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Winter Storm Safety

A blizzard can create the harshest winter weather conditions – heavy snowfall, extreme cold temperatures and dangerous wind gusts. Careful planning can help you be better prepared for a dangerous winter storm. Learn more about what to do.

Before a Winter Storm

Before the winter storm strikes, it’s important to know the weather terminology that may appear across the bottom of your television screen or on the local radio station.

  • Winter Storm Watch: Severe winter weather may affect the surrounding area within the next 36 to 48 hours.
  • Winter Storm Warning: Severe winter weather conditions are on the way or will begin within 24 hours. Take cover and be prepared.
  • Blizzard Warning: Blinding snow and dangerous wind chills are expected for several hours. Sustained winds of 35 mph are expected to sweep the area. A traveler’s advisory is issued if driving conditions are expected to be dangerous or slow moving.

Here are some other tips to help you prepare for winter storms:

  • Winterize your car long before the first snowfall hits. Winter weather is unpredictable and may surprise you early in the season. Prepare a disaster kit for your vehicle that includes:
    • Shovel
    • Sand
    • Tow chain
    • Jumper cables
    • Screwdrivers, pliers and a knife
    • Ice scraper and snow brush
    • Spare change
    • Blankets/sleeping bags
    • Small can and waterproof matches for melting snow
    • Windshield washer anti-freeze
    • High calorie, non-perishable food items
    • Warm clothes that can be layered
    • Compass and map
    • Cell phone and charger
  • Winterize your trees and bushes by trimming long branches. The ice and wet snow that accumulates on branches can cause damage to your home, car or neighbors.
  • Salt and shovel walkways often.
  • Drain your pipes if you go on vacation or experience a power outage to prevent your pipes from freezing and bursting.
  • Make certain that each family member haswarm winter gear, including a winter coat, gloves, hat or scarf and water-resistant boots.
  • Keep your gas tank full in the winter months to protect your fuel line from freezing.
  • Have yourcell phone charged.
  • Stock anample supply of logs that can be reached easily during a storm if you have a wood burning fireplace.

During a Winter Storm

If a winter storm hits your hometown, follow these safety tips:

  • Minimize travel. If you have to go out, cover your mouth with a scarf or ski mask to protect your lungs. Cover your head with a hat or scarf to prevent heat loss.
  • Minimize cold drafts and conserve energy in your house by stuffing cracks around doors and windows with rugs, newspapers or towels.
  • Stay inside and wear loose fitting, layered and lightweight clothing.
  • Take frequent breaks when you’re shoveling to help avoid overexertion. If possible, push the snow instead of lifting it.
  • Assist elderly neighbors and people with special needs. Offer to remove the snow from their driveway, fetch necessities or invite them into your home to wait out the storm.
  • Stay off the roads.

If you have to travel during a winter storm or severe weather, let a family member or friend know your destination, travel route and estimated time of arrival.

  • Gently lift your wipers off the windshield if they are frozen to clear snow instead of relying on the wiper motor. This practice will prevent your wipers from freezing to the glass and increase your wiper motor’s life span.
  • Use your headlights when your windshield wipers are running.
  • Apply firm consistent pressure to activate ABS brakes. Do not pump ABS brakes in icy weather. 

Driving Tips

If you’re stranded in your car during a winter storm, you should:

  • Stay in the car.
  • Tie a piece of bright colored clothing to the antenna.
  • Leave an interior light on when the engine is running so people can see you inside.
  • Move your limbs around to ensure proper blood circulation. This will also help you stay warm.
  • Run the car’s engine 10 minutes out of every hour.
  • Keep one window slightly ajar to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow to prevent carbon monoxide from entering your car.
  • Although you may think snow will help you survive, eating it will only make you colder. Instead, use a match or candle and melt it into a drinking container.

After a Winter Storm

Once the storm conditions subside, assess your home and property for ice and storm damage.

Other proactive steps to take:

  • Dry any wet building materials or contents promptly to avoid mold, mildew or further damage. These include materials and items such as carpeting, furniture, insulation and drywall.
  • Document your losses with photos or video. This will help speed up the claims process. Compile a list of damaged items.
  • Hold off on permanent repairs until your ERIE adjuster approves your reimbursement.
  • Keep all receipts related to repairs and temporary housing.
  • Carefully brush the heavy accumulation of snow off your roof.
  • Keep gutters clear, if possible, and shovel snow away from downspouts, basement window wells and stairwells.
  • Watch for ice dams on your roof. They can cause serious damage to your gutters and your home's interior if they aren't properly removed. Find out the tell-tale signs of ice dams and how you can get rid of them. 
  • Beware of high water runoff and possible sewer problems as the snow melts.
  • To prevent flooding, be sure your street storm sewer is clear of snow, ice and debris.
  • Check your sump pump periodically to ensure that it is handling the amount of water from thawing snow. Auxiliary pumps are available at home centers. Wet vacs, fans and humidifiers can also help to keep the area dry if a sump pump fails.

Refer to the home insurance claims process for more information. If you have property damage, contact your local ERIE agent or call Erie Insurance at (800) 367-3743 for assistance 24/7.