Winter storms in the form of heavy snow or blizzard, freezing rain, ice or sleet can be a serious hazard to people in New England. The first line of protection is to be aware of the weather forecasts and official warnings for your area. The second is to be prepared ahead of time.
Before severe weather arrives:
Keep cars and other vehicles fueled and in good repair, with a winter emergency kit in each.
Maintain an adequate supply of heating fuel.
Check all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to assure they are in good working condition.
Winterize your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment. Install storm shutters, doors and windows; clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks; and check the structural ability of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the accumulation of snow - or water if drains on flat roofs do not work.
If you think you might want to volunteer in case of a disaster, now is the time to let voluntary organizations or the emergency services office know - beforehand.
Know your warning terms:
A Winter Storm Watch means you should be alert because severe winter weather conditions may affect your area.
A Winter Storm Warning means you should take action because the storm is in or is entering the area.
A Blizzard Warning means that snow and strong winds of at least 35 MPH will produce blinding snow, near zero visibility, deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill. You should seek refuge immediately.
A Travelers Advisory suggests that driving is inadvisable in your area.
A Winter Weather Advisory lets you know that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous, especially to motorists.
A Frost/Freeze Warning tells you that below-freezing temperatures are expected and may cause damage to plants, crops, or fruit trees.
During a Winter Storm:
Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your house cooler than normal. Temporarily shut off heat to less-used rooms.
If using kerosene heaters, maintain ventilation to avoid buildup of toxic fumes. Keep heaters at least three feet from flammable objects. Refuel kerosene heaters outside.
Avoid travel if at all possible. If you must travel, do so during daylight. Don't travel alone. Stay on main roads, and keep others informed of your schedule.
If a Blizzard traps you in a car:
Pull off the road, set hazard lights to flashing, and hang a distress flag from the radio aerial or window. Remain in your vehicle; rescuers are most likely to find you there.
Conserve fuel, but run the engine and heater about ten minutes each hour to keep warm, cracking a downwind window slightly to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Exercise to maintain body heat but don't overexert. Huddle with other passengers and use your coat for a blanket.
In extreme cold, use road maps, seat covers, floor mats, newspapers, or extra clothing for covering - anything to provide additional insulation and warmth.
Turn on the inside dome light so rescue teams can see you at night, but be careful not to run the battery down. In remote areas, spread a large cloth over the snow to attract the attention of rescue planes.
Do not set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can take shelter.
Once the blizzard is over, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot. Follow the road if possible. If you need to walk across open country, use distant points as landmarks to help maintain your sense of direction.
After the storm:
Report downed power lines and broken gas lines immediately
After blizzards, heavy snows, or extreme cold, check to see that no physical damage has occurred and that water pipes are functioning. If there are no other problems, wait for streets and roads to be opened before you attempt to drive anywhere.
Check on neighbors, especially any who might need help.
Beware of overexertion and exhaustion. Shoveling snow in extreme cold causes many heart attacks. Set your priorities and pace yourself after any disaster that leaves you with a mess to clean up. The natural tendency is to do too much too soon.
Remember - Dress to fit the weather! Layers of loose clothing trap body heat, as will a snug-fitting hat. It's also important that you cover your mouth and face to protect from cold.