Winter Weather Awareness Week
Minnesota Winter Hazard Awareness Week
November 13-17, 2023
Are You Ready For Winter?
Winter in Minnesota can be described in many ways, but unpredictable isn’t one of them. At some point, it will snow and temperatures will drop below zero. There will be ice on the roads. High winds will raise the risk of being outdoors from hazardous to life-threatening.
The best way to avoid the hazards is to stay warm and cozy indoors, but it’s tough to stay cooped up for months — and even staying indoors for long periods carries risks. Problems can arise with indoor air, and fire risks increase dramatically in the winter.
As we get out the gloves and boots, it’s time to refresh our winter safety knowledge and skills, and prepare.
That’s why the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DPS-HSEM), in collaboration with the National Weather Service, sponsors the annual Winter Hazard Awareness Week, a yearly public information campaign.
This campaign aims to help Minnesotans minimize the risks and hazards of winter by educating, informing, reminding and reinforcing the behaviors and actions that lead to a warm, safe and enjoyable winter season.
Winter Hazard Awareness Week Topics
Each day of Winter Hazard Awareness Week focuses on a different weather hazard.
- Monday — Winter Storms
- Tuesday — Outdoor Winter Safety
- Wednesday — Winter Fire Safety
- Thursday — Indoor Winter
- Friday — Winter Driving
- Monday | Winter Storms
- Tuesday | Outdoor Winter Safety
- Wednesday | Winter Fire Safety
- Thursday | Indoor Safety
- Friday | Winter Driving
Winter is the signature season of Minnesota. It's normally a long season of cold temperatures and snow and ice lasting from November through April. Winter doesn’t slow Minnesotans down. We are just as mobile, social and active during the winter as we are during the summer months. But to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter, it is critical to be informed and aware of the potential risks and hazards associated with winter weather and how to avoid them.
Winter Storms: How Winter Storms Form
There are many ways for winter storms to form; however, all have three key components.
- COLD AIR: For snow and ice to form, the temperature must be below freezing in the clouds and near the ground.
- MOISTURE: Water evaporating from bodies of water, such as a large lake, is an excellent source of moisture.
- LIFT: Lift causes moisture to rise and form clouds and precipitation.
Warnings and Alerts: Keeping Ahead of the Storm
Minnesotans should listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, and television for the latest winter storm warnings, watches, and advisories. The National Weather Service issues outlooks, watches, warnings and advisories for all winter weather hazards. Here’s what they mean and what to do.
Heavy Snow and Ice
Heavy snow can immobilize a region, stranding commuters, closing airports, stopping the flow of supplies, and disrupting emergency and medical services. Accumulations of snow can cause roofs to collapse and knock down trees and power lines. The cost of snow removal, repairing damages, and the loss of business can have severe economic impacts on cities and towns.
At some point every winter, temperatures in Minnesota drop below zero. Adding even a tiny wind can drive the wind chill effect down to dangerous levels for anyone exposed to it for very long. The best way to avoid any danger is to stay indoors, but if you do feel the need to venture outdoors, make sure to take proper precautions and know how to spot the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
What is the Wind Chill Temperature?
It is the temperature it “feels like” outside and is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, the body is cooled at a faster rate, causing the skin temperature to drop. Wind Chill does not impact inanimate objects like car radiators and exposed water pipes because these objects cannot cool below the actual air temperature.
What does this mean to me?
The National Weather Service will inform you when Wind Chill conditions reach critical thresholds. A Wind Chill Warning is issued when wind chill temperatures are life-threatening. A Wind Chill Advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures are potentially hazardous.
What is Frostbite?
Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing body tissue. The most susceptible parts of the body are the extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose. Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the extremities and a white or pale appearance. Medical attention is needed immediately for frostbite. The area should be SLOWLY re-warmed.
What is Hypothermia?
Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature (below 95 degrees Fahrenheit). Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. Medical attention is needed immediately. If it is not available, begin warming the body SLOWLY.
Tips on how to dress during cold weather.
The sections below provide some basic information and fact sheets about the most common risks and hazards and how to prepare for or avoid them.
When is ice safe? There is no sure answer. You can only judge the strength of ice by its appearance, age, thickness, temperature, or whether or not the ice is covered with snow. Strength is based on all these factors. In addition, the depth of water under the ice, size of the water body, water chemistry and currents, distribution of load on the ice, and local climate conditions all play a factor.
Keeping Children Safe
While freezing winter temperatures keep many adults indoors, children may want to play outside all day. Each year, emergency rooms in the United States treat thousands of children for injuries related to sledding and ice skating. Frostbite is also a threat to children. For kids:
Frostbite and Hypothermia
Frostbite is the freezing of skin and extremities on the body. The nose, cheeks, ears, fingers, and toes (your extremities) are the most commonly affected. Everyone is susceptible, even people who have lived in cold climates most of their lives.
Signals of frostbite:
- In superficial frostbite, burning, numbness, tingling, itching, or cold sensations in the affected areas. The regions appear white and frozen, are cold to the touch, or are discolored (flushed, white or gray, yellow or blue).
- In deep frostbite, an initial decrease in sensation which is eventually wholly lost. Swelling and blood-filled blisters are noted over white or yellowish skin that looks waxy and turns a purplish blue as it rewarms. The area is hard, has no resistance when pressed on, and may appear blackened and dead.
In freezing weather, a person's body can lose heat faster than they can produce it. The result is hypothermia or abnormally low body temperature. It can make a person sleepy, confused, and clumsy. It may take time to recognize because it happens gradually and affects one's thinking.
Signals of hypothermia:
- Shivering, numbness, glassy stare; apathy, weakness, impaired judgment, incoherent speech; loss of consciousness.
Winter Sports and Activities
Minnesotans spend almost as much time outdoors in winter, having fun and recreation, as they do in summer. Adults and kids love snowmobiling, skiing, ice skating, sledding, and many other activities all season long. Those activities should be safe and fun with just a few precautions and smart behavior!
- Check the weather forecasts. Winter weather can change quickly, so be prepared for anything. Carry backup clothing and supplies.
- Use the proper equipment. Be sure everything is in proper working condition before leaving home.
- Wear the proper attire. Use clothing and gear designed for the activity. Don’t wear loose items that can be snagged or caught in equipment or machinery.
- Wear a helmet designed specifically for the activity.
- Stay focused; commit 100 percent of your attention to the activity and the terrain you are on. Rest when you are tired. Hydrate often.
- Avoid alcohol. Don’t drink before or during any outdoor activity. Alcohol cools the blood and decreases body temperature. In cold weather conditions, alcohol can speed the process of frostbite or hypothermia. It increases fatigue and causes impaired judgment.
While shoveling snow can be good exercise, it can also be deadly for optimistic shovelers who take on more than they can handle.
- While shoveling snow can be good exercise, it can also be deadly for optimistic shovelers who take on more than they can handle. The Minnesota Safety Council offers the following tips to help you get a handle on safe shoveling.
In the winter months, our heating, lighting, cooking, and holiday activities increase dramatically — with them, the risk of residential fires. The information below provides facts and tips about the threat of home fires and how to avoid them.
Winterize Your Home: complete these steps in the Autumn
- Have your heating system checked by a professional once a year to ensure a safe and efficient operation that saves you money.
- Make sure your home is adequately insulated. If necessary, add insulation to walls and attics.
- Caulk doors and windows to keep cold air out.
- Install double-pane or storm windows or cover windows with plastic sheeting.
- Drain and clean sprinkler systems and outside pipes and hoses. Shut off valves to outside lines.
- If pipes freeze, never try to thaw a pipe with an open flame or torch.
- Inspect your water heater and have it flushed if necessary.
- Clean rain gutters. Leaves and other debris will hamper drainage and cause ice dams to form.
- Replace batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
Families and guests tend to gather in the kitchen, but it can be the most hazardous room in the house if you don't practice safe cooking behavior. Careless use of cooking equipment, usually a range or stovetop, is the leading cause of home fires and injuries in the United States. ALWAYS have someone watching the stove!
Did You Know?
- Last year in Minnesota, cooking was the leading cause of structure fires.
- Cooking fires caused nearly $6 million in damage last year in Minnesota.
- The top two factors last year in cooking fires were unattended equipment and combustibles too close to a heat source.
Prevent Cooking Fires
The high cost of heating fuels and utilities has caused many Americans to search for alternative home heating methods. Wood-burning stoves are growing in popularity, and space heaters are selling rapidly. Fireplaces are burning wood and manufactured logs. All these heating methods may be acceptable, but without caution, they’re a major contributing factor in residential fires.
Portable and Space Heaters
- Place any portable heating device at least three feet away from anything combustible.
- Space heaters need constant watching and should always be turned off when you leave home.
- Drying mittens or other combustibles over a space or portable heater is a fire danger.
- Make sure all cords on electric heaters are in good shape and checked periodically.
- Check the cord and outlet occasionally for overheating; if it feels hot, turn it off.
Liquid-fueled and Gas-burning Heaters
- Any heating appliance with an open flame must be vented to the outside to eliminate the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Units must be cooled before refueling; this should occur outside the structure.
- Follow manufacturers' recommendations for proper installation, use, and maintenance.
- Make sure the stove is adequately ventilated.
- Maintain clearances around stoves and flue pipes according to manufacturers' recommendations.
- Check all connections at the beginning of the heating season.
Fireplaces and Wood Burning Stoves
- Chimneys need to be inspected by a professional sweep before the start of each heating season and periodically throughout the year
- Have chimneys cleaned if there is a buildup of creosote. Creosote is a chemical substance that forms when wood burns and builds up on the chimney wall. It is highly combustible.
- Fireplace screens should be firmly in place when you burn fires.
- Burn only clean, well-seasoned, dry firewood in the fireplace.
- Make sure home smoke detectors are installed and working.
Holiday Fire Safety
Holiday decorating goes a long way to help brighten up our wintery days and long nights. Unfortunately, decorations become a significant hazard if not used carefully. An estimated 250 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 170 involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year across the U.S. By following simple safety tips on electric lights, candles, and Christmas trees, you can avoid creating a tragedy. You can learn how to prevent a fire or what to do in case of a fire in your home.
Did You Know?
Christmas Tree Fires
- Never block an exit with a Christmas tree.
- Only use non-flammable decorations.
- Keep trees away from heat vents and other heat sources.
- Remove the tree from your home when the needles begin to fall off.
- The stand should hold enough water for two days.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) poisoning can happen at any time of the year. Still, the danger is greater during the winter when doors and windows stay closed and fireplaces, gas heaters, or other fuel-burning appliances are used. In addition, people can also be exposed to deadly CO levels when “warming up” their cars in garages or keeping them running when stuck in snow.
Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Did You Know?
- Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas.
- Signs of CO poisoning include headache, nausea, fatigue, vomiting and disorientation.
- Cooking and heating units that burn fuel and are not adequately ventilated or malfunction can be a source of CO in the home.
Chemical and Environmental Exposure
As the winter months arrive and people spend more time indoors, indoor air quality becomes a significant health concern, especially for children. Some of the more essential health hazards associated with indoor air quality are the potential for extended exposure to lead, asbestos or other environmental hazards in a home - especially during renovation and remodeling activities.
Preventing Lead Poisoning In the Home
- Common lead sources in homes or buildings built before 1978 include lead-contaminated dust and lead-based paint.
- Lead poisoning generally affects the central nervous system, leading to learning and behavioral disorders, and it can also damage the kidneys and reproductive organs.
- Lead paint was available to use in homes until 1978. "Lead-check" paint swabs can be purchased at local hardware and paint stores to test for lead paint.
- If you suspect your home may contain lead paint, keep your home as dust-free as possible.
- Do not use your household vacuum to clean up paint chips or leaded dust.
- Children are especially vulnerable to lead poisoning. Don't let your child eat or chew on anything you think may have paint on it. Look for teeth marks on the woodwork in your home.
- Wash your child's hands with soap and water before eating, naps and bedtime.
Protect Your Home from Radon
- Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the decay of uranium and radium in the soil. Radon has no color, taste or odor.
- Radon can enter your home from the surrounding soil and accumulate in living areas, especially during the winter, when homes are sealed and insulated against the cold.
- Radon typically accumulates in basements and other areas in direct contact with the soil.
- Exposure to radon over an extended period may increase your long-term risk of developing lung cancer. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer deaths nationwide.
- Radon levels are measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). If radon levels in your home exceed the EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/L, the Minnesota Department of Health recommends reducing your radon exposure.
- Testing done in Minnesota suggests that roughly one out of every three homes may exceed the EPA guideline for radon. MDH has officially recommended that all homes in the state be tested for radon.
- The first step in protecting yourself against radon is to have your home tested. There are inexpensive testing devices readily available from reputable radon laboratories. If the radon level in your home does exceed the EPA action level, the problem can be easily corrected. The best way to reduce radon in your home is by altering the pressure differences between your home and the soil. This is best accomplished by contacting a qualified radon contractor to install a radon mitigation system in your home.
Several factors lead to increased concerns about mold during the winter months. Moisture conditions indoors can lead to the growth of molds and mildew. While forced air heating systems make indoor air drier overall during the winter months, certain areas of the home may experience intensified humidity levels because of a lack of ventilation.
Preventing Mold in Your Home
- Molds are simple, microscopic fungi found everywhere in indoor and outdoor environments.
- To grow, mold needs a source of nutrition (such as dust, wood products, or paper), a place to grow, and a source of moisture.
- The most common symptoms of mold exposure include nasal and sinus congestion, eye and throat irritation, breathing difficulty, and other respiratory problems.
- Be prepared to recognize mold if it appears in your home. Look for discoloration (white, orange, green, brown, or black) on walls or other surfaces.
- Some individuals may become ill when exposed to mold. Whenever you find clean water damage in your home, dry it thoroughly within 48 hours to prevent mold growth.
- Mold removal can dramatically increase the number of mold spores in the air. Take steps to protect your health during cleanup.
- Begin your cleanup by identifying and eliminating all leaks or other sources of moisture that may be contributing to the mold problem. Some winter causes of moisture are humidifiers, cooking/dishwashing, bathing/showering, ice dams, plumbing or roof leaks, houseplants, firewood, unvented clothes driers, line-drying clothes inside, and improper venting on combustion appliances.
Everyone should be cautious about traveling in extreme winter weather. Cold, snow, and ice are demanding on cars, drivers, and passengers. Most importantly, severe winter weather can threaten your life.
Winter Survival In Your Car
Each year, hundreds of Minnesotans find themselves stranded on the roadside. Winter weather can kill in mere minutes if an unprepared person is exposed to the elements. You can follow these tips to stay safe as you drive in Minnesota.
- Plan Before You Travel - Simple planning can save you trouble and your life.
- Prepare Your Vehicle - Be sure your vehicle is in good winter driving condition.
- Be Aware of the Weather - Listen to forecasts, road reports and storm warnings.
- Make Yourself Easy to Find - Tell someone where you are going and your route.
- Stay in Your Vehicle - Walking in a storm can be very dangerous.
- Avoid Overexertion - Shoveling snow or repositioning your car by pushing takes a lot of effort in storm conditions.
- Keep Cool - Calm down and think.
- Keep Fresh Air in Your Vehicle - It’s much better to be cold and awake than comfortably warm and sleepy.
- Stay Warm Without Fuel - Keep your blood circulating freely by loosening tight clothing, changing positions frequently and moving your arms and legs.
- Don’t Expect to Be Comfortable - The challenge is survival until you’re found.
Winter Driving Tips
- Be Able to See and Be Seen - Clean frost and snow off all windows, mirrors and lights.
- Get a Feel for the Road - When you first start, accelerate carefully to test the wheel spin and brake gently to test skidding.
- Be Gentle - Use the accelerator and brakes slowly to maintain control of your vehicle.
- Increase Your Following Distance - Ice or snow can multiply your stopping distance up to ten times.
- Make Turns Slowly and Gradually - Heavily traveled intersections can become “polished” and slick.
- Turn in the Direction of the Skid - If the rear of your car begins to slide, turn into the direction of the skid.
- Scattered Slippery Spots - Icy spots on the road surface can cause loss of steering control.
- Avoiding a Collision - In an emergency, you can intentionally steer your car off the road and into a snow bank. You may get stuck, but you’ll avoid a crash.
Dialing 911 on a Cell Phone
A cell phone is a valuable tool for drivers who witness or are involved in emergencies. Cell phone users on the road must provide dispatchers with specific information about the emergency.
Cellular 911 calls are routed to public safety answering points operated by state or local agencies. Although newer cell phones now provide approximate locations or have GPS and callback numbers when 911 is dialed, an exact location may need to be provided by the caller.
511 Information System
The 511 Phone Information System provides road safety information 24 hours per day. Landline and cell phone users can call 511 for regional and statewide reports on traffic congestion, road and weather conditions, construction work and other obstacles.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation website features a dial-up/static site and a high-speed Internet/Google map site with real-time updates. You may also sign up for the Metro Twitter account, which will alert you to any incidents within the Metro area.
There is now also a smartphone site with the same information as the full-featured site.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s snowplow operators are trained, experienced and prepared to assist motorists through another winter season.
Last year in Minnesota, there were 72 crashes involving vehicles that hit snowplows. Inattentive drivers typically cause this, such as driving too close to the plow or too fast for conditions.
Operators have much to monitor and control, and their side mirrors limit their ability to see behind them. Their vision can also be hampered by the snow clouds they create while plowing.