Winter Weather Warning
December 5, 2023
Winter storms and cold temperatures can be dangerous. Stay safe by planning ahead. Prepare your home and vehicles. Prepare for power outages and outdoor activity. Check on older adults.
Although winter comes as no surprise, many of us may not be ready for its arrival. If you are prepared for the hazards of winter, you are more likely to stay safe and healthy when temperatures start to fall.
Prepare Your Home
Staying inside is no guarantee of safety. Take these steps to keep your home safe and warm during the winter months:
- Winterize your home.
- Install weather stripping, insulation, and storm windows.
- Insulate water lines that run along exterior walls.
- Clean out gutters and repair roof leaks.
- Check your heating systems.
- Have your heating system serviced professionally to make sure that it is clean, working properly, and ventilated to the outside.
- Inspect and clean fireplaces and chimneys.
- Have a safe alternate heating source and alternate fuels available.
- If you do not have working smoke detectors, install one inside each bedroom, outside each sleeping area, and on every level of the home, including the basement. Test batteries monthly and replace them twice a year.
- Prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning emergencies.
- Install a battery-operated or battery backup CO detector to alert you of the presence of the deadly, odorless, colorless gas. Check or change the battery when you change your clocks in the fall and spring.
- Learn the symptoms of CO poisoning: headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.
Prepare Your Vehicle
- Get your vehicle ready for cold weather use before winter arrives.
- Service the radiator and maintain antifreeze level.
- Check your tires’ tread or, if necessary, replace tires with all-weather or snow tires.
- Keep the gas tank full to avoid ice in the tank and fuel lines.
- Use a wintertime formula in your windshield washer.
- Prepare a winter emergency kit to keep in your car in case you become stranded. The kit should include:
- Cell phone, portable charger, and extra batteries.
- Items to stay warm, such as extra hats, coats, mittens, blankets, or sleeping bags.
- Food and water.
- Booster cables, flares, tire pump, and a bag of sand or cat litter (for traction).
- Compass and maps.
- Flashlight, battery-powered radio, and extra batteries.
- First-aid kit; and
- Plastic bags (for sanitation).
Prepare for Emergencies
Be prepared for weather-related emergencies, including power outages.
- Stock food that needs no cooking or refrigeration and water stored in clean containers.
- Ensure that your cell phone is fully charged.
- When planning travel, be aware of current and forecast weather conditions.
- Keep an up-to-date emergency kit, including:
- Battery-operated devices, such as a flashlight, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and lamps.
- Extra batteries.
- First-aid kit and extra medicine.
- Baby items; and
- Cat litter or sand for icy walkways.
- Protect your family from carbon monoxide (CO).
- Keep grills, camp stoves, and generators out of the house, basement, and garage.
- Locate generators at least 20 feet from the house.
- Leave your home immediately if the CO detector sounds and call 911.
Prevent Pipes from Freezing
- Prevent them from Freezing
There are several steps you can take when learning how to keep pipes from freezing in the first place.
- Insulate pipes located in the attic and crawl space using pipe insulation, even if the climate where you live does not often have hard freeze conditions. You can also wrap pipes in heat tape or heat cables with a thermostat control. The best pipe insulation for your situation will depend on your home. Always install according to the manufacturer’s directions.
- Seal or caulk any cracks that might let in cold air, especially places where pipes run from inside to outside the home, such as dryer vents or water pipes.
- Preventing frozen pipes should be done outdoors as well. As you winterize your home, disconnect your garden hoses.
- For any outdoor faucets with cut-off valves, be sure they are closed, and faucets are drained. You can also protect them by using faucet covers throughout the winter months.
- If cold weather settles in and you notice temperatures beginning to drop, start a small drip of both hot water and cold water in the kitchen, bath, laundry areas and any other faucets in the home. A small water drip is all that is needed to keep water moving through the system and prevent frozen pipes.
- Be sure to alert a trusted neighbor if you’ll be away more than a few days and ask them to check periodically to make sure that the measures you have taken in preventing frozen pipes worked and that nothing has ruptured.
- If you discover frozen pipes
- Turn on the faucet. If there is only a drip or trickle of water, you may have a frozen pipe.
- Check along the water supply lines, taking note of very cold spots. Inspect carefully to see if you notice any line breaks.
- If you find any broken pipes, turn off the main water supply to the house. Then, immediately call a professional plumber for assistance.
- Thaw frozen pipes
Thawing frozen pipes needs to be done quickly and safely. Here are a few ideas for thawing exposed and enclosed pipes.
- First, open up the faucet for the affected pipe. The flowing water will help the ice melt even faster.
For exposed pipes, especially, surrounding the pipe with a heat source will melt the ice inside. This can be done in several ways:
- Wrap the pipe in a heating pad and turn the temperature dial up to high.
- Aim a hair dryer on high at the pipe. Keep the air moving back and forth and around the pipe in 12 to 16-inch sections at a time.
- Encircle the pipe in heated, dampened towels. Change these wraps frequently as they lose heat to the pipe.
- Position a space heater to circulate warm air around a section of the pipe. Move the heat source to different sections as needed and continue until the pipes are thawed and the water pressure returns to normal.
For enclosed pipes, either in a wall or an area that is hard to reach, try these tips:
- Turn up the heat in your home. The higher temperatures could help thaw out any pipes located inside walls.
- If needed, cut out a section of the wall to access the pipe. Then use any of the above methods for exposed pipes.
Tip: Never use extreme heat or open flames, such as a heat gun or blow torch, to thaw a pipe. This presents a fire hazard and can also cause serious damage to the pipe.