Nearly all Americans, regardless of where they live, are likely to face some type of severe winter weather at some point in their lives. Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain.
The most damaging of the types of severe winter weather in Louisiana are ice storms. Severe winter weather in Louisiana consists of freezing temperatures and heavy precipitation, usually in the form of rain, freezing rain, or sleet, but sometimes in the form of snow and ice. While Louisiana is far less likely to have heavy snow and ice accumulation than most other states, this type of severe winter weather can be expected to occur at least once each winter.
The National Weather Service refers to winter storms as the “Deceptive Killers” because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Instead, people die in traffic accidents on icy roads and of hypothermia from prolonged exposure to cold. It is important to be prepared for winter weather before it strikes.
Here are some tips on preparing for a winter storm:
»Before winter approaches, add the following supplies to your
» Rock salt or more environmentally safe products to melt ice on walkways.
» Sand to improve traction.
» Snow shovels and other snow removal equipment.
» Sufficient heating fuel. You may become isolated in your home and regular fuel sources may be cut off. Store a good supply of dry, seasoned wood for your fireplace or wood-burning stove.
» Adequate clothing and blankets to keep you warm.
»Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep a disaster supplies kit in your vehicle.
»Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.
»Walk carefully on snowy, icy, walkways.
»Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline, propane, natural gas or charcoal¬ burning devices inside a home, garage, basement, crawlspace or any partially enclosed area. Locate unit away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to come indoors.
Winter Weather Terminology
Familiarize yourself with these terms to help identify a winter storm hazard:
- Freezing Rain - Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
- Sleet - Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
- Winter Weather Advisory - Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.
- Winter Storm Watch - A winter storm is possible in your area. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information.
- Winter Storm Warning - A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur in your area.
- Blizzard Warning - Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected to prevail for a period of three hours or longer.
Frost/Freeze Warning - Below freezing temperatures are expected.
When temperatures drop significantly below normal, staying warm and safe can be a challenge. Extreme cold is defined as a long period of temperatures significantly below seasonal averages. Extreme cold temperatures may also accompany high winds, which contribute to the wind chill factor and exacerbate cold conditions. Extreme cold can cause hardship to agricultural communities and widespread power outages. Additionally, icing of roads and other public infrastructure caused by extreme cold may pose secondary risks to the exposed population.
Cold temperatures can cause your body to lose heat faster than it can be produced, which can cause hypothermia. Prolonged exposure to cold will eventually use up your body’s stored energy. The result is hypothermia, or abnormally low body temperature. Body temperature that is too low affects the brain, making the victim unable to think clearly or move well. This makes hypothermia particularly dangerous because a person may not know it is happening and won’t be able to do anything about it.
Victims of hypothermia are often:
» Elderly people with inadequate food, clothing, or heating.
» Babies sleeping in cold bedrooms.
» People who remain outdoors for long periods—the homeless, hikers, hunters, etc.
» People who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.
Warnings signs of hypothermia
» Shivering, exhaustion
» Confusion, fumbling hands
» Memory loss, slurred speech
» Bright red, cold skin
» Very low energy
What to Do
If you notice any of these signs, take the person’s temperature. If it is below 95°, the situation is an emergency—get medical attention immediately.
If medical care is not available, begin warming the person, as follows:
» Get the victim into a warm room or shelter.
» If the victim has on any wet clothing, remove it.
» Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin—using an electric blanket, if available. Or use skin-to-skin contact under loose, dry layers of blankets, clothing, towels, or sheets.
» Warm beverages can help increase the body temperature, but do not give alcoholic beverages. Do not try to give beverages to an unconscious person.
» After body temperature has increased, keep the person dry and wrapped in a warm blanket, including the head and neck.
» Get medical attention as soon as possible.
A person with severe hypothermia may be unconscious and may not seem to have a pulse or to be breathing. In this case, handle the victim gently, and get emergency assistance immediately. Even if the victim appears dead, CPR should be provided. CPR should continue while the victim is being warmed, until the victim responds or medical aid becomes available. In some cases, hypothermia victims who appear to be dead can be successfully resuscitated.
Frostbite is an injury to the body that is caused by freezing. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and color in affected areas. It most often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes. Frostbite can permanently damage the body, and severe cases can lead to amputation. The risk of frostbite is increased in people with reduced blood circulation and among people who are not dressed properly for extremely cold temperatures.
At the first signs of redness or pain in any skin area, get out of the cold or protect any exposed skin — frostbite may be beginning. Any of the following signs may indicate frostbite:
» a white or grayish-yellow skin area
» skin that feels unusually firm or waxy
Extreme cold also significantly increases the risks of household fires due to the use of fireplaces and space heaters. Here are some tips to safely use space heaters:
» Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface (such as ceramic tile floor), not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes. Keep the heater at least three feet from bedding, drapes, furniture and other flammable materials. Keep children and pets away from space heaters.
» To prevent the risk of fire, NEVER leave a space heater on when you go to sleep or place a space heater close to any sleeping person. Turn the space heater off if you leave the area.