Winter storms create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion. Winter storms including blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice and high winds. We do see snow occasionally, but more often we see ice, Nor'easters. and very cold temperatures.
A winter storm can:
- Last a few hours or several days.
- Cut off heat, power and communication services.
- Put older adults, children, sick individuals and pets at greater risk.
The National Weather Service in Wilmington issues winter weather watches and warnings for our area. Remember that:
- A statement or advisory means that weather may be developing at some point that you need to pay attention to.
- A watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather. It means to monitor and be ready to act if conditions worsen.
- A warning is an action item - severe weather conditions have been seen or reported, and you need to do something to protect life and property
A easy way to think about it is to think of cupcakes.
- You've decided you want cupcakes and you say "I think I want cupcakes sometime later today." That's a statement or advisory.
- You visit the store and buy all of the ingredients to make cupcakes. You have them all measured out and ready, the cupcake foils are in the tins, the oven is warming up, and you follow the recipe. That's a watch.
- You have successfully made and frosted the cupcakes and are ready to eat them! All of the ingredients came together to make the richest most delicious cupcake. That's a warning.
We see both sleet and freezing rain in our area. Although they are very different, they both can be dangerous and lead to accidents. Slow down!
- Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground; creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines. This "clings" to things.
- Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery. This "pings" off things.
Wind Chill measures of how cold people feel due to the combined effect of wind and cold temperatures; the Wind Chill Index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. Both cold temperatures and wind remove heat from the body; as the wind speed increases during cold conditions, a body loses heat more quickly. Eventually, the internal body temperature also falls and hypothermia can develop. Animals also feel the effects of wind chill; but inanimate objects, such as vehicles and buildings, do not. They will only cool to the actual air temperature, although much faster during windy conditions.
- Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers and toes.
- Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.
- Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
- Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech or drowsiness.
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
Generators can be helpful when the power goes out. It is important to know how use them safely to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and other hazards.
- Generators and fuel should always be used outdoors and at least 20 feet away from windows, doors and attached garages.
- Install working carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill you, your family and pets.
- Keep the generator dry and protected from rain or flooding. Touching a wet generator or devices connected to one can cause electrical shock.
- Properly connect the generator to appliances with heavy-duty extension cords. Do not plug the generator to anything in your home that could back feed into the power system and hurt linemen working to get the power back on.
- Let the generator cool before refueling. Fuel spilled on hot engine parts can ignite.
- Follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
A Nor’easter is a storm along the East Coast of North America, so called because the winds over the coastal area are typically from the northeast. These storms may occur at any time of year but are most frequent and most violent between September and April.
Nor’easters usually develop in the latitudes between Georgia and New Jersey, within 100 miles east or west of the East Coast. They nearly always bring precipitation in the form of heavy rain or snow, as well as winds of gale force, rough seas, and, occasionally, coastal flooding to the affected regions. We can also see significant beach erosion from these storms.
The U.S. East Coast provides an ideal breeding ground for Nor’easters. During winter, the polar jet stream transports cold Arctic air southward across the plains of Canada and the United States, then eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean where warm air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic tries to move northward. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream help keep the coastal waters relatively mild during the winter, which in turn helps warm the cold winter air over the water. This difference in temperature between the warm air over the water and cold Arctic air over the land is the fuel that feeds Nor’easters.
One of the largest snowfall totals in New Hanover County came from the Christmas Coastal Snowstorm during December 1989. This Nor'easter dumped more than 15 inches of snow in Wilmington and was followed by brutally cold temperatures near zero.
Another significant winter weather event was the January 28-29, 2014 Winter Storm that brought less than two inches of snow and sleet, but coated the region in a sheet of ice making travel difficult as ice-packed roads would minimally melt during the day but were frozen again in the overnight hours for several days.
- Know your risk. Pay attention to weather reports and warnings of freezing weather and winter storms. Listen for emergency information and alerts. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
- Prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking and weather stripping.
- Learn how to keep pipes from freezing.
- Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups.
- Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind each person’s specific needs, including medication. Remember the needs of your pets. Have extra batteries for radios and flashlights.
- Be prepared for winter weather at home, at work and in your car. Create an emergency supply kit for your car. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water and non-perishable snacks. Keep a full tank of gas.
- If you are unable to afford your cooling costs, weatherization or energy-related home repairs, contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) through New Hanover County HHS for help.
- Avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Only use generators and grills outdoors and away from windows. Never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven.
- Stay off roads if at all possible. If trapped in your car, then stay inside.
- Limit your time outside. If you need to go outside, then wear layers of warm clothing. Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
- Reduce the risk of a heart attack by avoiding overexertion when shoveling snow and walking in the snow.
When the snow and ice melt, it's tempting to relieve that cabin fever and hit the roads. But melting snow can cause floods, partially cleared roads may be icy or blocked, creeks and rivers often overflow from the rush of melting snow and ice.
- Stay tuned to your local news for updated information on road conditions.
- Check with your local water company to ensure water is safe to drink, cook and clean with after a major winter storm.
- Check with utility companies to find out when electricity or gas services may be restored.
- Before you drive your car, take time to ensure your exhaust pipe is clear.
- Brush all the snow off the car so it doesn't fall on your windshield while you are driving or fly onto other cars, causing an accident.
- Leave extra time for blocked, closed or icy roads.
Avoid flooded roads and heed road danger signs.
- Standing water hides many dangers including toxins and chemicals. There may be debris under the water and the road surface may have completely collapsed beneath the water.
- If it is likely your home will flood, don't wait to be ordered to leave; evacuate when you know you are danger! Make alternative plans for a place to stay with a relative or friend. If you have pets, take them with you or make arrangements to board them at a facility well away from the flooding danger. Many hotels will take pets but check for options during dry weather.
Road closure, cones, sawhorses and other cautionary signs are put in place for your safety. Pay attention to them!
Check your home, contact family, and check on neighbors
Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the leading causes of death after storms when areas dealing with power outages.
Never use a portable generator inside your home or garage. Review generator safety
Let your family and close friends know that you’re okay so they can help spread the word. Register with American Red Cross’s Safe and Well listings. You can use this resource to search missing friends and relatives as well.
Take it easy when shoveling snow.
If you must drive, watch for roadway hazards
Black ice is patchy ice on roadways that cannot easily be seen. Even if roadways have been cleared of snow following a storm, any water left on the roadways may freeze, resulting in a clear sheet of ice, also known as black ice. It is most dangerous in the early morning due to below freezing nighttime temperatures.
Potholes are a common road hazard following winter precipitation and can be difficult to see and can cause serious damage to your vehicle. Be sure to report potholes to your county or local Department of Transportation.
National Weather Service Wilmington Office
Winter Storm Information Sheet (PDF)
Protective Actions Research for Winter Storms
National Weather Service Winter Safety Information
What to do if you’re stuck on the road (Video)
How to prepare for winter storm (Video)
Additional information on Winter Storms can be found at Ready.gov in:
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