This post was originally posted on Jan. 3, 2022 and updated on Dec. 20, 2022.
Winter storms bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice and high winds, but they also create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion. The effects of a winter storm can last for several days and cut off heat, power and communication services. Older adults, children and individuals with medical needs are especially susceptible to the dangers of winter weather. Understanding the risks, knowing the signs of trouble and being prepared can help you and your loved ones stay safe in a winter weather emergency.
Winter Weather Terms
Learn the meaning of the different types of winter weather warnings that might be issued in the Greater Kansas City area.
- Winter Storm Warning
Issued when hazardous winter weather in the form of heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet is imminent or occurring. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin.
- Winter Storm Watch
Alerts the public to the possibility of a blizzard, heavy snow, heavy freezing rain, or heavy sleet. Winter Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a Winter Storm.
- Winter Weather Advisory
Issued for accumulations of snow, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and sleet which will cause significant inconveniences and, if caution is not exercised, could lead to life-threatening situations.
Know Your Risk for Winter Storms
Pay attention to weather reports and warnings of freezing weather and winter storms. Listen for emergency information and alerts.
- Sign up for your community’s warning system.
- Follow the National Weather Service Forecast Office for Kansas City on social media for regional warnings and updates.
- The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
Preparing for Winter Weather
- Prepare your home to keep out the cold with insulation, caulking and weather stripping.
- Learn how to keep pipes from freezing.
- Install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups. Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power.
- Keep in mind the specific needs of each person in your household, including medication and functional access needs.
- If you are unable to afford your heating costs, weatherization or energy-related home repairs, contact the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for help.
In Case of Emergency
Be prepared for winter weather at home, at work and in your car. Create an emergency supply kit for your car. Include jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water and non-perishable snacks. Keep a full tank of gas. Visit our Winter Weather page for more tips on what to include in your emergency supply kit and what to do when a winter storm strikes.
Signs of Frostbite
Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers and toes.
- Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.
Signs of Hypothermia
Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.
- Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech or drowsiness.
- Actions: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.
Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by exposure to excess carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas. Exposure can be fatal.
- Signs: Dull headache, weakness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, loss of consciousness.
- Actions: Get to fresh air immediately. Seek medical help, or call your local fire department or poison hotline for more information.
Preventing carbon monoxide exposure by installing a battery-operated alarm and keeping generators and exhaust fumes away from your home is the easiest way to prevent CO poisoning. Visit our Carbon Monoxide page for prevention tips and more important information.