Winter Storms/Extreme Cold – Vulnerability Assessment


While the danger from winter weather varies across the U.S., most people are likely to face some type of severe winter weather at some point in their lives. That could mean snow or subfreezing temperatures, as well as strong winds or even ice or heavy rain storms. Winter storms, which often affect northern states, result in extreme cold, downed power lines and blocked roads and highways.

Each year, many people die due to exposure to cold. Add to that number, vehicle accidents and fatalities, fires due to dangerous use of heaters and other winter weather fatalities and you have a significant threat.[1]

  • Threats, such as hypothermia and frostbite, can lead to loss of fingers and toes or cause permanent kidney, pancreas and liver injury and even death. You must prepare properly to avoid these extreme dangers. You also need to know what to do if you see symptoms of these threats.
  • A major winter storm can last for several days and be accompanied by high winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall and cold temperatures.
  • People can become trapped at home or in a car, without utilities or other assistance.
  • Attempting to walk for help in a winter storm can be a deadly decision.
  • The aftermath of a winter storm can have an impact on a community or region for days, weeks or even months.
  • Extremely cold temperatures, heavy snow and coastal flooding can cause hazardous conditions and hidden problems.

Winter Hazards Map

Below is a map identifying the Winter Hazards of the various areas of the U.S. and the Annual Mean Snowfall:

Winter Storm/Extreme Cold Vulnerability Assessment Questions

To assess your vulnerability to the threat of a Winter Storm or Extreme Cold event to your family and property, perform a risk assessment to determine if you have knowledge of, are prepared and/or have a plan by answering the following questions:

General All-Hazard Questions:

  • Have you determined the disaster risks in your locale and the hazards that accompany them?
  • Do you know the emergency warning signals and alert notifications used in your community?
  • Have you instructed family members how to shut off water, gas and electricity to your house?
  • Have you made the necessary property preparations to reduce the damage from the hazard?
  • Do you have a backup generator in case of a prolonged power failure?
  • Have you purchased insurance (property, health, life, and/or hazard type)?
  • Have you made the necessary financial arrangements in case of a sudden evacuation and power outage that shuts down local ATMs and banks?
  • have you organized important documents and records and stored them in a portable lock box or safe-deposit box?
  • Have you performed a home inventory video taping the contents stored them in a portable lock box or safe-deposit box?
  • Does your family have an established Emergency Communication Plan and evacuation plan in place and asked an out-of-state person to serve as the “family contact”?
  • Have you assembled a shelter-in-place Emergency Supplies Kit in case you have to shelter at home and you are without power?
  • Have you assembled a mobile Emergency Supplies Kit that can serve as a “grab and go” bag?
  • Are you or someone in your family trained in first aid and CPR?
  • Have you made they necessary preparations and arrangements for pets, seniors, and the disabled?
  • Have you familiarized yourself with the emergency plans of your family member’s employment building, school, day care center, or nursing home?

Hazard Specific Questions:

  • Do you know the difference between the various Extreme Cold and Winter Weather Alert Warnings?
  • Do you keep a Emergency Supplies Kit in your vehicle? Make sure to include sand or rock salt to make walkways and steps less slippery.
  • Do you keep at least a half tank of gas in your vehicle?
  • Have you completed your monthly vehicle maintenance checklist on all vehicles?
  • Do you have a snow blower?
  • Have tested all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
  • Do you know the signs of hypothermia? And, do you know how render first aid to a person suffering from hypothermia?
  • Have you winterized your home by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic?
  • Have you cleared rain gutters; repaired roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm?
  • Have you insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing?
  • Do you know how to keep you water faucets running, even at a trickle, to help prevent pipes from freezing?
  • Do you know how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts)?
  • Do you have fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them? Alternate heating sources pose a house fire risk.
  • Do you and your children know how to dress appropriately for the weather conditions? Remember C – O – L – D: Cover – Overexertion – Layers of clothing – Dry.