair roof leaks.
Before driving or using your car:
- Always check the weather forecast along your route and before driving,
especially for long-distance road trips during winter.
- Keep a bundle of cold-weather gear in your car, in case of bad weather,
and the unlikely event you end up stranded. This should include blankets,
extra food and water, warm clothing, a flashlight, a glass scraper, an
emergency kit, and more.
- Keep at least a half tank of gas in your car at all times, in case of traffic
- Make sure the heater, defroster, brakes, emergency flashers, oil, and battery
are all working.
- Make sure your tires are properly inflated and have plenty of tread before
the first snow.
- Never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, like a garage.
- Replace windshield wiper fluid with a winterproof mixture.
Before a winter storm hits:
- Bring your pets indoors and keep them warm. Make sure they have access
to clean, unfrozen water.
- Listen to weather forecasts, check your emergency supplies, and prepare
in advance, if possible.
- Review your communication and emergency disaster plan with your family.
How to Stay Safe During Winter Weather
Cold temperatures, power outages, loss of communication services, and icy
roads make venturing out and even staying in during winter storms risky.
To reduce hazards, consider these tips.
- Avoid using extension cords to plug in space heaters.
- Conserve heat by keeping doors and windows closed, closing off unused rooms,
stuffing towels or rags in cracks under doors, and closing drapes or covering
windows with blankets at night.
- Do not leave children unattended near heating sources.
- Eat well-balanced meals to help you stay warmer and avoid alcoholic or
caffeinated drinks, which make your body lose heat faster.
- Heat your home safely. Do not use the stove for heat, use electric space
heaters with automatic shut-off switches, and use fireplaces, wood stoves,
and other combustion heaters only if they’re adequately vented.
If the power goes out, use extra blankets, sleeping bags, and winter coats
to stay warm. Keep babies and
older adults, who are most susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite, warm. Never use
blankets or pillows on young babies in cribs—instead, dress them
in footed pajamas, one-piece wearable blankets, or sleep sacks.
- In case the water pipes in your home freeze, rupture, or break, keep a
supply of water on hand.
- Keep heat sources like space heaters at least 3 feet away from drapes,
furniture, and bedding—and never cover them up.
- Light your home safely if the power goes out—opt for battery-powered
flashlights or lanterns rather than open, lit candles.
- Never use generators, gas or charcoal grills, camp stoves, and similar
devices inside the home, basement, garage, or near a window as fumes are deadly.
- Use generators at least 20 feet from any window, door, or vent, and in
a space where rain and snow will not affect them. Do not use these if
they are wet.
- Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use.
Be safe during
outdoor winter activities. Let friends and family know where you’re going, do not leave areas
of your skin exposed, watch for signs of health problems, and be prepared
to take emergency shelter during a storm.
- Do not ignore shivering. It’s a sign that your body is losing heat,
and it’s time to go inside.
Dress warmly and stay dry. Inner layers should include fabrics like wool,
silk, or polypropylene that hold more body heat and don’t absorb
moisture. Insulation layers help to retain heat by trapping air close
to the body. Your outermost layer protects from wind, rain, and snow.
It should be tightly woven and water and wind-resistant. (If you’re
looking for layers to add to your winter wardrobe or have excess to donate, consider
Select Seconds Thrift Shop, located at 8 E. Patrick St. near the
Frederick Health Hospital in downtown Frederick).
- Know the signs of frostbite and hypothermia (if you don’t, continue reading).
- Stay away from ice. Many cold-weather injuries result from falls on icy
sidewalks, steps, and driveways. Use rock salt, sand, and other chemical
de-icing compounds to reduce the risk of slipping.
How to Prevent Hypothermia and Frostbite While Outdoors
Hypothermia is the result of prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures. Lengthy exposures
will use up the body’s stored energy and affect the brain, making
it difficult to think clearly or move. Older adults, babies, people who
remain outdoors for lengthy periods during cold weather, and people who
drink alcohol or use drugs are at high risk for hypothermia.
Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. It leads to a loss of feeling
and color, usually in susceptible extremities like the nose, ears, cheeks,
chin, fingers, and toes. Extreme cases can lead to amputation.
To prevent hypothermia and frostbite, follow these tips:
- When the weather is extremely cold, try to stay indoors.
- If you must go outside, dress appropriately. This includes wearing a scarf
or knit mask that covers your face and mouth, a hat, a water-resistant
coat, gloves, several layers of loose-fitting clothes, and water-resistant
boots. Make sure the areas most often affected by frostbite are covered
If you or your loved one is experiencing any of these signs of hypothermia
or frostbite, or their body temperature is below 95 degrees F, seek medical
Adults: Shivering, exhaustion or feeling very tired, confusion, fumbling hands,
memory loss, slurred speech, drowsiness, white or grayish-yellow skin
area, skin that feels unusually firm or waxy, numbness
Babies: Bright red and cold skin, very low energy
If help is not immediately available, take action. Get them into a warm
room or shelter. Remove any wet clothing. Warm them under dry layers of
blankets and clothing, and place areas affected by frostbite in warm-to-touch
water. Since frostbit skin may be numb, practice special caution when
- Do not use a fireplace, heat lamp, radiator, or stove for warming
- Do not use a heating pad or electric blanket for warming
- Unless necessary, do not walk on feet or toes with frostbite
- Do not rub or massage areas with frostbite
How to Prevent Injuries While Shoveling Snow
Whether using a shovel or snow blower, snow removal can be difficult and
dangerous if not done correctly. To
prevent injuries, consider these tips:
- Always wear multiple layers and choose gloves, shoes, and socks that are
warm and water-repellant.
- Avoid twisting your back. Instead, pivot your whole body.
- Before you begin, stretch your arms, back, and legs to prevent injury.
- Bend at the hips and push the chest out, then bend your knees and lift
with your legs.
- Face toward the object you intend to lift, with your shoulder and hips
facing the object squarely to help you maintain balance.
- For greatest stability, keep your hands 12 inches apart when holding the
shovel for a strong, comfortable grip without straining.
If you have an existing
heart condition or disability that could increase your risk of injury or death, ask a
friend, family member, or neighbor for help removing the snow or ice.
Do NOT do it alone.
- Likewise, if you have an elderly friend, family member, or neighbor, and
you are able, volunteer to remove their snow or ice to prevent injuries.
- Start snow removal early, while the snow accumulation is light—don’t
wait as this increases your risk of injury.
While using a snowblower:
- Before you begin, know where the snow will go. Go with the wind if you
can to prevent snow from blowing in your eyes, into the street, or into
a neighbor’s spot that’s already cleared.
- If the blower jams or clogs, turn it off immediately, waiting for the blades
to stop spinning, before using a broom handle or other object to remove
the packed snow.
- If you need to refill during use, make sure to turn it off first.
- Never let a child or inexperienced person operate a snowblower without
How to Drive Safely in Snowy or Icy Conditions
When in doubt, and especially if you can’t drive very well in bad
weather, it’s best to avoid venturing out if you don’t have
to. If you can, try to stay home. But, if you absolutely must drive in
snowy or icy weather conditions, proceed with caution.
- Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Don’t try to start moving again
in a hurry and take your time to stop at stoplights and stop signs.
- Avoid other distractions, such as drinking, eating, using mobile devices,
or adjusting radio or vehicle controls, while driving.
- Don’t power up hills. If you can, try to get inertia going before
you reach the hill and let that carry you to the top. When you reach the
crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed downhill slowly.
- Don’t stop going up a hill—you’ll get stuck or, worse,
- If you can, don’t stop to prevent your car from getting stuck or
spinning when you start again. If you can slow down enough to keep rolling
until a traffic light changes, do so.
- Keep space between you and other vehicles at all times—increase your
following distance by about five to six seconds.
- Know your brakes. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball
of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.
- Never use cruise control while driving on any slippery surface like ice or snow.
- Stoplights and street signs may be missing, not visible, or not working,
so treat all intersections as a four-way stop for extra precaution.
- Wear your seatbelt at all times.
For more winter driving advice,
read these tips from the
AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
How to React If You Get Stranded During a Storm
If, by chance, you have to travel during a snow or ice storm and break
down or become stranded, consider these tips for waiting out the bad weather
in your car.
- If possible, conserve fuel by only running the engine and heater long enough
to remove the chill.
- Make sure your exhaust pipe is not clogged with snow, ice, or mud. A blocked
pipe can cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to leak into the passenger compartment
of your vehicle while the engine is running.
- Make your vehicle as visible as possible. Tie a brightly colored cloth
to the antenna and keep your dome light on if possible.
- Notify the authorities and your emergency contacts with your cell phone,
if service is working.
- Stay warm—bundle up with whatever you have on hand to insulate your
body during the cold. Grab your pre-packed blankets and heavy clothing
in case of an emergency.
- Stay with your vehicle, as it provides temporary shelter and makes it easier
for rescuers to find you. Do not try to walk in a severe storm or lose
sight of your vehicle.
- While shoveling your car out of the snow, practice proper snow shoveling
safety measures, and stop if you become tired.
In the event of a cold-weather injury or emergency, both the Frederick Health
Urgent Care and
Emergency Department are ready to help you. Not sure where to go?
Learn more here and stay safe this winter!