Winter Weather is Cool, With Some Hazards


Two people walk across the Humarock bridge as blizzard conditions begin to wind-down Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018, in Marshfield, Mass. The National Weather Service has issued a blizzard warning for Thursday that extends from eastern Long Island north to coastal New Hampshire and Maine. Most of the rest of southern New England is under a […]

WINTER is Cold!
…but it can be fun and safe if you take steps to educate and protect yourself. Did you know that winter storms are now classified in a storm scale called The Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS)

Myth vs. Fact
Myth: If it’s 33 degrees and the wind chill is in the 20s, water (or your car engine) will freeze.
Fact: wind chill applies to flesh of warm blooded creatures (without fur), specifically humans.

Myth: wind chill makes everyone cold.
Fact: wind chill only applies to exposed flesh so if you are bundled up in coat, gloves, hat, etc the wind chill is NOT an issue. The wind chill formula does not account for sunshine, nor the color of your clothes. If you are outside in a sheltered spot where the wind does not reach you, then there is no wind chill for you.

Myth: wind chill makes your house colder.
Fact: Wind will remove heat faster from your house, and cold air will blow into your house through cracks but the house can not be colder than the actual air temperature, based on the wind.

Myth: The wind chill does not change very much on a cold day.
Fact: The wind chill changes every time the wind changes so it’s typical for it to fluctuate 5 to 10 degrees, even within a minute, when the winds are gusty.

Myth: At 32 degrees pets should be brought inside.
Fact: There’s no difference to a pet between 33 and 32 degrees. Pets should be inside when it is very cold or cold for a long time. There is no magic number as to when pets should be inside.

Myth: Frost is the same as freeze.
Fact: The temperature can be way below freezing without frost when the air is dry. Frost can form when the air is above freezing if cold air settles to the ground.

Myth: The polar vortex is a big storm.
Fact: The polar vortex is simply a ring of arctic air that encircles the North pole, far above the ground, and meanders around high latitudes, occasionally moving southward in winter creating very cold outbreaks.


Ice storm creates icicles on car mirror.

-Dress properly for the temperature and wind. Wear loose-fitting, light-weight clothing in layers. Layers help to trap air as an insulator and they can be removed to avoid perspiration and the chill that follows. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water repellent and hooded. Always wear a hat. Half of your body’s heat loss can occur through your head. Mittens are better than gloves because they allow your fingers to share heat. Avoid having skin exposed to the wind. Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold. Stay dry. Check out this Wind Chill chartfrom NOAA.

-Check often on elderly and infants for safety and comfort and don’t overexpose pets to very cold, dry air.


Keep an emergency kit in your car. Include blankets or sleeping bags, a flashlight, a weather radio and a portable radio, extra batteries, matches, flares, a cell phone, a first aid kit, important medicine, high calorie non-perishable food, extra clothing, hygiene products, a couple of empty clean cans, tissues or towels, a sack of sand, a shovel, a scraper and brush, a tool kit, a tow rope, booster cables, a spare gas can, a water container, road maps and a compass.

Don’t travel when hazardous conditions are imminent. If you must travel, do so in the daylight with another person. Always check on weather conditions on TV, radio or a NOAA Weather Radio and also check on road conditions. Many state departments of transportation, patrol offices or county sheriffs have a phone number or website for road reports.

Make sure your car has been prepared for winter with a complete check and necessary change of battery, wiper blades, tires, air filter, oil, antifreeze and other fluids, lights, belts and hoses, and exhaust system. Keep a full tank of gas and plenty of windshield cleaner fluid. If stranded in harsh conditions, stay in the car with a window cracked. Run the engine for a few minutes, every 10 minutes, tie a bright red cloth to your antenna and light a road flare. Use your hazard signals and call for help on a cell phone or CB radio. Stay warm by huddling together and exercising every few minutes. One person should be awake at all times. Turn on the dome light at night so you’ll be more easily spotted but be careful to not drain the battery.

ice layer on street

Freezing sleet and rain coats streets of Atmore


Don’t! Here are tips from the AAA on driving on snow and icy roads.

– Accelerate and decelerate slowly. Applying the gas slowly to accelerate is the best method for regaining traction and avoiding skids. Don’t try to get moving in a hurry. And take time to slow down for a stoplight. Remember: It takes longer to slow down on icy roads.

– Drive slowly. Everything takes longer on snow-covered roads. Accelerating, stopping, turning – nothing happens as quickly as on dry pavement. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.

– The normal dry pavement following distance of three to four seconds should be increased to eight to ten seconds. This increased margin of safety will provide the longer distance needed if you have to stop.

– Know your brakes. Whether you have anti lock brakes or not, the best way to stop is threshold breaking. Keep the heel of your foot on the floor and use the ball of your foot to apply firm, steady pressure on the brake pedal.

– Don’t stop if you can avoid it. There’s a big difference in the amount of inertia it takes to start moving from a full stop versus how much it takes to get moving while still rolling. If you can slow down early enough to keep rolling until a traffic light changes, do it.

– Don’t power up hills. Applying extra gas on snow-covered roads just starts your wheels spinning. Try to get a little inertia going before you reach the hill and let that inertia carry you to the top. As you reach the crest of the hill, reduce your speed and proceed down hill as slowly as possible.

– Don’t stop going up a hill. There’s nothing worse than trying to get moving up a hill on an icy road. Get some inertia going on a flat roadway before you take on the hill.

Stay home. If you really don’t have to go out, don’t. Even if you can drive well in the snow, not everyone else can. Don’t tempt fate: If you don’t have somewhere you absolutely have to be, stay indoors.


Why pipe freezing is a problem
Water has a unique property in that it expands as it freezes. This expansion puts tremendous pressure on whatever is containing it, including metal or plastic pipes. No matter the “strength” of a container, expanding water can cause pipes to break. Pipes that freeze most frequently are those that are exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines, and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets. Also, pipes that run against exterior walls that have little or no insulation are also subject to freezing.

Pipe freezing is a particular problem in the South where pipes often run through uninsulated or under-insulated attics or crawl spaces.

The Red Cross offers the following tips:

Keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines in the garage.
Open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
Be sure to move any harmful cleaners and household chemicals up out of the reach of children.
When the weather is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes.
Running water through the pipe – even at a trickle – helps prevent pipes from freezing because the temperature of the water running through it is above freezing.
Consider installing specific products made to insulate water pipes like a pipe sleeve or installing UL- listed heat tape, heat cable or similar materials on exposed water pipes. Many products are available at your local building supplies retailer. Pipes should be carefully wrapped, with ends butted tightly and joints wrapped with tape. Follow manufacturers recommendations for installing and using these products.
Newspaper can provide some degree of insulation and protection to exposed in areas that usually do not have frequent or prolonged temperatures below freezing.
Keep the thermostat set to the same temperature both during the day and at night. By temporarily suspending the use of lower nighttime temperatures, you may incur higher heating bills, but you can prevent a much more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst.
If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees.


Air bubbles trapped in closeup view of icicle.

In your home you should have bottled water, non-perishable food, prescription medicine, a weather radio and a portable radio, a cellular phone, flashlight, batteries, extra car keys, cash, personal hygiene products, important phone numbers, matches, fire extinguishers, an alternate heating fuel and the proper device to use it in.

Home preparation will minimize the hazards of winter to you.

-Insulate walls and attics
-Caulk and weather strip doors and windows
-Install storm windows
-Have chimney/fireplace checked and cleaned
-Have furnace and water heater checked and cleaned. Change furnace filters.
-Install smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
-Never use fuel-burning appliances without proper vents to the outside because deadly fumes are produced
-Only use your heater as recommended by the manufacturer. Most need frequent checks and cleaning.
-Only use the proper fuel in a heater.
-Avoid using kerosene heaters
-Don’t fill a heater while it is burning and don’t overfill oil units as the oil may cause burner flooding and flare up
-Only use space heaters that have an automatic shut off
-Maintain adequate space in all directions around space heaters and stoves. Three feet is the minimum.
-Use a screen around heaters that have open flames. Keep all combustibles and flammables safely away
-Keep children away from heaters
-Use only safety listed equipment. If you choose an oil or electric heater, look for the UL label. On gas appliances look for the UL or AGA label
-Turn off space heaters or turn them low before going to bed. When using a heater that burns fuel indoors, open a window to prevent suffocation as the heater consumes oxygen
-Never use a gas range stove to heat a kitchen because the unvented gas can produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide
-Don’t leave lit oven doors open because children can burn themselves on the heating elements

If you have a fireplace, aside from a regular inspection and cleaning…
-Keep a metal screen in front of it to keep embers inside
-Never use flammable liquids to start a fire
-Don’t use excessive paper in the fireplace. It may ignite soot in the chimney
-Never burn wood that has been painted, or treated with chemicals
-Never burn charcoal in the fireplace or indoors. Charcoal produces deadly carbon monoxide
-Be sure the area above and around the fireplace is free of loose, flammable items
-Don’t go to bed before the fire is out.
-Never close the damper with hot ashes burning because a heat buildup can flare up and ignite the room
-Follow directions on man-made logs
-Don’t store hot ashes in the home, take them outside

snow on road

Snow covers road in Evergreen, Alabama, after winter storm of sleet and snow.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is concerned about reducing the number of injuries that may occur from shoveling snow. APTA is a national professional organization representing more than 65,000 members.  Its goal is to foster advancements in physical therapy practice, research, and education
Snow shoveling is a repetitive activity that can cause muscle strain to the lower back and shoulders, especially if a person is out of condition and does not lift properly. In fact, back injuries due to snow shoveling can happen to anyone, not just older adults.  People between the ages of 20 and 50 are generally more likely than older individuals to injure their backs because they may not be aware that they are out of condition, Cibulka says.

Tips to Avoid Winter Back Injuries

If possible, wait until the afternoon to shovel.  Many disc injuries occur in the morning when there is increased fluid pressure in the disk. Lift smaller loads of snow, rather than heavy shovelfuls.  Take care to bend your knees and lift with your legs rather than your back.
Use a shovel with a shaft that lets you keep your back straight while lifting.  A short shaft will cause you to bend more to lift the load.  Using a shovel that’s too long makes the weight at the end heavier.
Because the spine cannot tolerate twisting as well as it can other movements, it is important to avoid excessive twisting and forward bending.  Instead, you should bend your knees and keep your back as straight as possible so you are lifting with your legs.  Step in the direction in which you are throwing the snow to prevent the lower back from twisting.  This will help prevent the “next-day back fatigue” experienced by many shovelers.
Take frequent breaks when shoveling.  Stand up straight and walk around periodically to extend the lower back.  Standing extension exercises will help reverse the excessive forward bending of shoveling: stand straight and tall, place your hands toward the back of your hips and bend backward slightly for several seconds.

Note that some of the advisory terms vary in different regions of the US.
Advisory: An advisory means the weather will cause an inconvenience. Advisories are issued for snow, frost or freeze, low wind chills, freezing rain, fog, wind, winter weather, or travel conditions.

Blizzard: Winds over 35mph, combined with falling snow, or snow lifted from the ground that lower visibility to less than 1/4 mile, for more than a few hours. The amount of snow falling or already on the ground, and the air temperature do not matter.

Flurries: Light snow falling for short periods. No accumulation other than a possible dusting.

Freeze: Anytime the temperature is 32 or below. A Freeze Warning means temperatures will go below freezing for at least an hour. Freeze Watches and Warnings are issued generally for the first events of the season or for ones that are extreme. After the first few freezes, they are not issued in most regions for later freezes.

Freezing Rain/Drizzle: Rain or drizzle that freezes only after contacting an object with a temperature below freezing such as power lines, pavement, and cars. It is also called an ice storm and it is one of the worst types of winter weather because you must wait for it to melt after many locations lose power and transportation is made hazardous. Here’s an interactive tool to show how temperature controls what type of precipitation hits the ground.

Frost: Ice crystals that form on grass, windows, cars and other surfaces, even when the air temperature is above freezing. The frost tells you the temperature where it forms is actually 32 degrees or colder.

Frostbite: Damage to flesh from the freezing of tissue. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ears, 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 also is suffering from hypothermia, then warm the body core before the extremities.

Hard Freeze: Temperatures below 20 degrees.

Hypothermia: A body temperature dangerously below normal. It may only take a few degrees below the average body temperature to cause hypothermia. Its signs are uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If a person has a body temperature below 95 degrees, get medical help immediately. If there is a delay in help, begin warming the person slowly, starting with the body core. You can use your own body heat to help. Get the person into dry clothing, and wrap them in a warm blanket covering their head and neck. Do not give them alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverage; Warm broth is better. Do not warm extremities first because this will drive the cold blood toward the heart possibly leading to heart failure.

Ice Storm: see Freezing Rain.

Sleet: Rain that halfway freezes before reaching the ground. It may also be snow that halfway melts resulting in a slushy accumulation.

Snow Pellets: Just like it sounds. Snow pellets are little pellets, rather than flakes, of snow. They are also called snow grains, or graupel.

Snow Showers: Snow that falls at different intensities for short periods. Accumulations vary with the intensity and duration of the showers.

Warning: Warnings are typical for winter storms, hard freezes, or low wind chills. Expect weather that is hazardous and potentially deadly. Frost or Freeze Warnings simply mean that the temperature will go below freezing.

Watch: It tells you that extreme winter conditions are possible within the next day or sooner. A Watch is most common for winter storms. Plan accordingly.

Wind Chill: The apparent temperature that your body feels when wind and cold temperatures cause you to lose heat faster than otherwise. Wind chill only applies to the exposed flesh of warm-blooded creatures. It does not affect people who are indoors and it does not affect inanimate objects such as car engines, pipes, or water. Wind chill does not take into account whether you are in the shade or in the sun.

Winter Storm: A weather event that may bring any combination of cold temperatures, snow, sleet, rain, freezing rain, high winds, low wind chills and other conditions that cause hazards. Strong winter storms sometimes produce lightning and thunder. Winter storms are deceptive killers many people die in accidents on slippery roads; from heart attacks while shoveling snow; from hypothermia after prolonged exposure to cold; and in house fires from improperly heated houses.

winter snow

Sleet and snow on Timber Creek Golf Course, in winter.

More winter information is found at the Red Cross, National Weather Service, NOAA and FEMA.

On radar, snow is not always easy to figure out. The current radars used by the National Weather Service can determine the shape or type of precipitation but that is in the air, above the ground. What hits the ground depends upon the air temperature in the layers of air beneath the clouds. Radar displays online, on TV, and on smart phones most often use math algorithms to estimate an air temperature and then convert that to a color that would correspond to sleet or snow. The technology is far from perfect so current research uses weather reports from smart phones to verify what reaches the ground to improve weather forecasts and weather models. You can be a part of this by downloading a free weather app called mPING. You can also see reports from other users locally and around the country.

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