A winter storm in New England can range from a moderate snowfall over a few hours to a Nor'easter, bringing blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow that lasts several days. People can become stranded in their automobiles or trapped at home, without utilities or other services. The aftermath of a winter storm can have an impact on a community or the entire region for days, weeks or even months. Storm effects, in New England, include large snow accumulation, extremely cold temperatures, heavy, wet snow or icing on trees and powerlines, roof collapses, coastal flooding and beach erosion. Winter storms are also deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the actual storm. The major causes are automobile or other transportation accidents, exhaustion and heart attacks caused by overexertion, 'freezing to death' and asphyxiation from improper heating sources. House fires occur more frequently in the winter due to lack of proper safety precautions when using alternate heating sources, like unattended fires and space heaters. As with most potential disasters: preparedness, monitoring the Media and common sense can minimize the danger to you and your family.

Winter weather topics: Before a Winter Storm, During a Winter Storm, After a Winter Storm, Tips to Ensure Safe Winter Driving, Power Outages During Cold Weather, Winter Pet Safety Tips, Extreme Cold, Ice Safety, Roof Collapse & Storm Drain Safety Information

Before a Winter Storm

  • Know the winter terminology used by weather forecasters:
    • Winter Storm Watch - Be alert, a storm is likely.
    • Winter Storm Warning - Take action, the storm is in or entering the area.
    • Blizzard Warning - Snow and strong winds combined will produce blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill. Seek refuge immediately.
    • Winter Weather Advisory - Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, especially to motorists.
    • Frost/Freeze Warning - Below freezing temperatures are expected and may cause damage to plants, crops or fruit trees.
  • Ensure your Emergency Kit is stocked with supplies to enable you to survive on your own for at least three to five days.  There should be a first-aid kit, essential prescription medicines, non-perishable foods (those that require no refrigeration such as canned goods, dried fruits and nuts), a manual can opener, water (one gallon per person, per day), flashlights and extra batteries along with a portable radio or NOAA Weather Radio, baby-care or pet supplies items, extra blankets, sleeping bags and a fire extinguisher.
  • Ensure that your Winter Emergency Car Kit is well stocked to keep you and your vehicle safe.
  • If a storm is coming that may bring power outages, fully charge your cell phone, laptop, and any other devices in advance of a power outage.
  • Keep extra batteries for your phone in a safe place or purchase a solar-powered or hand crank charger. These chargers are good emergency tools to keep your laptop and other small electronics working in the event of a power outage. If you own a car, purchase a car phone charger because you can charge your phone if you lose power at your home.
  • Take other preparations for Power Outages During Cold Weather.
  • Download the free Massachusetts Alerts app to your smartphone to receive important weather alerts and messages from MEMA.  Easy instructions are available at www.mass.gov/mema/mobileapp.
  • Trim dead tree branches and limbs close to your home.  Ice, snow and wind can combine to snap limbs that can take down power lines or damage your home.
  • Clean gutters.  Melting snow and ice can build up if gutters are clogged with debris.  When thawing begins, the water can back up under your roof and eaves causing damage to walls and ceilings.
  • Check your homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure adequate coverage.
  • Ensure that your Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors are working correctly and have fresh batteries.  Check your outside fuel exhaust vents, making sure that they are not obstructed by snow or ice. Never use cooking equipment intended for outside use indoors as a heat source or cooking device.
  • Have your chimney flue checked for any buildup of creosote and cleaned if necessary to lessen the risk of fire.
  • Have sufficient heating fuel, as regular sources may be cut off.  Have the option of emergency heating equipment and fuel (a gas fireplace, wood burning stove or fireplace) so you can safely keep at least one room livable.  Be sure the room is well ventilated.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated.  Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows to keep cold air out.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide insulation.
  • To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture. Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
  • Know how to safely shut off gas, electric power and water valves.
  • If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity, talk to your health care provider about how you can prepare for its use during a power outage. Ensure you have extra batteries for medical equipment and assistive devices.
  • If you have life-support devices that depend on electricity, contact your local electric company about your power needs for life-support devices (home dialysis, suction, breathing machines, etc.) in advance of an emergency. Some utility companies will put you on a "priority reconnection service" list. Talk to your equipment suppliers about your power options and also let the fire department know that you are dependent on life-support devices.
  • Ensure that your tires have adequate tread and keep your gas tank at least half-full and ensure that your car is ready for the storm. See our Tips to Ensure Safe Winter Driving for more information. Plan long trips carefully, listening to the latest weather reports and road conditions.
  • Find out about individual assistance that may be available in your community if you need it. Register in advance with the local emergency management agency, the local fire department, other government agencies or non-profit groups. Tell them of your individual needs or those of a family member and find out what assistance, help or services can be provided.
  • If you use in-home support services, Meals-on-Wheels, Life Alert or other support services, work with them to personalize emergency preparedness plans to meet your needs so you can keep in touch with them during and after an emergency. That contact may be your lifeline to other services in a disaster.
  • If you have or may have transportation needs, work with local transportation providers and/or disability services (e.g., Paratransit, Independent Living Centers) to plan ahead for accessible transportation.
  • Develop back-up plans for personal assistance services, hospice or other forms of in-home assistance.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check in on friends, family, and neighbors, particularly those most susceptible to extreme temperatures and power outages such as seniors and those with access and functional needs.

During a Winter Storm

  • Stay indoors during the storm if possible.
  • If you do go outside, protect yourself by dressing for the season, wearing several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, rather than one layer of heavy clothing.  The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Mittens are better than gloves. Wear a hat, as most body heat is lost through the top of the head. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
  • Be careful when shoveling snow. Over-exertion can bring on a heart attack - a major cause of death in the winter.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite: loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in the extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose.  If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.  If symptoms are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove any wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages, if the victim is conscious.  Get medical help, as soon as possible.
  • Drive only if it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive: travel in the day; don’t travel alone; keep others informed of your schedule; stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts.

After a Winter Storm

  • Do not become a ‘spectator’. Continue to stay off streets and roads to allow plowing and clean-up operations to proceed smoothly.
  • Be careful when shoveling snow.  Over-exertion can bring on a heart attack – a major cause of death in the winter.
  • Clear exhaust vents from Direct Vent Gas Furnace Systems to avoid Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning. Also, never run an automobile until the exhaust pipe has been cleared of snow.
  • Make sure emergency generators or secondary heating systems are well ventilated.
  • Help dig out fire hydrants and storm drains in your neighborhood.
  • Protect yourself by dressing for the season, wearing several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, rather than one layer of heavy clothing.  The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Mittens are better than gloves. Wear a hat, as most body heat is lost through the top of the head. Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Avoid parking too close to corners, allowing Public Safety vehicles and plows to maneuver safely.
  • Be aware of children playing in the streets, particularly climbing on or running out from behind large snowdrifts. Parents should remind their children to be aware of plowing operations and traffic.
  • Safely reduce the amount of snow on roofs.  The stress caused by heavy wet snow can challenge the integrity of the structure. For more, see Roof Collapse & Storm Drain Safety Information webpage.
  • In order to protect against possible voltage irregularities that can occur when power is restored, you should unplug all sensitive electronic equipment, including TVs, stereo, VCR, microwave oven, computer, cordless telephone, answering machine and garage door opener. Be sure to leave one light on, so you will know when power is restored.
  • If you lose your heat, seal off unused rooms by stuffing towels in the cracks under the doors. At night, cover windows with extra blankets or sheets. Food provides the body with energy for producing its own heat.
  • Be extra cautious if you go outside to inspect for damage after a storm.  Downed or hanging electrical wires can be hidden by snowdrifts, trees or debris, and could be live.  Never attempt to touch or move downed lines.  Keep children and pets away from them. 
  • Do not touch anything that power lines are touching, such as tree branches or fences.  Call your utility company to report any outage-related problem.
  • Call 2-1-1 for non-emergency storm-related questions.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check with elderly or relatives and neighbors who may need additional assistance to ensure their safety.