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Before a Winter Storm

Before a winter storm graphic with number 1

Winter storm terms

  • Winter Storm Advisory – In the next 2 to 5 days wintery weather is expected to cause significant inconveniences and may become hazardous.
  • Winter Storm Watch – A winter storm is possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. Review your response plans and monitor weather reports.
  • Winter Storm Warning – Severe, potentially life-threatening winter conditions are occurring or will begin within 24 hours. Take precautions immediately.
  • Blizzard Warning – Sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 miles per hour or higher with heavy falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.

Check your emergency supplies

For more detailed information on preparing an emergency kit, check out the Get a Kit guide.  At the very least, be sure your kit includes enough non-perishable food and water (enough for you and your dependents and pets for at least 2-3 days), a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries. In anticipation of the cold, consider adding:

  • Rock salt to melt ice on walkways.
  • Sand to improve traction.
  • Tools like a snow shovel and windshield scraper.
  • Extra clothing and blankets.

Review your emergency plans

For more information on developing an emergency plan, check out the Make a Plan guide.

  • If you and your roommates, workmates, or family may not be together when the storm strikes, check to be sure that you share plans, including a way to contact one another and to get back together.
  • Check on emergency plans at places where you or dependents spend time: work, daycare, and school. If no plan exists, consider volunteering to help create one.
  • Know ahead of time what you should do to help disabled or elderly friends, neighbors, or coworkers.

Monitor weather conditions

  • Refer to the Virginia Tech Status Page often for university operational updates.
  • Call the Virginia Tech inclement Weather Hotline 540-231-6668.
  • Check the National Weather Service for weather watches, warnings, and advisories for Virginia.
  • Check current local weather conditions and forecasts.
  • For the latest Virginia road conditions, call 5-1-1 from any telephone in Virginia (Virginia Department of Transportation).

When a winter storm WATCH is issued

  • Be alert to changing weather conditions.
  • Listen to broadcast forecasts.
  • Avoid unnecessary travel.

When a winter storm WARNING is issued

Stay indoors, but if you must go outside:

  • Wear several layers of lightweight clothing.They will keep you warmer than a single heavy coat. Gloves or mittens and a hat that covers your ears will also prevent loss of body heat. A scarf that covers your mouth can help protect your lungs.
  • Beware of slips and falls when walking on snowy, icy, walkways.

Avoid traveling by car, but if you must:

  • Keep the gas tank full for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Carry an Emergency Supply Kit in the car with you.
  • Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
  • Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your residence cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat in spare rooms.

Eat regular meals and drink ample fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Be careful with space heaters. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear. Maintain ventilation to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside, and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects. Familiarize yourself with what to do during a power outage.

Bring companion animals/pets inside. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with drinking water that will remain thawed.

Prepare your car

Check to be sure:

  • The gas tank is full (always over half) for emergency use and to keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • There is an emergency kit on board.
  • The antifreeze concentration is sufficient to avoid freezing.
  • Battery and ignition systems are in good condition, and battery terminals are clean.
  • Brake wear and fluid levels are OK.
  • Exhaust system is free of leaks and crimped pipes.
  • The heater, defroster, and cooling-system thermostat work properly.
  • Lights (including flashing hazard lights) work properly.
  • The level and weight of motor oil are correct. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
  • Tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually6 adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that vehicles on their roads be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
  • Windshield wipers and washer work OK.

Prepare your home

Make sure your home is adequately insulated and that weather stripping around doors and windowsills will keep the warm air inside. Protect water pipes by:

  • Insulate pipes (e.g., with foam or newspapers and plastic) and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing.
  • Learn how to thaw pipes. If they freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold or where the cold was most likely to penetrate.
  • Learn how to shut off water valves, in case a pipe bursts.

Be careful with space heaters. The risk of house fires and asphyxiation increase in winter storms, when people tend to improvise heat sources without the necessary safety precautions.

  • All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear. Maintain ventilation to avoid build-up of toxic fumes.
  • Refuel kerosene heaters outside.
  • Keep space heaters at least three feet from flammable objects.

Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone knows how to use them. Install carbon monoxide alarms in central locations on every level of your home and outside sleeping areas to provide early warning of accumulating carbon monoxide. Check the structural stability of the roof to sustain heavy weight from the accumulation of snow or water, if gutters or drains do not work.

For more information on severe winter storms, see: