Winter Weather

Winter storms are deceptive killers since most of the deaths that occur are indirectly related to the actual storm.

Winter Weather Facts:

  • People die in traffic accidents on icy roads
  • People die of heart attacks while shoveling snow
  • People die of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to the cold

Winter Weather Terms of the National Weather Service

Blizzard Warning: Issued when snow and strong winds will combine to produce blinding snow (visibilities near zero/white-outs), deep snow drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.

Wind Chill: What the temperature feels like to the human body based on both air temperature and wind speed.

Wind Chill Advisory: Issued when potentially dangerous wind chill readings (-20 to -34 degrees Fahrenheit) are expected.

Wind Chill Watch: Issued when life-threatening wind chill readings (-35 degrees Fahrenheit or lower) are possible.

Wind Chill Warning: Issued when wind chill readings (-35 degrees or lower) are expected to be life-threatening.

Winter Weather Advisory: Issued when winter conditions (snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain/ice) are expected to cause significant inconvenience and may be hazardous.

Winter Storm Watch: Issued when severe winter conditions (heavy snow and/or significant freezing rain/ice) are possible within the next day or two.

Winter Storm Warning: Issued when severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin in your area. Six (6) inches or more of snow and/or ice accumulations of 1/4 inch or more.


Frostbite: Damage to body tissue caused by that tissue being frozen. Warning signs include loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately! If you must wait for help, slowly re-warm affected areas. If the person is also showing signs of hypothermia, warm the body core before the extremities.

Hypothermia: Low body temperature. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If a person's body temperature is below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, immediately seek medical attention.


  • Begin warming the person slowly; warm the body core first. If needed, use your own body heat to help.
  • Get the person into dry clothing and wrap them in a warm blanket covering them completely, including the head and neck.
  • Do not give the person alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverage or food; warm broth is better.
  • Do not warm extremities (arms & legs) first! This drives the cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure.

Strain from the cold and hard labor may cause a heart attack.

  • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snows, especially if you are not in peak physical condition.
  • If you must shovel snow, take it slow and lift small amounts, especially when removing heavy snow, slush, or ice.

Food & Drink

Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat. Keep the body replenished with fluids (water and juice; limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol) to prevent dehydration.

How to be prepared at home:

  • Keep a battery-powered radio and extra batteries for news and official broadcasts.
  • Store food that can be prepared without an electric or gas stove.
  • Stock emergency water and cooking supplies.
  • Have flashlights, battery-powered lamps, and extra batteries in case of a power outage. Candles and matches can be a fire hazard.
  • If you have a wood stove or fireplace, store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure your family knows how to use them and knows fire prevention rules.
  • Keep in touch with elderly neighbors or family.

Be prepared if you go out:

  • Wear layers of thin clothing instead of single layers of thick clothing.
  • Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. If you add unaccustomed exercise, such as shoveling snow or pushing a car, you may risk heart attack or stroke.
  • Mittens are warmer than gloves.
  • Wear a hat; most body heat is lost through the top of the head.
  • Cover your mouth with scarves to protect your lungs from directly inhaling the extremely cold air.

Winter driving tips:

  • If you must travel, take public transportation whenever possible. If you must use a car, take winter driving seriously. Travel by daylight, and keep others informed of your schedule. Drive with extreme caution; never try to save time by driving fast or using back-road shortcuts.
  • Make sure your car has fuel, and is equipped with chains or snow tires.
  • Keep your car "winterized" with antifreeze. Carry a "winter car kit" that includes a windshield scaper, flashlight, tow chain or rope, shovel, tire chains, a blanket, a bag of sand or salt, a fluorescent distress flag, and an emergency flare, in case you are trapped in a winter storm. Keep extra outerwear and pre-packaged food in the car. Make sure your windshield wipers are working properly and there is windshield washer fluid in the car.

If a blizzard traps you in your car:

  • Pull off the highway; stay calm and remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you.
  • Turn on your emergency flashers and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window.
  • Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter. Be careful; distances are distorted by blowing snow. A building may seem close but be too far to walk in deep snow.
  • If you run the engine to keep warm, open a window slightly for ventilation. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning. Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.
  • Exercise to maintain body heat (by clapping and moving around), but avoid over-exertion. In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation. Huddle with passengers and use your coat as a blanket.
  • Never let everyone in the car sleep at one time. One person should look out for the rescue crews.
  • Be careful not to use up battery power. Balance electrical energy needs - the use of lights, heat and radio - with supply.
  • At night, turn on the inside dome light, so work crews can spot you.

(The above information is courtesy of, and used with the permission of, the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management.)