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All About Winter Storms: Safety and Preparedness

January 12, 2007

WeatherBug Meteorologists and NOAA Office of Meteorology

What is a Winter Storm?

Winter storms can come in many shapes and sizes. Depending on where you live, a winter storm can vary from a blizzard to a blast of arctic air and finger-numbing wind chills.

Some types of storms are:

  • Storms with Strong Winds: Sometimes winter storms are accompanied by strong winds creating blizzard conditions with blinding, wind-driven snow, severe drifting, and dangerous wind chills. Strong winds with these intense storms and cold fronts can knock down trees, utility poles, and power lines. Storms near the coast can cause coastal flooding and beach erosion as well as sink ships.

  • Extreme Cold: Extreme cold often accompanies a winter storm or is left in its wake. Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia and become life threatening. Infants and elderly people are most susceptible. What constitutes extreme cold and its effect varies across different areas of the United States. In areas unaccustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered "extreme cold." Freezing temperatures can cause severe damage to citrus fruit crops and other vegetation. Pipes may freeze and burst in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat. In the north, below zero temperatures may be considered as "extreme cold." Long cold spells can cause rivers to freeze, disrupting shipping.
  • Ice Storms: Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down trees, electrical wires, telephone poles and lines, and communication towers. Communications and power can be disrupted for days while utility companies work to repair the extensive damage. Even small accumulations of ice may cause extreme hazards to motorists and pedestrians.
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