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Domestic Preparedness
Winter Hazards


Winter Weather Warnings     Preparing for a Winter Storm    During a Winter Storm 
Safety Tips For Winter Travel   If You DO Get Into Trouble   Winter Emergency Storm Kit   
Winter Storm Frequently Asked Questions    Winter Storm Awareness Packet   
More Information

Click on blue underlined links for more information.

Winter Weather Warnings -  Know the difference.

Blizzard warning - The National Weather Service expects considerable snow and wind of 35 miles per hour or more. visibility can be so poor that you will not be able to see more than a few yards. A blizzard is most dangerous of all winter storms.

Travelers Advisory - Indicates falling, blowing or drifting snow, freezing rain or drizzle, sleet, or strong winds can make driving difficult but not serious enough to require a warning.

Winter Storm Warning - Means heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain is expected.

Winter Storm Watch - Means severe winter weather is possible.

Preparing for a Winter Storm

On average, a major winter storm hits some part of Michigan at least once per month between October and April. In 2007, the last year that statistics were available, 38 people died in Michigan as a direct result of severe winter weather according to the Michigan Department of Community Health. This is in addition to victims of traffic crashes due to slippery roads and those who suffered heart attacks while shoveling snow.

      At home:

  • Keep handy a battery-powered flashlight, NOAA weather radio and portable radio, extra food (canned or dried food is best), can opener, and bottled water (at least 3 gallons per person).

  • Make sure each member of household has a warm coat, gloves, hat and water-resistant boots.

  • Ensure that extra blankets and heavy clothes are available.

  • Keep on hand items for infant, elderly or disabled family members.

  • Keep on hand items for your pets. Animals feel the effects of wind chill.  Be sure to have suitable shelter with food and water.

  • Be aware of potential fire and carbon monoxide hazards if you plan to use an emergency heating source such as a fireplace, wood stove or space heater.

      In a vehicle:

  • Ensure the vehicle is winterized by late fall. This includes having the proper mix of antifreeze and water in the cooling system, topping off the windshield washing solution, and checking the tire treads. Have a mechanic check the belts, hoses, tires, battery, and coolant.

  • Keep the fuel tank near full, as low fuel levels can cause condensation to form, degrading fuel quality and possibly causing the fuel line to freeze. Additionally, gas stations may be closed during a severe winter storm, so it is wise to fill up if warnings of an impending storm are being broadcasted.

  • Your car should always be equipped with emergency supplies. Keep the following items stored in a portable container:

  1. A small battery powered radio (AM is sufficient) and extra batteries

  2. Flashlight with extra batteries

  3. Cellular phone

  4. Windshield scraper

  5. Jumper cables

  6. Fire extinguisher

  7. Maps

  8. Shovel

  9. Blanket and extra clothes

  10. Flares

  11. Bottled water and nonperishable, high energy foods (granola bars, canned nuts, raisins, hard candy, trail mix, peanut butter and crackers)

  12. First aid kit

  13. Tire repair kit and pump

  14. Tow chain or rope

  15. Phone book and phone list

  16. De-Icer and extra antifreeze

  17. Call Police” or other “Help” sign

  • If travel is necessary
    1. Use caution when driving in winter conditions.  The highest rate of traffic crashes due to winter weather is in the month of November when the snow first starts to fall over Michigan.
    2. Let someone know your destination and arrival time.
    3. Take along a cell-phone in case you must call for help.
  • If traveling and the power goes out:
    1. Use extreme caution when driving. If traffic signals are out, treat each signal as a stop sign  -  come to a complete stop at every intersection and look for oncoming traffic before preceding.
    2. Do not call 9-1-1 to ask about the power outage.  Listen to news radio stations for updates and contact your electrical company.


  • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snow. Sweating could lead to chill and hypothermia. Cold weather also puts extra strain on the heart, so the elderly and those with heart conditions should be especially cautious when out in the cold.

  • Walk carefully on snowy, icy sidewalks.

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight warm clothing in layers with a waterproof outer layer. Wear wool hat and mittens.

  • Keep your clothes dry. Change wet socks and clothing quickly to prevent loss of body heat.

  • Understand the hazards of wind chill. As wind speed increases, heat is carried away from a person’s body more rapidly.

During a Winter Storm

      At home:

  • To save heat, close off unneeded rooms, cover windows at night and stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.
  • Maintain adequate food and water intake. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat.

      If stranded in a vehicle:

  • Attach a bright cloth to your antenna to attract attention and then remain in the vehicle.

  • Run the motor about 10 minutes each hour for heat. However, open the window slightly for fresh air and make sure that the exhaust pipe isn't blocked.

  • Attract attention by turning on the dome light and emergency flashers when running the engine.

  • To keep blood circulating and to stay warm, exercise by moving arms, legs, fingers and toes.

      If stranded outside:

  • Try to stay dry and cover all exposed parts of the body.

  • Prepare a windbreak or snow cave for protection from the wind. Build a fire for heat and to attract attention.

  • Do not eat snow. It will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.


  • Listen to an All-Hazards NOAA Weather Radio or local radio, television and cable stations for the latest updates on hazardous winter weather.

  • To ensure uninterrupted weather information, make sure the NOAA Weather Radio or other radio has a battery-operated backup and fresh batteries. A battery-operated TV is also another option.

  • For All-Hazards NOAA Weather Radio information, including a station near you, visit the NOAA Weather Radio web site at or contact your National Weather Service office. 

7 Safety Tips For Winter Travel

  • Make sure your car is in good condition and properly serviced
  • Maintain a full tank of gas
  • Have an Emergency Winter Storm Kit in your car
  • Travel in pairs if possible. If alone make sure someone knows your route.
  • Drive with all possible caution
  • Travel by daylight and use major highways if you can. Keep car radio tuned in for weather information
  • Don't be daring and foolhardy. When storm conditions worsen rapidly, seek refuge immediately.

If You DO Get Into Trouble

  • Don't panic. Think the problem through, do what is best slowly and carefully.

  • If a storm traps you, pull off the road, remain in car, open a window, do not run car continuously, clear snow from exhaust pipe periodically, beware of carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Set your directional lights to flashing, raise the hood of your car, hang a cloth from your antenna.

  • Wait for help to arrive, DO NOT try to walk through a blizzard, getting lost can mean almost certain death.

Winter Emergency Storm Kit

  • Road Salt
  • Shovel
  • Windshield Scraper
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket
  • Booster Cables
  • Tow Chain or Rope
  • Battery Operated Radio & Extra Batteries
  • Flares
  • Maps
  • Tool Kit
  • Fire Extinguisher
  • Gloves
  • Extra Weather Gear
  • Boots

Winter Storm Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is wind chill?

Wind chill is the perceived temperature resulting from the effect of wind, in combination with cold air, which increases the rate of heat loss from the human body. More information including the wind chill chart can be found at:

2. What is frostbite and what can you do to treat it?

Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by that tissue being frozen. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose. Frostbite varies in severity from frostnip to deep frostbite, depending on the length of exposure, temperature to which the skin is exposed and wind speed. For frostnip, place firm, steady pressure from a warm hand against the area. Also, blow on the surface holding the frostnipped area against the body. Do not rub the area, apply snow or plunge it into very hot or cold water. Victims of severe frostbite must receive prompt medical attention.

3. What is hypothermia and what are the warning signs?

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops to 95 degrees F. or lower. It can develop whenever body heat loss exceeds heat gain. Hypothermia is not exclusive to winter. It can occur during the wind and rain of spring and summer. Hypothermia is often mistaken for fatigue, irritability, or dehydration and may include some of these signs: abnormal decision making; improper response to cold; apathy, lethargy; decreased cooperation; slurred speech; disorientation; shivering; stumbling; and stiffness progressing to inability to move.

4. How do you treat hypothermia?

Treating mild to moderate hypothermia (body temperature greater than 90 degrees F., conscious, shivering, able to walk):

  • Prevent further heat loss. Dry, remove from cold and insulate.

  • Rewarm by warming the body core first. Rehydrate with warm broth.

  • Seek medical attention.

Treating severe hypothermia (body temperature less than 90 degrees F., unconscious, not shivering):

  • Severe hypothermia (body temperature less than 90 degree F., unconscious, not shivering).

  • Prevent further heat loss.

  • Seek immediate medical attention.

5. What are the various winter weather warnings and advisories?

  • A winter storm watch indicates that severe winter weather conditions may affect your area in the next 12 to 48 hours.

  • A winter storm warning indicates that severe winter conditions are imminent. There are a variety of warnings including, ice storm warning, lake effect snow warning, and winter storm warning..

  • A winter storm warning for heavy snow generally indicates in the Lower Peninsula: snowfalls of at least 6" in 12 hours or 8" in a 24-hour period. In the Upper Peninsula; snowfalls of at least 8" in 12 hours and 10" in a 24-hour period.

  • Blizzard warnings are issued when sustained wind speeds or frequent gusts of at least 35 miles per hour are accompanied by considerable falling and/or blowing snow for at least 3 hours. Visibility is greatly reduced during a blizzard.

  • Winter weather advisories are issued when snowfalls are expected to be hazardous, but less than warning criteria.  This generally indicates in the Lower Peninsula:  4-5" are expected in a 12-hour period. In the Upper Peninsula, 4 to 7" of snow are anticipated in that same time period.

  • Sleet is rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.

Additional Information

2015-2016 Michigan Winter Hazards Awareness Packet


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