Wisconsin Emergency Management

Surviving Winter

Be Prepared

Some of the dangers associated with winter storms include loss of heat, power and telephone service and a shortage of supplies. To help protect your family, now is the time to put together a disaster supply kit. Here are some items to include:

  • Flashlights and extra batteries
  • Battery-powered NOAA Weather Radio and a commercial radio
  • Bottled water and non-perishable food that requires no cooking
  • First-aid supplies
  • Fire extinguisher, smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector
  • If appropriate, extra medications and baby items
  • If you have an emergency heating source such as a fireplace or space heater, make sure you have proper ventilation
  • Make sure pets have shelter and plenty of food and water

Wisconsin Emergency Management's ReadyWisconsin program reminds residents to use caution when using alternative heating sources such as space heaters.

  • Keep anything flammable at least three feet away from heating equipment.
  • Make sure portable electric space heaters have an automatic shut-off.
  • Space heaters need constant watching. Never leave a space heater on when you leave a room or go to sleep. Never place a space heater close to any sleeping person.
  • Make sure all cords on electric heaters are plugged directly into wall outlet (don't use an extension cord) and check cord for any frays or breaks in the insulation surrounding the wires.
  • Check the cord and outlet occasionally for overheating; if it feels hot, discontinue use.
  • Place the heater on a level, hard and nonflammable surface, not on rugs or carpets or near bedding or drapes.
  • Use a heater that has been tested to the latest safety standards and certified by a nationally recognized testing laboratory. These heaters will have the most up to date safety features; older space heaters may not meet the newer safety standards.

Winter Driving in Wisconsin

Winter_Driving Winter storms are considered deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. For example, in the last five years Wisconsin has averaged 18,000 motor vehicle crashes during winter months. On average, 45 people are killed each year and more than 4,700 injured on icy or snow-covered roads. Check the latest weather reports to avoid driving in a winter storm. You can find out the latest road conditions by visiting the Wisconsin Department of Transportation travel information website at www.511wi.gov or by calling 511.

If you’re expecting adverse weather during your trip, tell someone at both ends of your journey where you are going and the route you intend to take. Report your safe arrival. Make certain that both parties have your cell phone number and license plate number before you start your trip. If conditions deteriorate you may want to reschedule your trip.

It is also important to check and winterize your vehicles before the winter season begins. Make sure your car’s battery is in good shape – cold temperatures can reduce the effectiveness of a battery by 50 percent. Make sure your tires are suitable for winter driving conditions.

Carry a winter storm survival kit in the back seat of your vehicle (in case your trunk jams or is frozen shut) that includes:

  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • Extra hats, socks and mittens
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Shovel, booster cables and windshield scraper
  • Water and high-calorie non-perishable food (raisins, candy bars, energy/protein bars)
  • Sand or cat litter to use for traction
  • Cell phone adapter

Driving Tips from the Department of Transportation:

  1. Many crashes are caused by "driving too fast for current conditions." Also, when the first blast of winter arrives, motorists often need to "re-learn" how to drive in slippery conditions.
  2. Be gentle with both the accelerator and brake. Don’t use cruise control in wintery conditions. Don’t be overconfident in your four-wheel drive vehicle. You may get going quicker than others but you can’t stop faster. Four-wheel drive vehicles can lose traction as quickly as two wheel drive.
  3. Always wear your safety belt. You and your passengers absolutely need this protection even in low-speed “fender-bender” crashes that frequently occur on slick roads.
  4. Leave plenty of room for snowplows. By law, you must stay back at least 200 feet from the rear of a snowplow.
  5. Obey the “Move Over” Law, which requires drivers to shift lanes or slow down in order to provide a safety zone for a law enforcement vehicle, tow truck, ambulance, fire truck, highway maintenance vehicle, or utility vehicle that is stopped on the side of a road with its warning lights flashing.
  6. If your vehicle slides off the road, gets stuck, or becomes disabled, stay inside it if at all possible with your seat belt fastened until a tow truck or other help arrives. If you’re inside your vehicle and buckled up, you have protection against out-of-control vehicles. There’s no protection outside your vehicle.

Safety First - Stay Informed Safety First - Stay Informed

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues winter storm watches and warnings. Here’s what they mean and what you should do.

Winter Weather Advisory – There is a high confidence that a hazardous winter event will happen with 3 to 5 inches of snow over a 12 hour period, but the event likely will not meet warning criteria.

Winter Storm Watch – Winter storm conditions including freezing rain, sleet, and heavy snow are possible within the next 36-48 hours. Continue monitoring the weather forecast.

Winter Storm or Ice Storm Warning – A significant winter storm is occurring or will begin in the next 24 hours. Snowfall rates could be in the range of 6 inches in 12 hours or 8 inches in 24 hours. The combination of snow, sleet, freezing rain and moderate winds will impact travel and outdoor activities. An Ice Storm Warning is issued when mostly freezing rain is expected with ice accumulations of ¼ inch or more within a 12-hour period. Take necessary precautions – consider canceling travel plans.

Blizzard Warning - A dangerous storm with winds that are 35 mph or greater in combination with falling and/or blowing snow that reduces visibility to 1/4 mile or less for a duration of at least 3 hours. Canceling travel plans is advised.

Wind Chill Advisory - Issued for bitter cold wind chills of 20 to 34 below zero (25 to 34 below zero in the northwest portion of the state)

Wind Chill Warning - Issued with wind chills of 35F below zero (40F below zero for far NW portion of Wisconsin). Frostbite is possible when outside for 10 minutes or less.

Wind Chill Calculator - NWS Windchill Chart

Keep Warm and Safe

Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill around –20°F could cause frostbite in just 15 minutes or less. Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear tips or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, seek medical care immediately!

Hypothermia is a condition that develops when the body temperature drops below 95°F. It is very deadly. Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, slurred speech and drowsiness. Seek medical care immediately!

Overexertion is dangerous. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack or make an existing medical condition worse.

Pets also need extra care when the temperatures fall. They should be brought inside when the temperature reaches 30°F with wind chill. Dogs and cats can get frost bitten ears, nose and feet if left outside during bitter cold weather. Chemicals used to melt snow and ice can also irritate pets' paws - be sure to keep anti-freeze, salt and other poisons away from pets.

For additional information, contact your county emergency management office, the National Weather Service or ReadyWisconsin. Tips on winter safety, developing your own personal preparedness plan and building an emergency kit can also be found at the following website: http://www.weather.gov

Listen to ReadyWisconsin Winter Awareness PSA for radio (mp3)

Prepare For Severe Winter Weather Now

ReadyWisconsin Public Service Message

FEMA Public Service Message

Wisconsin Winter Statistics
Click On Maps To Enlarge

Snowfall Totals

Winter Storm Averages
Per County

1982-83 through 2014-15

1982-83 through 2014-15

Ice Storms
1982-83 through 2014-15

Winter Storms
1982-83 through 2014-15

ReadyWisconsin is an initiative of Wisconsin Emergency Management designed to educate and empower Wisconsinites to prepare for
and respond to all kinds of emergencies including natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks.

Wisconsin Emergency Management
2400 Wright St.
Madison, WI 53704
Phone: 608.242.3232     Fax: 608.242.3247