Winter Weather

Disasters and Emergencies

Winter Weather

Winter storms can bring heavy snow, ice, strong winds and freezing rain. A major winter storm can be lethal. Preparing for cold weather conditions and responding to them effectively can reduce the dangers caused by winter storms. Even when you are safe indoors, a winter storm can cause power outages, structural damage and loss of communication services. To keep yourself and your loved ones safe, always plan ahead. Be sure to create a communication and disaster plan for your family ahead of time.

Winter Driving

Snow, sleet, ice and temperatures below freezing all have a huge effect on driving conditions. During the winter season, safety depends on the driver’s performance in winter hazards, vehicle maintenance, and common sense. 

The leading cause of death during winter storms is transportation accidents. Preparing your vehicle for the winter season and knowing how to react if stranded or lost on the road are the keys to safe winter driving.

Tree down on power lines following ice storm

Know what to do before, during, and after winter weather.

Iowa disaster history

The April Blizzard of 1973

The April 8-10 blizzard of 1973 is possibly the worst April blizzard on record. Snowfall totals of 20.3 inches at Belle Plaine and 19.2 inches at Dubuque set all-time storm total records at those locations. Total amounts of 16.0 inches were reported at Lansing and New Hampton, while Cedar Rapids received 14.5 inches, Iowa City 14.3 inches, and Des Moines 14.0 inches. Winds gusting to 65 mph or higher resulted in near zero visibility and blew the snow into drifts as deep as 16 feet closing most roads in the state. Fourteen deaths were attributed to the storm, many of them people who had suffered heart attacks while shoveling snow. Two people died of exposure. One was killed in a seven-car accident west of Forest City. Desperate farmers called county road maintenance, trying to get roads cleared so they could feed their livestock. Farmers ended up losing 78,137 calves, 22,235 cows, 6,874 other cattle; 19,329 hogs, 5,467 sheep, 214,400 turkeys, 25,210 pigs and 150 chickens.

Video credit: FOX 28 News Cedar Rapids





READY IOWA has resources that you can share on social media to promote winter weather preparedness in your home and community. 

Snowy road with car flipped over on the side of the road

Ice & Snow, Take it Slow!



Winterize Your Home

  • Service snow removal equipment and have rock salt on hand to melt ice on walkways and kitty litter to generate temporary traction.
  • Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel; regular fuel sources may be cut off.
  • Insulate walls and attic.
  • Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
  • Prevent your pipes from freezing.
  • Wrap pipes in insulation or layers of old newspapers. Cover the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture.
  • Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
  • Know how to shut off water valves.

Have Emergency Supplies on Hand in Case the Power Goes Out

  • Flashlight and a portable radio, plus extra batteries for both
  • First aid kit
  • At least 3-5 days supply of food (include items that do not require refrigeration or cooking in case the power is off)
  • Non-electric can opener
  • At least a week’s supply of all essential medications
  • Extra blankets and sleeping bags
  • Fire extinguisher (A-B-C type)

Before You Drive

Have a mechanic check the following items on your car:

  • Battery
  • Antifreeze
  • Wipers/windshield washer fluid
  • Ignition system
  • Thermostat
  • Lights/flashing hazard lights
  • Exhaust System
  • Heater/Defroster
  • Brakes
  • Oil level (if necessary, replace existing oil with a winter grade oil or the SAE 10w/30 weight variety)

Take the proper precautions to outfit you and your car for winter driving:

  • Install good winter tires. Make sure they have adequate tread.
  • Maintain at least half a tank of gas at all times.
  • Wipers/windshield washer fluid
  • Check your exhaust pipe to make sure it is clear. A blocked pipe could cause a leakage of carbon monoxide gas into your car when the engine is running.
  • Plan long trips carefully. Listen to the radio or call 5-1-1 for the latest road conditions. Always travel during daylight and if possible, do not travel alone.
  • If you must go out during a winter storm, use public transportation.
  • Dress warmly. Wear loose-fitting, layered, lightweight clothing.



If you are indoors

  • Stay indoors and dress warmly.
  • Conserve heat. Lower the thermostat to 65°F during the day and 55°F at night. Close off unused rooms.
  • If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation and wrap them in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold or most likely to be penetrated by the cold.
  • Listen to the radio or TV for current information.

If you are outdoors

  • Dress warmly in loose-fitting, layered, light-weight clothing. Layers can be removed to prevent perspiration and chill. Outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellant. Mittens are warmer than gloves because fingers create warmth when touching.
  • If you shovel snow, stretch to help warm up your body. Also, take frequent breaks.
  • Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse.
  • Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value.


    • Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure that can be permanently damaging. Symptoms include: loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in fingers, toes, or nose and earlobes.
    • Hypothermia can be brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 90°F. Symptoms include uncontrollable shivering, slow speech, memory lapses, 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 or alcohol in it.Caffeine, a stimulant, can cause the heart to beat faster and alcohol, a depressant, can slow the heart. Both can hasten the ill effects of cold body temperatures.

    If you get trapped in your car

    • Stay in the car. Do not leave to search for assistance unless help is visible within 100 yards. You may become disoriented and lost in blowing and drifting snow.
    • Hang a brightly-colored cloth on the radio antenna and raise the hood to draw attention.
    • Do minor exercises to keep up circulation. Clap hands and move arms and legs. Try not to stay in one position for too long. If more than one person is in the car, take turns sleeping.
    • Avoid overexertion. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise like snow shoveling or pushing a car can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse.
    • Run the engine occasionally to keep warm. Turn the engine on for about 10 minutes each hour. Run the heater and turn on the dome light while the car is running. Beware of carbon monoxide poisoning. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow, and open a downwind window slightly for ventilation.
    • For warmth, huddle together.