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During a Winter Storm

Icon with a number two and home to show what to do during a winter weather event.

Take care of yourself and your dependents

Insofar as possible, stay put, safely indoors. Eat regular meals and drink ample fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol. Bring companion animals/pets inside. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.

Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping rooms cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat to spare rooms. 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.
  • Follow these power outage guides.

Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone knows how to use them.

Protect water pipes.

  • Insulate pipes (e.g., with foam or newspapers and plastic) and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing.
  • If pipes freeze, shut them off to reduce the risk of bursting.
  • To thaw frozen pipes, 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.

Monitor 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).

If you must go outside

Dress for the weather. Wear several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one heavy layer. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear gloves or mittens (which are warmer than gloves). Wear a hat, preferably one that covers your ears. Covering your mouth with a scarf or your hand can help protect your lungs. Try not to speak unless necessary. Waterproof, insulated boots will keep your feet warm and dry and help with footing in ice and snow. 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.

Avoid overexertion. For example, shoveling snow can bring on a heart attack, a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel, stretch before going outside. Watch for signs of frostbite. These signs include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately. Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected:

  • Get the victim to a warm location.
  • Remove wet clothing.
  • Put the person in dry clothing, and wrap their entire body in a blanket,
  • Warm the center of the body first.
  • If the victim is conscious, give warm, non-alcoholic or non-caffeinated beverages.
  • Get medical help as soon as possible.

If you must drive

Drive only as long as is absolutely necessary. Travel in the day, don’t travel alone, and keep others informed of your schedule. Stay on main roads; avoid back-road shortcuts. If a blizzard traps you in the car:

  • Pull off the highway. Turn on hazard lights and hang a distress flag from the radio antenna 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; 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 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. When the engine is running, open a downwind window slightly for ventilation and periodically clear snow from the exhaust pipe. This will protect you from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • 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 for rescue crews.
  • Drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
  • Be careful not to waste battery power. Balance electrical energy needs (lights, heat, and radio) with supply.
  • Turn on the inside light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.
  • If stranded in a remote area, stomp large block letters in an open area spelling out HELP or SOS and line with rocks or tree limbs to attract the attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane.
  • If necessary, only after the blizzard passes, leave the car and proceed on foot.

For more information on severe winter storms, see: