Winter Storms

It can be hard to stay warm and safe during extreme cold and winter storms. Winter storms and extreme cold can cause dangerous conditions like icy roads, power outages, and loss of communication services. Winter storms can also last several days. Learn how to prepare for winter storms and how to prevent health problems related to extremely cold temperatures.

Before a Winter Storm

Make a plan for what you might do if a winter storm occurs. You can use the My Emergency Plan Workbook to help. If you think you may need help during an emergency because of your particular healthcare needs, you may want to enroll in the Rhode Island Special Needs Emergency Registry (RISNER). RISNER is a service that informs first responders about who may need help during an emergency because of their particular healthcare needs.

Make sure your home is ready for a winter storm by

  • Having your chimney or flue inspected every year,
  • Installing a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector (don’t forget to test and replace the batteries!),
  • Insulating water pipes with newspaper and plastic or with insulation and allow faucets to drip during periods of extreme cold (this can prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting),
  • Keeping sidewalks and driveways clear between storms to avoid buildup of snow and ice, and
  • Having your heating equipment inspected regularly by a qualified professional.

Make an emergency kit for your home. Your home emergency kit should have everything you need to survive on your own for a few days. This might include:

  • a gallon of water per day per person,
  • non-perishable foods (like granola or canned foods),
  • water and food for pets, if you have any,
  • a manual can opener,
  • a wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities),
  • medication,
  • a first aid kit,
  • a battery-powered or hand crank radio,
  • a flashlight and extra batteries,
  • and extra clothing and blankets.

Make sure your car is ready for a winter storm by checking antifreeze levels, keeping the gas tank near full (this helps prevent ice from forming in the tank and fuel lines) and make sure your car’s radiator system works.

Make an emergency kit for your car. Your car emergency kit should include:

  • a portable charger for your cell phone,
  • clothing to keep you warm (like an extra hat, coat, mittens, and blankets),
  • a windshield scraper,
  • a flashlight with extra batteries,
  • water and non-perishable food,
  • a first aid kit,
  • cat litter or sand to help move your tires on ice,
  • road salt to melt ice,
  • a hazard sign or other reflective materials,
  • and jumper cables.

Stay informed before, during, and after a winter storm. Follow local news channels and federal, state, and local authorities for weather alerts and safety alerts for your home town. Sign up for CodeRED to get notifications from your local emergency response team if there is an emergency in your area. To sign up, visit and click on the CodeRED icon at the bottom of the page.  

During a Winter Storm

Heat your home safely. Close the doors to unused rooms to conserve heat. Use electric space heaters and keep them away from flammable materials, like curtains or blankets, and from water. If you use a generator, make sure your generator is outside and at least 20 feet from any window, door, or vent. Make sure your generator is protected from rain and snow.

Light your home safely. If there is a power outage, use battery-powered flashlights instead of candles. Candles can cause house fires.

Know the signs of and treatments for cold-related illnesses like hypothermia and frostbite.

Hypothermia happens when your body temperature gets lower than what is needed to be healthy and work properly. Hypothermia can cause shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, drowsiness, or slurred speech. In infants, hypothermia can cause bright red, cold skin and low energy.

Frostbite happens when your skin tissue is damaged from freezing temperatures. Frostbite usually happens on the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Symptoms of frostbite are loss of feeling and loss of color (white or grayish-yellow skin). Both hypothermia and frostbite require medical care. If you see signs of hypothermia or frostbite, get to a warm room and call for medical help.

Identify and prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is gas that you cannot see or smell. It comes from things that burn fuel like fireplaces, cars, wood stoves, kerosene space heaters, and gas ovens. Carbon monoxide can be a problem when cars are left running in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces (like a garage or when your car is backed up to a snow bank), kerosene space heaters or generators are used inside without proper ventilation (air flow), or chimneys and flues become damaged or blocked. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, vomiting, and shortness of breath.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, install carbon monoxide detectors in your home or business. Test your detectors regularly and replace dead batteries. Do not heat your home with gas-powered devices like a stove or oven. Make sure that snow and ice do not block exhaust vents and pipes on buildings and cars.

Don’t go outside if you don’t have to. Bring your pets inside during a winter storm or extreme cold. If you go outside during a winter storm, wear proper layers. Wear an inner layer that doesn’t absorb moisture, an insulation layer to retain heat, and an outer layer to protect you from wind, rain, and snow.

Avoid drinking alcohol during winter storms because alcohol can lower your body’s ability to keep warm.

After a Winter Storm

Check on older family, friends, and neighbors. Older adults are more at risk for negative health impacts from extreme temperatures.

Shovel safely. Do not overexert yourself while shoveling snow. If you have a history of heart trouble, talk to your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to shovel snow. Drink plenty of water, dress warmly, and warm up the muscles in your arms and legs before you start shoveling. Don’t pick up too much snow at once. Instead of throwing the snow, try to push it in the direction you want. This helps protect your back. Listen to your body—if you feel tired or feel tightness in your chest, stop shoveling.

Drive safely. Do not turn your car on if there is snow in the exhaust pipes or if your car is backed up against a snow bank. Remove snow from the exhaust pipes first. Make sure there is room around the exhaust pipe.

Prevent slips and falls. De-ice the sidewalk, driveway, and any well-traveled areas outside your home.

Play in the snow safely. Sledding is a great way to enjoy winter weather. But, every year, kids and teenagers have to go to the emergency department because of sledding accidents. When sledding, avoid hills with trees and rocks. Never sled towards a road. Sled with your feet first, not your head! Children should wear helmets when sledding. Dress warmly and wear layers.

Words to Know

Winter Storm Watch: Heavy snow, ice, or sleet are possible. You should be prepared. Watches are issued when the conditions exist for a storm, but it is not certain that there will be a storm. Another way to think of it is like having the ingredients for a cake, but not the actual cake.

Winter Storm Advisory: Wintry weather (like snow, ice, or sleet) is expected. You should be aware and be prepared. Be careful when driving and be prepared for some travel delays. Advisories are issued when certain weather conditions are expected but are not serious enough for a warning.

Winter Storm Warning: Heavy snow, ice, or sleet is expected or happening. You should take action. Warnings are issued when a serious weather event is expected or happening.

Wind Chill: Wind chill is a measure of how cold it feels due to the combination of cold temperatures and wind speeds. If the temperature is low and there are high wind speeds, it will feel colder on your skin if you are outside. The Wind Chill Index is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. 

Nor’easter: Nor’easters are storms that occur along the East Coast of the US because of winds that typically come from the northeast. These storms can happen at any time of the year, but they happen most often between September and April. Nor’easters often bring heavy rain or snow, strong winds, and sometimes coastal flooding. These storms can cause serious damage and significant interruptions to everyday life. If a Nor’easter is expected, it is a good idea to make an emergency plan, build an emergency kit for your home, and take steps to stay informed.

Flash Freeze: A flash freeze is when temperatures start above freezing (32°F) and quickly drop below freezing while it is snowing or raining.