Winter Storms/Extreme Cold – Aspects and Features


A winter storm can range from freezing rain and ice, to moderate snowfall over a few hours, to a blizzard that lasts for several days. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures.

Winter storms can cause power outages that last for days. They can make roads and walkways extremely dangerous or impassable and close or limit critical community services such as public transportation, child care, health programs and schools.

Injuries and deaths may occur from exposure, dangerous road conditions, and carbon monoxide poisoning and serious health problems which can result from prolonged exposure to the cold such as hypothermia and frostbite.[1]


Wind Chill is the perceived decrease in air temperature felt by the body on exposed skin due to the flow of air. Windchill Temperature is only defined for temperatures at or below 50 degrees F and wind speeds above 3 mph. Bright sunshine may increase the wind chill temperature by 10 to 18 degrees F.[2]

Windchill Index

The Wind Chill Index (WCI) can be defined as:
“the temperature your body feels when the air temperature is combined with the wind speed.”[3]

It is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the speed of the wind increases, it can carry heat away from your body much more quickly, causing skin temperature to drop. When there are high winds, serious weather-related health problems are more likely, even when temperatures are only cool.[4]

Wind Chill Index Chart

The Wind Chill Chart below shows the difference between actual air temperature and perceived temperature and the amount of time until frostbite occurs:[5]

NWS Wind Chill Chart[6]


Winter Weather Health Hazards

The most serious health problems that can result from prolonged durations cold can be the following:

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. 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.

Hypothermia is most likely at very cold temperatures, but it can occur even at cool temperatures (above 40°F) if a person becomes chilled from rain, sweat, or submersion in cold water. 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.; and
  • people who drink alcohol or use illicit drugs.[7]

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.[8]

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled. When power outages occur during natural disasters and other emergencies, the use of alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating or cooking can cause CO to build up in a home, garage, or camper and to poison the people and animals inside.

Exposure to CO can cause loss of consciousness and death. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.[9]

For more information, see CDC - Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Flyers and Other Educational Materials



  1. – Kids:
  2. NWS – National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office – Amarillo, TX – Wind Chill:
  3. NWS – National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office – Amarillo, TX – Wind Chill:
  4. NWS – National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office – Amarillo, TX – Wind Chill:
  5. NWS Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services – Windchill Chart:
  6. Image Source: [Accessed August 17, 2013]
  7. CDC – Emergency Preparedness and Response – Hypothermia:
  8. CDC – Emergency Preparedness and Response – Frostbite:
  9. CDC – Emergency Preparedness and Response – Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning After an Emergency:
  10. Image Source: [Accessed August 17, 2013]


  1. Icy roadways can cause serious accidents, and sometimes people die from being in really cold temperatures for too long. Tell a grown-up immediately if you can’t stop shivering, have trouble remembering things, feel tired or talk funny.