Known as “deceptive killers”, winter storms wreak havoc on areas across the country every year. Winter weather brings about freezing temperatures, high winds, heavy snow, and even flooding in certain cases. These hazardous conditions pose a serious threat to millions of Americans. Annually, dozens of Americans perish from cold exposure during winter months in addition to the countless injuries and fatalities resulting from traffic accidents, carbon monoxide poisonings, and fires. Winter storms also place a significant strain on utilities and vital community services. Altogether, the impacts of winter storms on communities are truly devastating.
With such a considerable impact on regions across the country, a significant amount of effort has been put forth by the National Weather Service to accurately predict these events and notify the public in advance. To help reduce damage incurred by winter storms, the National Weather Service issues winter weather watches, warnings, and advisories. These alerts are area specific and regional offices issue them based on local protocols. For example, the amount of snow that activates a winter snow warning on the Oregon Coast is far less than the amount of snow required to trigger a winter storm warning somewhere in the Cascade Mountain Range. The table below describes each of the winter storm alerts issued by the National Weather Service in more detail.
Winter Weather Advisory
Small quantities of wintry precipitation or blowing snow are expected and will cause adverse driving conditions that could affect travel if precautions are not taken.
Winter Storm Watch
Confidence is medium that winter storm conditions could produce heavy snow, sleet, or freezing rain and cause significant impacts.
Winter Storm Warning
A high likelihood exists that winter storm conditions will produce heavy snow, sleet, or freezing rain and cause significant impacts.
In addition to winter weather advisories, watches, and warnings, the National Weather Service issues alerts for a number of other hazardous winter conditions. For a complete list of winter weather alerts, visit the National Weather Service’s Winter Weather Safety webpage.
Before a Winter Storm
Before a winter storm strikes, it is essential that you are prepared for the worst. Doing this will help to keep you and your family safe when a winter storm strikes. Preparing for a winter storm is a three-step process that involves preparing yourself, your home, and your vehicle.
The first step in preparing for a winter storm is to prepare yourself. Preparing yourself involves taking a number of actions, most crucial of which is composing a family emergency communications plan and building a disaster supplies kit. Having a plan prior to a winter weather event will ensure that you and your family members understand what to do if you are separated when a storm occurs. In addition to an emergency communications plan, individuals living in regions susceptible to winter storms should include a few extra items in their disaster supplies kit to ensure that they are adequately prepared. These items include extra warm clothes, a battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA Weather Radio, an emergency heating device and extra fuel, and a fire extinguisher. Having a well-stocked disaster supplies kit will ensure that you and your family are able to survive even if a power outage occurs. Individuals living in colder climates can also consider purchasing a generator to be used in the event that a power failure occurs and power is not able to be restored to your residence for an extended period of time. After having prepared yourself and your family, you can then begin to prepare your home for extreme winter weather conditions.
Taking preventative measures prior to a winter storm can help to reduce damage and risk incurred by extreme temperatures and snowstorms. There are a number of actions you can take to prepare your home for a winter storm. One such action is to insulate water lines located in close proximity to exterior walls so that they are less likely to freeze. You can further weatherproof your home by installing weather stripping, insulation, or insulated doors. Installing these items in your home will help to conserve heat in the winter. If you are using a heating method that generates fumes, it is recommended that you install a carbon monoxide detector. Approximately 430 fatalities resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning occur annually with a significant portion of these deaths occurring in the winter months as a result of the improper use of heating devices. Once you have prepared your home, you can then begin to prepare your vehicle for winter driving.
In the fall, it is of the utmost importance that individuals living in areas subject to winter storms prepare their vehicles for hazardous winter conditions. One of the most crucial steps in preparing your vehicle for winter weather is winterizing your vehicle. Capable of being done at home or by a mechanic, winterizing your vehicle includes replacing windshield wiper fluid with a cold weather mixture, servicing and checking the antifreeze levels in your vehicle’s radiator, and replacing worn tires. Individuals planning on driving in winter conditions should also assemble an emergency supplies kit for their vehicle. This kit should include the following:
- Phone charger
- Blankets or a sleeping bag
- Flashlight with extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Extra warm clothing
- Cat litter for traction
- Snow shovel
- Tow rope
- Battery booster cables
- Snow chains
In addition to having a well-stocked emergency supplies kit in your vehicle, it is also important that you avoid traveling alone and never leave without a full tank of fuel. Visit Ready.gov for more information on how you can prepare for winter storms.
During a Winter Storm
Winter storms bring about a number of hazardous conditions that can pose a risk to the safety and well-being of you and your family. The best way to stay safe during a winter storm is to stay indoors. Staying indoors as much as possible will allow you and your family to weather the worst of winter storms. When you are inside, it is important to remember that, although your home is the safest place to be during a winter storm, you may still be at risk from some indoor hazards.
One major indoor hazard comes from heating your home. Improper use of your fireplace, space heater, or alternative heating device can pose a major risk to your safety. Not only are indoor heating devices a fire hazard, but they can also generate deadly carbon monoxide gas. If not properly ventilated, your home can fill with the toxic fumes generated by some heating devices and pose a serious health risk to whoever is in your household. Due to the safety concerns resulting from the improper use of some heaters, it is of the utmost importance that you use caution when using wood stoves, space heaters, and other heating devices. In addition to indoor heaters, generators can also pose a serious safety risk.
In the event that a power outage occurs during a winter storm, generators can prove to be invaluable resources in maintaining a number of home utilities. While extremely useful, generators can also be dangerous if used improperly. As a result, it is crucial that you take a few simple precautions when using a generator. Homeowners using generators should locate them no closer than 20 feet away from any home air intake. Placing a generator inside your home or near an air intake can result in carbon monoxide contaminating the air in your home. Furthermore, it is important to locate your generator in an area that is dry to avoid the risk of electrocution. In addition to mitigating common indoor hazards, homeowners can take a few preventative measures to reduce damage to their homes incurred by cold temperatures and extreme weather.
One measure you can take to reduce winter storm damage to your home is to leave water taps slightly on so that they continually drip. Leaving taps open will allow for the continual movement of water through your pipes and prevent them from freezing and possibly breaking in extremely cold temperatures. During a winter storm, it is also important to conserve as much heat as possible. You can do this by closing off rooms that are not being used and by refraining from unnecessarily opening windows and doors. You can also stuff towels or rags into the gap under doors to conserve heat. Taking these few preventative actions will help to ensure that your home is the safest place to be during a winter storm; however, sometimes it is necessary to venture outside during harsh winter weather.
When it is necessary to go outside, it is important that you follow a few safety precautions. One such precaution is to dress warmly, preferably in loose-fitting layers, and stay dry. Staying dry includes avoiding strenuous activity that induces sweating. Perspiration can dramatically increase heat loss and resultantly increase your risk of developing a cold-related illness. Cold weather also puts excess strain on the heart. As a result, individuals suffering from cardiovascular conditions should work slowly or avoid working outdoors altogether during extremely cold periods. In addition to dressing warmly and avoiding strenuous activity, individuals should also refrain from driving during extreme winter weather conditions unless it is absolutely necessary.
Driving during a winter storm typically involves icy roads, high winds, and poor visibility. According to the Federal Highway Administration, there are over half a million vehicle crashes directly resulting from these hazardous winter driving conditions every year. Since winter driving can be so dangerous, it is crucial that you use extreme caution when driving in unfavorable winter conditions and make trips as short as possible. Review the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Winter Driving Tips Factsheet for suggestions on how to drive safely in winter conditions. Additionally, you can visit The Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Winter Weather webpage for more information on what to do during a winter storm.
After a Winter Storm
Capable of causing widespread damage to both your home and community, winter storms can cause power outages, block roads, and strand citizens in a matter of hours. It is important to stay informed after a winter storm has occurred as another storm could be on its way. If you can safely do so, restock any items you used from your disaster supplies kit, replenish your supply of heating fuel, and repair any damages to your home that pose an immediate risk to you and your family.
Winter Storms in Klamath County
With a mean winter temperature of 29 degrees Fahrenheit and periods of subzero temperatures occurring on a nearly annual basis, Klamath County has a high chance of being negatively impacted by at least one winter storm annually. Winter storms in Klamath County can result in intense snowfall and high wind conditions. These events can leave residents isolated and without power for days. Additionally, damage from winter storms can have a considerable impact on the local government and economy.
Winter storms pose a major threat to both infrastructure and citizens across the county. Historically, a majority of damage caused by winter storms has resulted from downed trees and limbs. Falling trees can easily damage overhead power and utility lines and cause power outages. Downed trees can also block roads, limiting access to individuals in need of emergency services. In addition to downed trees, winter storms in the area are typically associated with unfavorable driving conditions. These hazardous conditions result in an increased number of traffic accidents in winter months.
With such a high probability of their occurrence, Klamath County has taken a number of mitigation actions to reduce damage caused by winter storms. One of the primary proactive measures taken by county officials has been to develop and implement programs aimed at preventing trees from threatening lives and property during severe weather events. Furthermore, county officials have begun education programs to inform property owners on how to properly manage and maintain trees. Local officials have also strongly encouraged upgrading electrical and utility infrastructure to minimize power failure and further increase Klamath County’s resiliency to this natural hazard.