Winter Weather
Weather forecasts can provide you with several days’ notice of an approaching 
winter storm, but your best defense is to listen to weather forecasts and check your emergency supplies regularly and especially whenever a winter storm, or extreme cold snap is predicted.

Here's some guidance on the differences between these terms: 

  • Winter Weather Advisory: Be Aware. An advisory informs you that winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences that may be hazardous. If you exercise caution, advisory situations shouldn’t become life-threatening.

  • Winter Storm Watch: Be Prepared. A watch means that severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow or sleet or an ice storm, may affect your area, but where, when and how much is still uncertain. A watch is intended to provide enough lead time for you to prepare.

  • Winter Storm Warning: Take Action! NWS issues a warning when its scientists forecast 4 or more inches of snow or sleet in the next 12 hours, 6 or more inches in 24 hours, or 1/4 inch or more of ice accumulation. Travel will become difficult or impossible in some situations. Delay your travel plans until conditions improve.

  • Blizzard Warning lets you know that snow and strong winds will combine to produce a blinding snow (near zero visibility), deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill.

Preparing your home for winter weather:

If you plan to use a fireplace or wood stove for emergency heating, have your chimney or flue inspected annually.

If you’ll be using a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater, install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated. Test them monthly and replace batteries twice a year. All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside.

Your ability to feel a change in temperature decreases with age. Older people are more susceptible to health problems caused by cold. If you are over 65 years old, place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently. Check the temperature of your home often during the winter months.

Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls so your water supply will be less likely to freeze.

If you have pets, bring them indoors. If you cannot bring them inside, provide adequate shelter to keep them warm and make sure they have access to unfrozen water.

Traveling by car in winter/cold weather:

Car on snowy roadThe following precautions may help you avoid an unpleasant or dangerous situation while traveling. Being stuck or stranded in a South Dakota winter storm can become a question of survival. It’s serious business and you and your vehicle must be prepared. In addition to winterizing your vehicle, you should carry a winter storm kit.

The kit should contain: sleeping bags or blankets, matches and candles, winter clothing, food, first-aid kit, pocket knife, flashlight and radio with extra batteries for each, a bag of sand and shovel, tire chains and tools, windshield scraper, battery jumper cables, and two coffee cans. Small supplies can be kept in the coffee cans and when you are stranded, one can be used for personal sanitation needs and the other to burn the candles in for heat. When burning a candle, leave a down-wind window slightly open for air circulation and ventilation. Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen without the victim being aware of it until it’s too late.More on how to build your vehicle emergency kit. 

Tips to remember while driving.

  • Stretch your following distance. Ice or snow can increase your stopping distance from three to 10 times.
  • Avoid a collision by intentionally steering your vehicle off the road and into a snowbank in an emergency situation.
  • Be able to see and be seen. Clean snow off all windows, mirrors, lights and reflectors.

If winter weather traps you in your car

  • Stay in the vehicle. Do not attempt to walk in a blizzard. Disorientation comes quickly in blowing and drifting snow. Being lost in open country during a blizzard is extremely dangerous. You are more likely to be found in your vehicle and you will be sheltered there.
  • Avoid overexertion and exposure. Exertions from attempting to push your stuck vehicle, shoveling heavy drifts, and performing other difficult tasks during strong winds, blinding snow, and the bitter cold of a blizzard may cause a heart attack...even for persons in apparently good physical condition.
  • Be aware of carbon monoxide. Burn candles and run the engine and heater sparingly, and only with a down-wind window slightly open for ventilation. Freezing rain, wet snow, and wind-driven snow can completely seal the passenger compartment of your vehicle. Make sure that snow has not blocked the exhaust pipe.
  • Insulate. Blankets, extra clothing, floor mats, and even newspapers and road maps can be used for extra warmth.
  • Exercise by clapping your hands and moving your arms and legs from time to time, and do not stay in one position for long. Don’t overdo it. Exercise warms you but also increases body heat loss.
  • Take turns keeping watch. If more than one person is in the vehicle, don’t all sleep at the same time. If alone, stay awake as long as possible.
  • Turn on the interior light at night to make your vehicle more visible to rescue and work crews.

Dressing for cold weather:

  • Dress in layers. Avoid cotton clothing; instead, wear wool or other insulating fabrics that will keep you warmer and make sure your outer-most layers are waterproof.
  • Try to keep mittens and gloves dry. Carry spare pairs in case they get wet.
  • Wear a hat. About 40 percent of our body heat can escape through our heads.
  • Wear shoes or boots that fit appropriately. Use closures (laces, Velcro or buckles) to ensure a secure fit. Depth and sole pattern are important in snow, but the material of the outsole is most important. Rubber soles grip best in colder temperatures.
  • When needed, use aids such as canes, walking sticks or walkers
  • Frostnip is an early warning sign of frostbite. It leaves the skin white and numb. Frostbite occurs mostly on fingers, toes, ears, noses and cheeks. The affected area will become very cold and turn white or yellowish gray. If you notice frostbite, get medical care immediately.


Print the Winter Storms brochure or request copies via our contact form.

Winter Weather Brochure