Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region.  Even areas which normally experience mild winters can be hit with a major snow storm or extreme cold.  The results can range from isolation due to blocked roads and downed power lines to the havoc of icy roadways to the dangers of hypothermia and frostbite.

It is important to know the terms used to describe winter storm conditions.  They are:

Freezing rain – rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roadways.

Sleet – rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground.  Sleet also causes roads to freeze and become slippery.

Winter Weather Advisory – cold, ice, and snow are expected within the next few days.

Winter Storm Watch – severe winter weather such as heavy snow or ice is possible within the next day or two.

Winter Storm Warning – severe winter weather has begun or is about to begin.

Blizzard Warning – heavy snow and strong winds will produce a blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.

Frost/Freeze Warning – below freezing temperatures are expected.

Preparation for a winter storm is the best method for minimizing injury or damage during one.  There will be little time to move to protected areas once a winter storm is in the immediate vicinity.  Follow these important steps to prepare yourself and your family for the storm.

  • Purchase a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Weather Radio with a battery backup and tone-alert feature.  A NOAA (pronounced "Noah") radio will automatically alert you when a Winter Storm Watch or Warning has been issued.
  • Also purchase a battery-powered commercial radio and extra batteries as well.
  • When skies are threatening or a winter storm watch has been issued for the Florence area, listen to NOAA radio or local radio or television newscasts for the latest information and special instructions from local officials.
  • Learn community evacuation procedures and routes.  Determine where you would go and how you would get there if you needed to evacuate.  Keep you car fueled and in good condition in case evacuation is required.
  • Gather emergency supplies and have them on hand in case a winter storm approaches.  Keep a snow shovel, rock salt to melt ice, sand to improve traction, flashlights, fresh water, and non-perishable foods handy.
  • Prepare for possible isolation in your home.  Make sure you have emergency heating equipment and fuel so you can keep at least one room of your house warm enough to be livable in the event that regular fuel sources are cut off.  If you have a gas fireplace or heater, be sure that your fuel supply is abundant.  Kerosene Heaters are another option; however, check with your fire department to see whether they are legal in your community.  Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure your family knows how to use them.
  • Winterize your home to conserve your fuel supply and save money.  Insulate walls and attics.  Caulk and weatherstrip doors and windows.  Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic.
  • Winterize your family by having appropriate clothing for the weather.  Have several layers of loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing for each person.  Have a good supply of coats, hats, mittens, gloves, and scarves.

If a winter storm is threatening the Florence area, the most important thing to do is listen for weather reports and emergency information on radio or television newscasts or NOAA Radio.  These emergency broadcasts will tell you what you need to do to prepare for the upcoming weather.

When working outside or traveling, dress for the weather.  Wear several layers of loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing.  Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.  Remember that mittens are warmer than gloves.  Wear a hat – most body heat is lost through the top of the head.  Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs from the cold air.

Be careful when shoveling snow.  Overexertion can bring on a heart attack – a major cause of death in the winter.  If you must shovel snow, do some stretch exercises before going out and take frequent breaks.  Watch for signs of frostbite, typically a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose.  Also watch for signs of hypothermia, which is characterized by uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion.  If symptoms of either are detected, get medical help immediately.

When at home, conserve fuel by keeping your house cooler than normal.  Temporarily "close off" heat to some rooms.  In the event that regular fuel sources are cut off, keep at least one room of your house warm enough to be livable with a wood or gas fireplace or stove.  When using kerosene heaters, maintain ventilation to avoid build-up of toxic fumes.  Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

Stay tuned to the radio or television for information about the storm and what you should do.  For more information about winter storms and what to do when they occur, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department at 843-665-7255.

Winter Storm Driving Tips

Many people are forced to drive in far from perfect winter storm conditions.  If possible, take public transportation or stay out of dangerous weather altogether.  If you must travel by car, drive in the day with passengers and keep others informed of your schedule.  Stay on main roads and avoid back roads and shortcuts.  Keep your car "winterized" by checking antifreeze and other fluids regularly and using snow tires.  Carry a winter car kit in the trunk of your car that has a shovel, windshield scraper, battery-powered radio, flash-light, extra batteries, water, snack food, mittens, hat, blanket, tow chain or rope, tire chains, bag of road salt, sand, a fluorescent distress flag, booster cables, road maps, and emergency flares.

If a blizzard traps you in your car, pull off the highway.  Turn on your hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window.  Remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you.  Do not set out on foot unless you can see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.  Be careful when walking – distances are distorted by blowing snow.  A building may seem close but be too far to walk to in deep snow.

Run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm.  When the engine is running, open a window slightly for ventilation.  This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.  Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.  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 see you.

Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion.  In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation.  Huddle with passengers and use your coat for a blanket.  Take turns sleeping.  One person should be awake at all times to look out for rescue crews.  If stranded in a remote rural or wilderness area, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.  Once the blizzard passes, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot.

Stay tuned to the radio for information about the storm and what you should do.  For more information about driving in winter storms, please call the Florence County Emergency Preparedness Department at 843-665-7255.