WINTER WEATHER AWARENESS WEEK
The weather across our region has been incredibly wonderful this fall. With such a warm fall season, it seems odd to share information about winter weather. We did, however, receive the following information in advance of Winter Weather Awareness Week. Although it is not specific to the ROCORI Schools, I thought it was good information—and we were asked to share it!
The forecasts I have seen—through Thanksgiving—project warmer than average days and great conditions, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare for the winter that will inevitably arrive. The remainder of the article was put together by Stearns County.
Stearns County is no stranger to winter storms. Nearly every year residents face
- heavy snow events
- ice storms
- extreme low temperatures
- wind chill
Blizzards, the most violent of winter storms, are characterized by low temperatures and strong winds in excess of 35 miles per hour. Falling and blowing snow restricts visibility to one-quarter mile or less for an extended period of time.
While blizzards can occur in Stearns County from October through April, they most commonly occur from November through the end of March. Significant blizzards occurred in January 1873 (resulting in 70 deaths), Armistice Day 1940 (16 inches of snow in 60 hours), and 1965 (dropping a county-record 14.5 inches of snow in one day).
In Minnesota, a heavy snow event is defined as 6 or more inches of snow in a 12-hour period and/or 8 or more inches of snow in a 24-hour period. Even without blizzard-level winds, heavy snow reduces visibility to less than one-quarter mile. Stearns County's annual snowfall record was set in the winter of 1964-65 when numerous heavy snow events and blizzards resulted in 87.9 inches of fallen snow.
Ice storms may include freezing rain, drizzle and sleet. Freezing rain, probably the most serious of ice storms, results in a heavy layer of ice on exposed surfaces. Icy roads and sidewalks cause many accidents and injuries; downed utility lines and tree limbs can result in structural damage and local power outages.
Extreme cold is a serious threat in Minnesota. Infants, elderly people, and those without adequate shelter are highly susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite in those conditions. Cold temperatures can also cause pipes to freeze and burst, or onsite sewage treatment system fields to freeze.
Wind chill, the combined effect of cold temperatures and wind speed, accelerates body heat loss. The National Weather Service issues a Wind Chill Advisory for Minnesota when widespread wind chills of 40 degrees below zero or lower and winds of at least 10 mph are expected.
What to do before a winter storm
1. Know the terms used to forecast winter weather conditions:
- A travelers' advisory is issued when ice and snow are expected to hinder travel, but the anticipated conditions are not serious enough to require warnings.
- Freezing rain is predicted when rain is likely to freeze as soon as it strikes the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads and walkways.
- Sleet consists of small particles of ice mixed with rain. Sleet accumulation causes roads to freeze over or become slippery.
- A winter storm watch means that severe winter weather is possible.
- A winter storm warning means that heavy snow, sleet or freezing rain are expected.
- A blizzard warning means that heavy snow and winds of 35 miles per hour or more are expected.
- A severe blizzard warning means that very heavy snow is expected with winds over 45 miles per hour and temperatures below 10 degrees. Visibility can be reduced to a few feet.
2. Be prepared for the possibility of isolation in your home.
- Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel; regular supplies may be curtailed by storm conditions.
- Have available some kind of emergency heating equipment and fuel (a kerosene heater, a gas fireplace or a wood burning stove or fireplace) so you can keep at least one room of your house warm enough to be livable. If your furnace is controlled by a thermostat and your electricity is cut off by a storm, you will need emergency heat. If you have a fireplace, store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood. Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure your family knows how to use them and knows basic fire prevention rules.
- Keep your car "winterized" with antifreeze. Carry a winter car kit that includes a windshield scraper, flashlight, tow chain or rope, shovel, tire chains, a blanket, a bag of sand or salt, a fluorescent distress flag and an emergency flare. Keep extra mittens, hats and outerwear in the car.
What to do during a winter storm
- Listen to the radio or television for updates on the weather conditions. With early warning you may avoid being caught in a storm or be better prepared to cope with it.
- Dress for the season: Many layers of thin clothing are warmer than single layers of thick clothing. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Wear a hat; most body heat is lost through the top of the head. Cover your mouth with scarves to protect lungs from directly inhaling extremely cold air.
- If you are isolated at home: Use heating fuel sparingly. Conserve fuel by keeping your house cooler than usual or by temporarily "closing off" heat to some rooms. Whenever fuel heating devices are used (such as kerosene heaters), maintain adequate ventilation to avoid build-up of potentially toxic fumes. Be sure to use only the proper fuel recommended by the manufacturer, and follow operating instructions.
- If you must travel, take public transportation whenever possible. If you must use a car, take winter driving seriously. Travel by daylight, and keep others informed of your schedule. Drive with extreme caution; never try to save time by driving fast or using back-road shortcuts.
If a blizzard traps you in your car:
- Pull off the highway; stay calm and remain in your vehicle where rescuers are most likely to find you.
- Put on your hazard lights and hang a cloth or distress flag from the radio antenna or window.
- If you run the engine to keep warm, create ventilation by cracking open a window. This will protect passengers from possible carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.
- Exercise to maintain body heat, but avoid overexertion.
- Never let everyone in the car sleep at one time. One person should look out for rescue crews.
- Be careful not to use up battery power. Balance electrical energy needs - the use of lights, heat and the radio - with supply.
- At night, turn on the inside dome light, so work crews can spot you.
- If you are in a remote rural or wilderness area, spread a large cloth over the snow, to attract attention of rescue personnel who may be surveying the area by airplane. Once the winter storm passes, you may need to leave the car and proceed on foot.
What to do after a winter storm
- Avoid unnecessary trips until roads are clear.
- Check roofs for damage from heavy snow.
- When walking in and shoveling in deep snow, be careful of physical overexertion. Take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water. Use proper posture when shoveling to avoid back strain.