Winter weather preparedness

Weather Blog

Peoria, Ill. – This week is Winter Weather Preparedness Week in Illinois. Peoria has already received 6 inches of snow, experienced temperatures in the single digits and yet, the coldest and snowiest times are still ahead of us (you can read my 2019-2020 winter outlook here). With winter weather taking a bit of a hiatus now is a good time to prepare for the months ahead.

The Silent Killer

It may come as a surprise but, according to the Illinois Department of Health, cold temperatures are the leading cause of weather-related fatalities in the state.

Between 2008-2018 nearly 800 Illinoisans have died as a result of exposure to the cold. That’s more than double the amount of people who have died from other weather-related hazards.

Cold Weather Safety Tips

As the stats above show, exposure to cold temperatures can prove to be deadly if you’re not prepared. Here are some ways you can prepare…

  • Where multiple layers of loose-fitting warm clothing including hat and gloves. With extreme cold additional layers and a face mask are advised.
  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling or walking in deep snow. The hard work could result in a heart attack and leave one stranded in the cold for several hours.
  • Keep your hands and feet dry to avoid the onset of hypothermia and frostbite.

Frostbite occurs when the skin is exposed to extremely cold temperatures. If you start to experience frostbite slowly warm the affected areas and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Hypothermia occurs when the body temperature drops below 95° and is a life-threatening condition. If you or someone is experiencing hypothermia get medical attention immediately. Get into dry clothing, warm the body’s core first and give the victim warm fluids (not hot beverages or alcohol).

What is the Wind Chill?

The wind chill is the temperature felt by our skin when air temperatures are cold and the wind is blowing. The wind chill temperature is not measured but calculated using the formula below.

{\displaystyle T_{\mathrm {wc} }=35.74+0.6215T_{\mathrm {a} }-35.75v^{+0.16}+0.4275T_{\mathrm {a} }v^{+0.16}\,\!}
Ta = Air Temperature(°F) V = Wind Speed (MPH)

When the wind is not blowing the warm air radiating from our body creates a layer of heat between our skin and the cold air surrounding our bodies. However, when the wind blows, this layer of warm air is broken up and heat the heat radiating from our bodies is carried away resulting in a loss of body heat.

You can see the wind chill chart from the National Weather Service and see how long it takes for frostbite to set in under certain conditions.

Preparing at Home

From wild blizzards to ice storms, Central Illinois is no stranger to winter storms. While most people may be prepared for your good snowstorm which may keep you from venturing outdoors for a day or two, they are likely not prepared for an ice storm which could leave an area without power for more than a week!

Here are things you can do at home to prepare for that severe winter storm…

  • Have an emergency kit
  • Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel to warm up at least one room in your house. Keep in mind that regular fuel sources may be cut off.
  • Never use a generator indoors.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand.
  • Winterize your home by insulating walls, attics, doors and windows.
  • Cover windows with plastic and be prepared to hang blankets over the windows during extreme cold.
  • Beware of carbon monoxide. Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.

Preparing for Travel

  • Make sure your car is in good operating condition before using it in extreme cold. Check the health of your car battery.
  • Monitor the weather forecast, not just for the places you are leaving or heading to, but everywhere in between.
  • Monitor road conditions along your route. In Illinois visit http://www.gettingaroundillinois.com/winterconditions/
  • Keep your gas tank full to prevent condensation from building in the tank.
  • Keep a storm kit in your car which includes a cell phone and charger; blankets; extra clothing; a flashlight and batteries; non-perishable food; water; matches or a lighter; and jumper cables.
  • Tell someone about your travel plans and let them know when you leave.
  • Never leave the car running in an enclosed space such as a garage.

Understanding Winter Weather Forecast

Forecasting winter storms is a complex thing as ice and snow amounts can vary over a small area. Forecasts often change or are adjusted frequently which means it’s important to stay updated on the forecast.

Know the difference between a Watch, Warning and Advisory

Watch – A winter storm watch is usually issued 24-48 hours before an event is expected to take place. A winter storm watch simply means that severe winter weather is possible, not necessarily likely.

Warning – A winter storm watches will usually be upgraded to warnings 12-24 hours before the storm develops. When a winter storm warning is issued it means that severe winter weather is occurring or will be occurring soon. Warnings will be issued for the following:

  • Winter Storm Warning: Heavy snow of 6″ in 12 hours, 8″ in 24 hours, or 0.50″ of sleet or more.
  • Ice Storm Warning: Ice accumulations of 0.25″ or more.
  • Blizzard Warning: Blizzard conditions (35 mph winds, visibility reduced to a quarter-mile or less, and blowing snow) for 3 hours or more.

Advisory – Winter weather advisories are issued for events that pose a lower risk to lives and property but could have significant impacts on travel.

  • Winter Weather Advisory will be issued for one or more of the following:
    • Snow accumulations of 2-5″ in 12 hours
    • Sleet accumulations less than 0.25″
    • Freezing rain with sleet or snow
    • Blowing snow
  • Freezing Rain Advisory:
    • Ice accumulation less than 0.25″

Get your information from a trusted source!

It’s not unusual for model snowfall projections to show up on social media several days before a storm is expected to impact the area. The snowfall “forecast” you often see is simply one output, of one model, from one model run. It’s no surprise that the models that often find their way to social media are often the ones that produce the most snow and grab the most attention. However, that one model solution is, more often than not, not supported by any other models. You can see an example below.

These maps are simply one puzzle piece of a 500 piece puzzle and don’t tell the whole story. If you happen to see a snowfall forecast for a storm that is still a week away, don’t believe it. Snowfall forecasts are unreliable outside of three days and are often adjusted significantly 36 hours out.

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