Winter Storm/Blizzard

Did you know that winter storms are referred to as “deceptive killers?”

This is because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm.  Fatalities may occur due to prolonged exposure to the cold, which leads to hypothermia or in traffic accidents on icy roads. 

Every area in Colorado has the potential to be impacted by severe winter weather. Some winter storms are large enough to affect several states, while others affect only a single community.  Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard that lasts for several days.  Blizzards are severe winter storms that consist of blowing snow and wind resulting in very low visibility.  In Colorado, blizzards may occur anytime from fall to winter, and even into the spring. 

Additionally, familiarizing yourself with the terms below may help with what to expect so you can properly prepare.

Winter Weather Advisory ─ Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter Storm Watch ─ A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information.

Winter Storm Warning ─ A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.

Blizzard Warning ─ Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.

Frost/Freeze Warning ─ Below freezing temperatures are expected.

Despite the risks of winter weather, there are several measures you can take so you aren’t left unprepared ─ read the information below to learn about what you can do during Colorado’s winter months!

Cover photo courtesy of FEMA/Michael Rieger

Banner photo courtesy of FEMA/Liz Roll

Within text photo courtesy of the Colorado National Guard

Before

  • Be familiar with winter storm watches and warnings.
  • Service snow removal equipment; have rock salt on hand to melt ice on walkways and kitty litter to generate temporary traction.
  • Winterize your vehicle and keep the gas tank full. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel as regular fuel sources may be cut off.
  • Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
  • Have safe emergency heating equipment available such as a fireplace with an ample supply of wood, or small, well-vented, wood, coal or camp stove with fuel.
  • Keep pipes from freezing by wrapping pipes in insulation or layers of old newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture, and letting faucets drip a little to avoid freezing ─ know how to shut off water valves.
  • Have disaster supplies on hand, in case the power goes out. Include a flashlight and extra batteries, portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries, a first aid kit, a one-week supply of food (include items that do not require refrigeration or cooking in case the power is shut off), a manual can opener, one-week supply of essential prescription medications, extra blankets and sleeping bags.
  • Develop an emergency communication plan in case family members are separated from one another during a winter storm (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school) and have a plan for getting back together.
  • Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the “family contact” because after a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance.  Make sure everyone knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home ─ set to a temperature no lower than 55° F.

During

Inside

  • Stay indoors and dress warmly.
  • Listen to the radio or television to get the latest information.
  • Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas and make sure that their access to food and water is not blocked by snow drifts, ice or other obstacles.
  • Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
  • Close off unused rooms to conserve heat.
  • Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.

Outside

  • Dress warmly and wear loose-fitting, layered, light-weight clothing. Layers can be removed to prevent perspiration and chill. Outer garments should be water repellant. Mittens are warmer than gloves because fingers generate warmth when they touch each other.
  • If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. Also take frequent breaks.
  • Protect your lungs from extremely cold air by covering your mouth when outdoors. Try not to speak unless absolutely necessary.
  • Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse.
  • Be aware of symptoms of dehydration.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Keep dry and change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance – Infants, elderly people and people with disabilities.

After

  • Continue to protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia by wearing warm, loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in several layers. Stay indoors, if possible.

More Information:

References, Resources and More Information:

  • Ready.gov – Winter Storms and Extreme Cold
  • NOAA Watch
  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • Colorado Department of Transportation
  • State of Colorado Natural Hazards Mitigation Plan
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC
  • American Red Cross – Preventing and Thawing Frozen Pipes
  • Red Cross – Winter Storm Preparedness

It Happened Here

On December 19th, 2006 the National Weather Service issued several snow advisories indicating that a majority of the State was to be covered with 18-24 inches of snow between the morning of December 20th and late afternoon of December 21st.

By mid-evening, December 19th, the northeast region began receiving snowfall, which was followed by mid-morning, December 20th, in the Denver metropolitan area. By that evening, government, school, business and highway closures occurred due to the intensity of the storm. Nineteen to 40 inches of snow were received, depending upon the area.

Fast Facts:

  • Wind chill is not the actual temperature, but rather how wind and cold feel on exposed skin.
  • Approximately 25 percent of all winter related fatalities are people that are caught off guard out in the storm.
  • 70 percent of the fatalities related to ice and snow occur in automobiles.
  • Winter storms are referred to as “deceptive killers.”