Winter Preparedness - During Winter Storm and Extreme Cold

When At Home

  • Stay indoors in a heated room as much as possible.
  • Hang blankets over windows at night, but let the sun shine in during the day. Cover cracks around doors with rugs, newspapers, towels, or other such material.
  • When using alternative heat from a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc., use safeguards and ensure proper ventilation to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet away from flammable objects.
  • If you have no heat, close off unneeded rooms and place towels or rags under the doors.
  • If your water pipes freeze:
    • Shut off water at the main source. This can minimize the damage to your home.
    • Call a plumber and contact your insurance agent.
    • Never try to thaw a frozen pipe with an open flame or torch.
    • Always be careful of the potential for electric shock in and around standing water.


  • Avoid overexertion, such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car, or walking in deep snow. The strain from the cold and the hard labor of snow shoveling could cause a heart attack at any age - a major cause of death in the winter. Don’t ignore chest pain or tightness in your chest.
  • If you become stranded outdoors:
    • Seek shelter to stay dry.
    • Cover all exposed parts of the body.
    • If no shelter is nearby, prepare a lean-to, windbreak or snow cave for protection from the wind. Build a fire for heat and to attract attention.
    • Do not eat snow as it will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.
    • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure of the skin that can permanently damage fingers, toes, the nose, and ear lobes. Symptoms are numbness and a white or pale appearance to the skin. When symptoms are apparent, seek medical help immediately. If medical help is not immediately available, slowly warm the affected areas.

Hypothermia, or low body temperature, is a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees F. It can be life-threatening!

Symptoms include:

  • Slow or slurred speech
  • Incoherence
  • Memory loss
  • Disorientation
  • Uncontrollable shivering
  • Drowsiness
  • Repeated stumbling
  • Apparent exhaustion

If these symptoms are detected, take the person's temperature. If below 95 degrees F, immediately seek medical attention. If medical help is not available, begin warming the person slowly.

  • Always warm the body core first. Do NOT warm the arms and legs first – this can force the cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure.
  • Get the person into dry clothing, and wrap them in a warm blanket covering the head and neck.
  • Do not give the victim alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverage. Warm broth is better.

Recommended Winter Attire

  • Wear loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing in several layers (the trapped air between the layers insulates). Layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill.
  • Wear outer garments that are tightly woven, water repellent, and hooded.
  • Wear a hat (half of body heat is lost through the top of the head).
  • Wear mittens that are snug at the wrist. Mittens offer better protection. Gloves allow your fingers to cool much faster than mittens do.
  • Cover the mouth and nose with scarves to help protect lungs from cold air.
  • Attempt to keep your feet as dry as possible. Wear wool socks.

When Traveling

If you decide a trip cannot be delayed, consider using public transportation if it is available. If you decide to drive your vehicle:

 Before You Leave

  • Plan your travel and check the latest weather conditions along your travel route. Listen to weather forecasts on TV, local radio stations or NOAA Weather Radio. Call 1-800-452-IDOT or go to the IDOT website ( to get current road conditions for Chicago and all Illinois' interstate.
  • Check your wipers, tires, lights, and fluid level. Lubricate door and trunk locks with lock lubricant to prevent them from freezing. Start with a full tank of gas.
  • Travel during daylight hours on main roads and don't travel alone.
  • Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit in your vehicle (Go Bag).
  • Provide your itinerary to a friend, relative, or co-workers. Include information on where you are going, the routes you will travel, and when you expect to arrive. When you reach your destination, make a call to report that you have arrived.


On The Road

  • Buckle your seat belts!
  • Be prepared to turn back and seek shelter if conditions become threatening.
  • Keep your windows clear of snow and ice. Do not start driving until your windshield is defrosted.
  • Drive slower and increase your following distance. Your speed should be adjusted for the conditions and match the flow of traffic.
  • Roadway conditions may vary depending on the sun, shade, or roadway surface. Watch for slick spots especially under bridges, on overpasses, and in shaded spots.
  • If the pavement is snow or ice covered, start slowly and brake gently. Begin braking early when you come to an intersection. If you start to slide, ease off the gas pedal or brakes. Steer into the direction of the skid until you feel you have regained traction, then straighten your vehicle.
  • If your vehicle becomes stuck in the snow, contact a towing company – but be prepared to wait in the cold weather for up to several hours. If you can be safely pulled out by another vehicle, make sure you use
  • tow ropes with loops on the ends. Avoid chains or hooks if at all possible, since these can slip off and recoil very quickly – causing injury or death.
  • When a snowplow is coming toward you, allow plenty of room for the truck to pass. When the centerline is being cleared and salted, the plow tip may be on or over the line.
  • When you approach a snowplow from behind, pass with care and only when you can see the road ahead of the truck. You should not try to pass in blowing snow; there may be a vehicle in that cloud of snow. Allow more distance between you and the plow, which may be spreading salt.
  • While traveling, refuel often ---- keep your gas tank near full to prevent ice in the tank and fuel lines, which could leave you stranded. These frequent stops should also help relieve tense muscles.


If Stranded

  • Pull as far off the road as possible, set your hazard lights to "flashing," and hang or tie a colored cloth (preferably red) to your antenna, window, or door. After the snow stops falling, raise the hood to indicate trouble. If you have a cell phone, call for help.
  • Stay 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.
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow, and then run the engine and heater about 10 minutes each hour to keep warm. Turn on the dome light at night when running the engine. When the engine is running, open a window slightly for ventilation. Periodically clear away snow from the exhaust pipe.
  • Exercise to keep blood circulating and to maintain body heat by vigorously moving arms, legs, fingers, and toes. In extreme cold or if you don't have a Winter Storm Survival Kit, use road maps, seat covers, and floor mats for insulation.
  • Take turns sleeping. One person should be awake at all times to look out for rescue crews.
  • Be careful not to use up battery power. Balance electrical energy needs -- the use of lights, heat, and radio -- with supply.

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