Winter cold safety

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Winter storms cause more damage and kill more people every year in Wisconsin than tornadoes, lightning, and floods. In 2018, 75 people died from cold exposure -- a 36-percent increase over the previous few winters -- according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

Winter weather has many dangers. Storms bring snow, ice, and freezing winds that can knock out power and shut down roads. Cold brings black ice and frostbite.

Prolonged exposure to extreme cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia (infants and the elderly are most susceptible). Below you’ll find tips for winter safety whether you’re indoors or outdoors, and how to recognize signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Watches and Warnings

Winter Storm Watch
Severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice are possible within the next day or two. Prepare now!

Winter Storm Warning
Severe winter conditions have begun or are about to begin in your area. Stay indoors!

Blizzard Warning
Snow and strong winds will combine to produce blinding snow (near zero visibility), deep drifts, and life-threatening wind chill. Seek refuge immediately.

Frost/Freeze Warning
Below freezing temperatures are expected and may cause significant damage to plants, crops, or fruit trees.

Effects of the Cold

Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure, and can cause permanently damage. Symptoms include a loss of feeling, and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, or nose and ear lobes.

Hypothermia is a condition that occurs when the body temperature drops below 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, frequent stumbling, drowsiness, and exhaustion.

If frostbite or hypothermia is suspected, begin warming the person slowly and seek immediate medical assistance.

Warm the person’s trunk first. Use your own body heat to help. Arms and legs should be warmed last because stimulation of the limbs can drive cold blood toward the heart and lead to heart failure.

Put the person in dry clothing and wrap their entire body in a blanket.

Never give a frostbite or hypothermia victim something with caffeine (like coffee or tea) or alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant and can make the heart beat faster, hastening the effects of the cold on the body. Alcohol is a depressant and can slow the heart, also hastening the ill effects of cold body temperatures.

Winter Safety Tips


  • As we get older, we're more sensitive to the cold

  • Find a buddy to check on you daily, in person or by telephone

  • Stay active. Sitting in one place can make you colder

  • Ask a friend or relative to de-ice or shovel your walkways and porches to avoid a fall


  • Use proper precautions when using alternate heating, such as a fireplace, wood stove, or electric heater, including proper ventilation and keeping flammables far away

  • Eat. This helps your body produce its own heat

  • Avoid alcohol, which can make your body lose heat

  • Close off unused rooms to conserve heat

  • Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing. Remove layers to avoid perspiring


  • Wear loose-fitting, light-weight, warm clothing in several layers

  • Wear a hat, particularly one that covers your ears

  • Wear mittens, these are better than gloves because they keep the fingers close together

  • Find shelter

  • Try to stay dry and cover all exposed parts of your body

  • Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold

  • Do not eat snow. It lowers your body temperature; let it melt first

Winter Storm Survival Kit

Fully check and winterize your vehicle before the winter season begins. Carry a Winter Storm Survival Kit, which should include:

  • 1 blanket or sleeping bag for each person

  • Flashlight with extra batteries

  • First Aid kit

  • Knife

  • High-calorie, non-perishable food

  • Small can and waterproof matches to melt snow for drinking

  • Bag of sand or cat litter

  • Shovel

  • Windshield scraper and brush

  • Booster cables