Snowstorms often lead to disaster and quickly become dangerous, causing personal injuries, frostbites, hypothermia, and in severe cases, death. Accumulated snow and ice can cause road blockages, trapping residents indoors and causing car accidents. The list of what could go wrong during a snowstorm is endless.

Snowstorm Terminology

Hundreds of Americans die every year due to extreme winter weather. The deaths are primarily caused by snowstorm hazards such as car crashes, house fires, overexertion, exposure, etc. Adequate preparation for these snow hazards will help to substantially cut down on this number.

A good way to start is by familiarizing yourself with popular snowstorm terms. They will help you stay alert and prepared.

~Wind Chill Advisory: expecting dangerous wind chills of 15 to 24 below zero.

~Wind Chill Warning: expecting potentially life-threatening wind chills of 25 below zero or worse.

~Frost Advisory: expecting damaging frost during the growing season.

~Freeze Warning: expecting below-freezing temperatures during the growing season.

~Ice Storm Warning: expecting harmful ice accumulations that may reach hazardous levels.

~Heavy Snow Warning: expecting snow accumulations of six inches or more.

~Winter Weather Advisory: expecting cold, ice, and/or snow (2 - 5 inches).

~Winter Storm Watch: expecting possible severe winter weather within the next day or two.

~Winter Storm Warning: snowstorm has started or is about to start.

~Blizzard Warning: expecting snowstorms that will cause near-zero visibility, deep drifts, and impossible travel conditions.

Note: During Snow Season, stay tuned in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for consistent and up-to-date information.

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Hazards of a Snowstorm

Snowstorms bring about severe cold, freezing rain, ice, snow, and strong winds during Snow Season. These winds and falling snow and ice often results in several hazards. It may collapse homes, damage properties, cause severe injuries, and even lead to death.


~According to the National Weather Service, a blizzard is a snowstorm that carries a considerable amount of snow, traveling with high winds at more than 35 mph and reducing visibility by less than ¼ mile for at least 180 minutes. However, it should be noted Blizzards may still occur even with no falling snow, they are known as ground blizzards.

~The largest blizzard in history, the Iran blizzard of February 1972, lasted for nearly a week. Dumping over 26 feet (7.9 m) of snow, it engulfed an area the size of Wisconsin and killed 4,000 people.

~Power Outages

~Generally, power is usually the first casualty of a snowstorm. People living in blizzard-prone areas are no strangers to this fact.

~The heavy weight of snow may damage roofs, buildings, or tear down trees and power lines. This will consequently result in power outages and the subsequent loss of heat in homes. In preparation, be sure to have alternative sources of power, heating, and other things that may require power to function.  

~More so, surviving a snowstorm without power is no small feat. Therefore, it's useful to have some form of experience before the snow hits. A way to achieve this is by taking part in this “No Power” challenge.

~House Fires

~House fire are one of the most common snowstorm hazards. It occurs more frequently during the Snow Season due to the poor adherence to safety precautions when using alternate power and heating sources.

~People generally switch to alternate sources of power as soon as the storm takes out the power, causing permanent power outages and a shutdown of the heating system. Scenarios that may trigger house fires include leaving a fire unattended, disposing of hot ashes too soon, or wrongly placing the space heater.

~Ordinarily, an accidental house fire could be quickly managed, but during the winter, waterlines may be frozen and firefighting equipment may not be able to reach your home in an adequate time frame. This gives what could have stayed as a small fire, free rein to turn into a giant flame and eat up everything in its path.

~Your best bet is to prevent the fire from happening in the first place.

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~Hypothermia and Frostbite

~When a snowstorm destroys power lines and causes power outages, the light won't be the only casualty. Your heating system used to keep the house warm and heating water will also be shut down. In extreme winter temperatures lack of heat can significantly increase the risk of hypothermia and frostbite.

~Elderly, homeless, and lower-class people are statistically the groups impacted the most by hypothermia in the United States. Many of them can freeze to death in their homes or on the street after being exposed to severely cold snowstorm temperatures. By reason of age, weakness, and lack of resources, they are often neither able to take adequate precautions or call for help.

~Proper preparation during winter will help you and your family survive extremely cold indoor temperatures when the power faulters. Always pack extra, safe alternate sources of heating, preferably one that won't need electricity to work. Pack extra dry winter clothes, towels, and blankets for everyone in your house and car.

~Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

~When light and heating systems stop working as a result of power outages, people tend to employ the use of alternative heat sources. Most of them are dangerous as they increase the risk of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. For instance, using charcoal briquettes to heat a home exposes the occupants to CO poisoning.

~Also, while you might need the generator to keep the power on after a power outage, it may quickly become a contributor to CO poisoning. It's advisable not to bring it inside the house or be kept near an open window during usage. Keeping it outside will allow the CO to float up into the air.

~Blocking/blocked vents of oil and gas furnaces are also just as dangerous. Carbon Monoxide fumes that are supposed to be taken outside through the vents will, instead, get back into the home. Since CO is colorless and odorless, all occupants may be dead before you even know there is a problem.

~About 430 people die from unintentional CO poisoning every year in the United States, with most of those occurring during the winter months.

~Frozen and Burst Pipes

~When the power lines go down and the heat goes out, the risk of frozen and/or burst pipes increases. Consequently, this increases the risk of water damage as water still trying to enter the pipes may leak from the burst pipe.

~Water damage causes mold and mildew, which can lead to respiratory problems and illnesses. So, while the problem may just be frozen and burst pipes at the beginning, it can potentially lead to home damage and long-term health complications.

~There are a few things you can do in preparation. First, you will can perform a dry run to learn how to survive if there's no water. Additionally, you can leave your pipes running at a slow drip. This will keep water running through your pipes, hopefully preventing them from freezing and bursting. Ensuring that your pipes are purposefully insulated will also aid them in staying as warm as possible.

~If pipes bursts and a boil water advisory is issued it could be beneficial to know how to safely boil water, making it useable to cook, bathe, and eat with.

~Car Accidents

~Like rain, during storm season, when the snow starts falling, car accidents sky rocket. In fact, apart from motorists who get stuck in their vehicles and freeze to death, transportation accidents are the leading cause of death during a snowstorm.

~It goes without saying, don't go out in your car (or outside at all) if you don't have to. For those who have to take extra care to adhere to every precaution. Keep a windshield scraper. Carry a small sturdy broom. Drive with at least a half-tank of gas or more. Keep tabs on road conditions leading to your destination. Travel during the day as much as possible. Wear warm clothes. Pack a bag full of water and high-energy non-perishable snacks.

~Heart Attacks

~Preparing for and surviving a snowstorm can take a lot of work, leading to overexertion. In turn, overexertion can lead to exhaustion and heart attacks. On record, exhaustion and overexertion are two common snowstorm hazards that can lead to death. Being in America, most of the US is overweight. This makes the likelihood of underlying health conditions making it easier to become overexerted.

~Especially In the days following a snowstorm, heart attack hospital admissions increased by nearly 23% in the United States. There is often a lot of work to be done after a storm ends. From giving the home some semblance of normalcy to shoveling snow to fixing up your property. Often, completing these chores, can be exhausting. For those who overdo it, it could lead to a heart attack.

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