Skip to main content

Winter storm emergency preparedness

Learn more about preparing for a winter storm.

Severe storms are a common hazard in western Washington, and King County is no stranger to the threats they pose. Winter storms can bring wind, snow, ice, hail, thunder, lightning, and even tornadoes to the Pacific Northwest. Power outages often accompany these weather events.

Snow storms or blizzards, which are snow storms accompanied by blowing wind or drifting snow, occur occasionally both in Washington State and King County. As exemplified in the Holiday Blast storm of 1996-1997, snow storms can also be associated with other natural hazards such as flooding and landslides, given the right conditions.

An ice storm can occur when rain falls out of the warm, moist upper layer of the atmosphere into a dry layer with freezing or sub-freezing air near the ground. Rain freezes on contact with the cold ground and accumulates on exposed surfaces.

Hail storms occur when freezing water in thunderstorm-type clouds accumulate in layers around an icy core. Wind added to hail can batter crops, structures, and transportation systems.

Prepare for winter storms

  • Store extra fuel and emergency supplies to survive several days without electricity, heat, and hot water. Consider purchasing a generator and strictly adhere to safety standards.
  • Know safe alternate travel routes to/from your home, work, and school in case roads are closed.
  • Learn the signs of hypothermia - a common problem during freezing temperatures - and how to treat it. Young children and older adults are especially vulnerable. To prevent hypothermia:
    • Wear warm, multi-layered clothing, hats, gloves, and footwear.
    • Change into dry clothes whenever clothing becomes wet.
    • Limit your exposure to freezing temperatures.
  • Protect your pets. If you cannot bring them indoors, provide warm and dry shelter with access to unfrozen water.
  • Winterize your home. Install storm windows. Insulate walls, attics, and pipes. Apply caulk and weather-stripping to doors and windows. Allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to keep pipes from freezing. Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
  • Winterize your vehicles. Keep them in good repair and fuel tanks at least half full. Have the battery, ignition system, radiator, lights, brakes, and tires checked. Fill reservoirs for antifreeze, oil, and window washer fluids. Keep winter weather emergency supplies in your trunk.

During a winter storm

  • Stay informed. Monitor local news and information on your TV, mobile device, or battery-operated radio. Follow emergency instructions.
  • Stay indoors, if possible. If you go outside, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing and avoid exertion. Cold weather puts added strain on the heart. Perform hard work, such as shoveling, slowly.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia and get medical help immediately. Symptoms include:
    • Uncontrolled shivering.
    • Slow or unclear speech.
    • Extreme fatigue.
    • Stumbling, confusion, semi-consciousness, or unconsciousness.
  • Stay away from storm-damaged areas, especially fallen power lines and flooded roadways. When outside, be aware of tree limbs or structures that may fall due to heavy snow or ice accumulation.
  • Prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal is burned. Hundreds of people die accidentally every year from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by appliances that malfunction or are used improperly.
  • Check on neighbors; especially anyone who might need extra help.
  • Avoid travel, if possible. If you must drive, fill your fuel tank beforehand, stay on main roads, and keep others informed of your schedule and route. Pay attention to any travel advisories and do not drive in low visibility conditions. Slow down to avoid traffic accidents.
  • If you become stranded, call for help, set your vehicle's hazard lights to flashing, and remain with your vehicle. Don't set out on foot unless you see a building close by where you know you can get help or take shelter.