A blizzard is an extreme form of winter storm. It is categorized by massive snowfall and sustained winds of at least 35 miles per hour. In addition to these parameters, the National Weather Service (NWS) also adds that it is a snow storm lasting three or more hours.
As a blizzard is marked by extreme cold, high winds, and reduced visibility, they can present unique challenges and dangers. Heavy snowfall can result in vehicle accidents, collapsed roofs, disrupted distribution systems, damaged power and communication systems, the death of pets and livestock, and serious injury or death to those caught outside. The following guide will assist the reader in being prepared for blizzards and related winter weather.
Be Informed about Winter Storms
First and foremost, one must be aware that such a weather pattern is on the way. Serious winter storm conditions are generally known days in advance, so one can prepare and adjust plans accordingly. Governmental authorities, as well as members of the scientific community often provide guidance in the days before a blizzard occurs. Be sure to tune in your radio or television for regular updates. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also broadcasts information on a continual basis. These broadcasts may be listened to on the Internet or with a radio receiver.
Preparing for Blizzards
There are steps that can be taken today to reduce the risk of injury or loss of property due to severe winter weather. These include:
- Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite. The American Red Cross has information on these life threatening condition.
- Consider installing or obtaining a generator for emergency electricity. Note: never run a generator indoors as the carbon monoxide can kill.
- Winterizing one’s home, business, barn, etc., will help with extreme winter weather and makes good economic sense.
- Supplies should be available before the storm arrives. These include:
- Plenty of food items. Food that require little heating and water are best.
- A first aid kit.
- Warm clothing, blankets and other bedding should be on hand.
- Have snow shovels on hand. Rock salt or an alternative can aid in the melting of snow and ice.
- Sand can improve the traction of vehicles.
- Enough heating fuel (e.g., firewood, propane, etc.) should be on hand for many days of bad weather. During particularly bad weather, one cannot rely upon delivery of fuel.
- Emergency lighting (e.g., candles, oil lamps, etc.).
- Prescription medications should be refilled before a storm.
- A radio to receive updates is necessary.
- A snow rake is helpful to have on hand to safely remove snow from your roof.
- If one absolute must travel, the vehicle should be prepared beforehand.
- All systems should be in good working order at the correct levels.
- All fluids should be at the correct level. The antifreeze levels are particularly important.
- Good, all weather tires should be installed on the vehicle.
- For icy conditions, studded tires or snow chains are a necessity.
- Emergency-related items should be in the vehicle at all times. These include:
- Nonperishable, light, but calorie-dense food items. These include protein bars, jerky, MRE entrées and the like.
- Bottled water
- A flashlight.
- Road flares.
- Jumper cables.
- Ice scrapers or a canned deicing agent.
- A shovel.
- A basic first aid kit.
- Emergency blankets or a sleeping bag.
- Cat litter for traction.
- A tool kit.
- Cellular telephone.
- Citizen Band radio.
- A small pocket knife.
- Small hygiene items.
- Snow chains if studded tires are not installed.
- Warm clothing and related articles (e.g., gloves, hat, etc.).
- A road map or GPS system.
After a Winter Storm Strikes
Once a blizzard has struck in your area, it is important to have taken shelter. If outside for any reason, adequate clothing should be worn at all times. While waiting out the storm:
- Conserve fuel as the duration of the storm may not be known.
- Monitor the progress of the storm by listening to radio broadcasts, television news, and/or a NOAA Weather Radio.
- Eat regularly and stay hydrated.
- Watch for any signs of hypothermia or frostbite.
- If power is lost and a backup generator is utilized, be sure the vapors are ventilated properly.
- Take care when using oil lamps and candles as a backup lighting source.
- If you have livestock be sure they are properly sheltered.
- Travel only if it is absolutely necessary.
- If traveling and you are trapped in your vehicle:
- Remain in your vehicle. Do not leave unless you are sure you can reach a warm building.
- Activate your emergency/hazard lights to alert rescuers. Turning on the interior lights may also alert rescue workers to your location.
- If you have a Citizen Band radio installed, you can try to call for assistance on Channel 9.
- If you are within range of a cellular tower, you can attempt to call for assistance by phone.
- Drink water, juice, or other fluids to stay hydrated.
- Stay warm in blankets, sleeping bags, and mylar blankets. If with other people, huddle together to share warmth.
If you wish to discuss surviving during a blizzard or other disaster-related topics, consider joining the free Disaster.com forum.
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- Glossary – NOAA’s National Weather Service. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://w1.weather.gov/glossary/index.php?letter=b
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- Winter Storms & Extreme Cold. (2014, August 27). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather
- Allen, J. (2002). Blizzards (pp. 11-17). Mankato, Minn.: Capstone High-Interest Books.
- Oliver, J. (2005). Encyclopedia of World Climatology (p. 165). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
- Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 80-85). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
- Singh, D. (2014). Winter Survival Kit. In A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Survival – How to Survive Cold Weather (pp. 22-27).
- Winter Storm Preparedness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/winter-storm
- There’s No Business Like Snow Business This Winter. (2011, February 4). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2011/02/04/133477343/theres-no-business-like-snow-business-this-winter