Winter Awareness Tips

You should always have a winter survival driving kit in your vehicle. When stranded in a winter storm, your best shelter is your automobile. The following is a checklist of emergency supplies that would help you if you get stranded in your vehicle:
  • Plastic jugs of water- Do not fill water to the top to allow for expansion in freezing temperatures.
  • Non-perishable high energy food- granola bars, canned nuts, and dried fruit.
  • Sleeping bags or blankets.
  • Matches, candles and a lighter.
  • First Aid Kit--Include any special medication that you or family members might need (i.e. insulin, heart pills, etc.)
  • Empty coffee cans with lids- a coffee can may be used for sanitary purposes and to hold lighted candles for warmth.
  • Roll of toilet tissue or a large box of facial tissue.
  • Transistor radio and working batteries to monitor weather conditions.
  • Cellular phone to contact authorities to inform them of your location. Anticipate possible delays in rescue, since many people may be stranded.
  • Car shovel and a small sack of sand or kitty litter--the sand or kitty litter help in providing extra traction if you are just on small icy spot.
  • Signal flares.
  • Antenna signal--orange or red fabric or plastic.
  • Flashlight with working batteries.
  • Gas line deicer.
Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. The results can range from isolation due to blocked roads and downed power lines, to cars and trucks sliding on icy roads. To help prepare and cope with winter storms we recommend the following:
  • Prepare a Home Emergency Supply Kit- Make sure you have a battery powered AM/FM radio and a battery powered NOAA weather radio. Stock the supply kit with non-perishable food that does not need to be cooked. Store extra water in plastic bottles. Have a working flashlight with extra batteries for use during power outages (avoid using candles to reduce possible fire danger).
  • Winterize your Home- Insulate doors and windows. Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic.
  • Conserve Heat- If you have no heat in your home, close off unneeded rooms and stuff towels or rags in cracks under the doors. Cover your windows at night. If necessary wrap newspapers around pipes to act as insulation.
  • Wear Layered Clothing- Dress in layers of loose-fitting, light weight, warm clothes. Remove layers to avoid overheating, perspiration, and subsequent chill.
  • Maintain Alternate Heating Supplies- If you have a fireplace, store a good supply of dry seasoned wood. Make sure the fireplace has been serviced. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand, and make sure your family knows how to use it.

For many of cold weather season is a time to get outdoors. But cold weather presents some serious risks.
Among them are: 

  • Frostbite: or freezing of body parts exposed to the cold. Frostbite can be mild or it can be severe, resulting in the destruction of body tissue. The parts of the body most likely to be frostbitten are your nose, cheeks, ears, toes and fingers.
  • Hypothermia: or the loss of body heat due to prolonged exposure to the cold. Hypothermia is a life-threatening condition. You are more likely to rapidly lose body heat when your clothes are wet. 
The following information as been taken from various sources including the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Canadian Safety Council, and the Princeton University Outdoor Council.

Frostbite: 
Frostbite is the freezing of the skin and or the bodily tissues under the skin.
  • What are the signs and symptoms of frostbite?
    Mild frostbite (frostnip) affects the outer skin layers and appears as a blanching or whitening of the skin. Usually, these symptoms disappear as warming occurs, but the skin may appear red for several hours after.In severe cases the frostbitten skin will appear waxy-looking with a white, grayish-yellow or grayish-blue color. The affected parts will have no feeling and blisters may be present. If the tissue feels frozen this indicates a very serious condition.
  • What does frostbite actually do to the tissues?
    The fluids in the body tissues and cellular spaces freeze and crystallize. This can cause damage to the blood vessels and result in blood clotting and lack of oxygen to the affected area.
  • Is frostbite a serious condition?
    Yes. Serious cases of frostbite have been known to kill and damage tissue to the extent that amputation has been required. The extent of frostbite is best evaluated by a qualified medical professional. 
  • What parts of the body are most commonly affected?
    Most often, the hands, feet, ears, nose and face suffer frostbite.
  • What causes frostbite to occur?
    Frostbite is caused by exposure of the body to cold.
  • Is it true that frostbite can occur in just a few minutes?
    Yes. If the conditions are cold with a high wind-chill factor or if the temperature is bitterly cold, the brief exposure of uncovered body parts (for example, the ears) may actually result in frostbite in just minutes.
  • Are there certain medical conditions that may put a person at greater risk for frostbite?
    Yes, the elderly and young are particularly susceptible. Also, persons with circulation problems; history of previous cold injuries; those who ingest particular drugs (such as alcohol, nicotine and beta-blockers); and those with recent injury or blood loss are at risk. Although not medically related, it seems that persons from southern or tropical climates may also be more at risk.
  • Can I prevent frostbite?
    You can try! It is certainly easier to prevent frostbite than treat it. 

Guide for treating Frostbite:

  • Proper clothing for winter weather insulates from the cold, lets perspiration evaporate and provides protection against wind, rain and snow. 
  • Wear several layers of light loose clothing that will trap the air yet provide adequate ventilation. 
  • Choice fabrics for the cold are wool, polyester substitutes and water-repellent materials (Not waterproof which will hold in perspiration and 
  • down coats and vests are warm, however if down gets wet it is not an effectively warm fabric.) 
  • Coverings for the head and neck are important. Hats, hoods, scarves, earmuffs and face masks all add up to good protection. 
  • Protect your feet and toes. Wear well-fitted boots that are high enough to cover the ankles. 
  • Hand coverings are vital. Mittens are warmer than gloves, but may limit what you can do with your fingers. Wear lightweight gloves under mittens so you'll still have protection if you need to take off your mittens to use your fingers. 
  • Be sure your clothing and boots are not tight. A decrease in blood flow makes it harder to keep the body parts warm and increases the risk of frostbite. 
  • When in frostbite causing conditions remember to dress appropriately and stay near adequate shelter. 
  • Other symptoms that indicate frostbite are swelling, itching, burning and deep pain as the area is warmed.

The following list will provide some guidelines to decrease the chance that you suffer further injury:
  • Have your injury rewarmed under medical supervision if at all possible.
  • Go to a warm place where you can stay warm after thawing.
  • Rest the injured areas (avoid walking on frostbitten feet, etc.).
  • Use water warm to the touch (100F. The water should not be hot).

Severe Winter Weather Advisories:

  • Ice Storms: Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down tree, electrical wires, telephone poles and lines, and communication towers. Communications and power can be disrupted for days while the utility company works to repair the extensive damage.
  • Snow Storms: Heavy snow can immobilize a region and paralyze a city, stranding commuters, stopping the flow of supplies, and disrupting emergency and medical services. Accumulations of snow can collapse buildings and knock down trees and power lines. In the mountains, heavy snow can lead to avalanches. The cost of snow removal, damage repair, and loss of business can have large economic impacts on cities and towns.
  • Extreme Cold: Extreme cold often accompanies winter storms or is left in its wake. Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia, and may become life threatening. Infants and elderly people are the most susceptible. Freezing temperatures can cause pipes to freeze and burst in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat. Rivers may freeze during an extended cold spell, creating ice jams that lead to flooding.
  • Strong Storm Winds-- sometimes winter storms are accompanied by strong winds creating blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow, severe drifting, and dangerous wind chill. Strong winds with these intense storms and cold fronts can knock down trees, utility poles, and power lines. In the mountains, winds can gust to 100 mph or more, damaging roofs and other structures.

When caught outside in a winter storm:
  • Find Shelter
  • Try to stay dry
  • Cover all exposed parts of the body
If there is no shelter available:
  • Prepare a lean-to, wind break, or snow cave for protection from the wind
  • Build a fire for heat and to attract attention
  • Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat
  • Avoid eating snow because it will lower your body temperature, instead melt it first
If you are in a veicle:
  • Stay in your car or truck. Disorientation occurs quickly in wind-driven snow and cold
  • Run the motor (ten minutes per hour for heat)
  • Open the window to let fresh air in and avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked
  • Make yourself visible to rescuers by turning on the dome light at night when running the engine, and tying a colored cloth (preferably red) to your antenna or hood
  • After the snow stops falling, raise the car hood to indicate trouble
At home or in a building:
  • Stay inside
  • When using alternative heat from a fireplace, wood stove, or space heater, use fire safeguards and proper ventilation.
If you have no heat:
  • Close off unneeded rooms.
  • Stuff towels or rags in cracks under doors.
  • Cover the windows at night.
  • Wear layers of loose fitting, light weight, warm clothes. 
  • Remove layers to avoid overheating, perspiration, and subsequent chill.

Before you start driving in your automobile, always remember to fasten your safety belts, and clean snow and ice off of your windshield, wiper blades, and exterior car lights. Winter driving is different from driving on dry pavement (for all types of vehicles including four-wheel drive vehicles, SUV's, and all-wheel drive vehicles. Roads become narrower due to snow pushed on the sides of the road, icy spots are 10 times more slippery than dry pavement, and visibility can be poor due to blowing snow. As a driver you must reduce your speed and increase the distance between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you to improve response time. 


Some additional recommendations include the following:

  • In blowing snow or fog, use your low beam headlights rather than high beams.
  • When slowing down, pump your car brakes in short repeated strokes--THIS DOES NOT APPLY TO AN ANTI-LOCKING (ABS) BRAKING SYSTEM.
  • On slippery hills, do not "gun" the motor. Negotiate hills slow and easy!
  • If you get stuck, clear a path with a shovel in front and in back of your vehicle, put sand or gravel on the cleared path, and slowly accelerate (with a standard transmission-rock try rocking back and forth to get free) without spinning the tires. 

Always remember to remain calm and to avoid over-exerting yourself.

Driving in winter storms:


The leading cause of death during winter storms is automobile or other transportation accidents. Preparing your vehicle for the winter season and knowing how to react if stranded or lost on the road, are keys to safe winter driving.

Winterize your car:
  • Check battery and ignition system
  • Check anti-freeze level and the thermostat
  • Check wipers and windshield washer fluid
  • Check heater and defroster
  • Check oil level and grade
  • Check exhaust system
  • Install good winter tires with adequate tread
  • Carry a windshield scraper and small broom for snow and ice removal
  • Maintain at least one half tank of gas in your vehicle
Plan long trips carefully:
  • Check road conditions before you travel
  • Let friends or relatives know your route (whenever possible)
  • Travel during daylight hours (whenever possible)
Carry a winter car care kit:
  • Several blankets or sleeping bags
  • Two empty coffee cans (one for sanitation, and the other to burn a candle)
  • Flashlights and extra batteries, matches, and candles
  • First-aid kit with pocket knife
  • A small sack of sand to generate traction
  • A small shovel and tire chains
  • Distress flares as well as a bright cloth to use as a flag


Winter tire & driving tips:
  • For the best traction in severe snow and icy conditions, use reinforced tire chains. 
  • Even if you drive with snow or all weather tires, keep a set of chains in your trunk. 
  • Keep the tire pressure at the recommended level. 
  • When you are stuck, some slight deflating may help your traction by placing more tread on the surface road, however this will increase tire wear. 
  • If you do slightly deflate tire pressure for traction, re-inflate the tires to the recommended pressure as soon as possible. You can add extra weight in the trunk of a rear-wheel drive vehicle to help traction. 
  • If you add weight for traction, make sure the weight is stationary, otherwise the vehicle may be more prone to spin outs. 
  • Place the weight as close as possible to the drive wheels. Weight in the trunk of a front-wheel drive car is not necessary! 
  • Do not spin your tires, because this causes friction that turns snow into ice, which will causes your automobile to get stuck even further.

Before you start out on any winter trip, it is always smart to check the travel conditions for the location you are traveling. If there are closed roads because of severe winter weather, obey the law and do not attempt to travel on closed highways. If you are stranded in a blizzard, stay in your vehicle. Disorientation and hypothermia occurs quickly in blowing and drifting snow. 

You are more likely to be found in your vehicle, and it will provide the best possible shelter. If you do get stranded, there are some common sense recommendations:

  • Do not panic.
  • Stay in your vehicle.
  • Use supplies conservatively from your vehicle supplies kit.
  • If you are stuck during the day place an orange or red flag on your antenna. At night leave your dome light on, only while the car is running.
  • Remember to occasionally check your tailpipe to make sure it is free of snow. Clean the pipe to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning when the engine is running.
  • If there is more than one person in the car, take turns sleeping. If you are alone in the car, do not sleep while the engine is running.
  • Do some minor exercising in the vehicle to keep up circulation.
  • If you have a cellular phone, call for assistance and provide authorities with your location. Do not run down the battery!
  • When the snow has stopped. Try stamping a big "HELP" signal in the snow beside your vehicle.

Contact Us

The Mayor's Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security

1437 Bannock Street, Room 3
Denver, CO 80202
Phone: 720-865-7600
Fax: 720-865-7691


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