City of Devils Lake - Devils Lake North Dakota
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Winter Weather Safety

Winter Storms in the form of blizzards, heavy snows, ice, freezing rain or sleet can be a serious hazard to people in all areas of North Dakota. The first line of protection is to keep posted on weather conditions through television, radio, and newspapers. Also bear in mind that extreme cold temperatures pose a threat to everyone.

A few hours of advanced warning of a storm can be the key to avoid being caughDriving in Snowt in it, or at least to being better prepared to cope with it.

Winter Storm Watch - means that hazardous winter weather conditions (such as snowfall greater than 6 inches in 24 hours, winds gusting over 35 mph, or visibilities less that 1/4 mile) are expected in the next 12 to 36 hours.

Winter Storm Warning
- means that hazardous winter weather conditions (snowfall greater than 6 inches in 24 hours, winds gusting over 35 mph, or visibilities less than 1/4 mile) are occurring or are expected within the next 12 hours.

Blizzards - a blizzard is a snowstorm that has the following characteristics:

  • Winds of 35 miles per hour or more
  • Temperatures of 20 degrees or less
  • You can't see more than 1/4 mile away for at least 3 hours because of falling or blowing snow

A severe blizzard has winds of 45 mph or more, and temperatures below 10 degrees, and visibility near zero.

Places with few trees or tall buildings get more blizzards because there is nothing to reduce the wind and blowing snow. The Dakotas and parts of Minnesota are examples of this.

Blizzards can be very dangerous. Prolonged exposure can lead to frostbite or life-threatening hypothermia, when a person's body gets too cold. Wind and gusts that accompany a blizzard can knock down trees and power lines.

Heavy snow can collapse roofs. Extreme cold following blizzards can burst pipes in homes without insulation or heat and jam rivers with ice, causing floods.

Blizzards are most dangerous for males over 40, who are at risk of heart attack while shoveling snow.

Did You Know......

  • It's never too cold to snow. Snow can occur at any time when the temperature is near or below freezing.
  • Snowflakes are usually less than half an inch across, but they can be as large as 2 inches across. In 1971 a snowflake measuring 8 inches by 12 inches was found in Siberia.
  • The colder it is outside, the smaller the snowflakes that fall.
  • Snow is still very difficult to predict and is surprisingly hard to measure once it has fallen.
  • Snow is white because it reflects white sunlight.
  • Clean snow is edible, put pollution in the air makes it unhealthy.
  • Rochester, New York averages 94 inches of snow annually and is the snowiest large city in the United States. Buffalo, New York, is a close runner-up in terms of U.S. large cities with the most snow. A 39-inch snowfall in 24 hours in early December 1995 cost the city nearly $5 million for snow removal.
  • Almost 187 inches of snow fell in seven days on Thompson Pass, Alaska in February, 1953.
  • Each year an average of 105 snowstorms affect the continental United States. A typical storm will produce snow for two to five days.
  • Practically every location in the United States has seen snowfall. Even most portions of southern Florida have seen a few snow flurries.
  • In the western United States, mountain snow pack contributes up to 75 percent of all fresh water.
  • Nationwide, the average snowfall amount per day when snow falls is about two inches.

Prepare For Home Confinement

Winter weather can insolate or confine you in your home. If you live in a rural area, make sure you could survive at home for a week or two in case a storm isolates you and makes it impossible for you to leave.

  1. Keep an adequate supply of heating fuel on hand and use it sparingly. If necessary, conserve fuel by keeping the house cooler than usual, or by closing off some rooms temporarily.

  2. Have some type of alternative, emergency heating equipment on hand and fuel so that you could keep at least one room of your house warm enough for survival. This could be a camp stove with fuel, or a supply of wood or coal if you have a fireplace.

    Note: If you use a space heater, make sure you vent your house to avoid the buildup of deadly carbon monoxide gases.

    • Never use a charcoal grill as a supplemental heat source. Burning charcoal gives off deadly carbon monoxide fumes. Even a faulty furnace can produce odorless and tasteless carbon monoxide. Proper ventilation is essential.

    • Caution should be used if a range or oven is utilized as a supplementary heating source. It is a safety hazard that can cause burns, but it can also be a source of toxic fuses.

    • If you use an electric heater, be sure not to overload the circuit. Only use extension cords which have the necessary rating to carry the amperage load.

    • Avoid using an electric space heater in bathrooms, or other areas where they may come in contact with water.

  3. Plug in a carbon monoxide detector with battery backup.

  4. Stock an emergency supply of non-perishable food and water. Some of this food should be of the type that does not require refrigeration or cooking.

  5. Stock first aid supplies.

  6. Make sure you have a battery-powered radio and extra batteries on hand, so that if your electric power is cut off you can still hear weather forecasts, information and advice broadcast by authorities. Flashlights would be needed also.

  7. Keep on hand the simple tools and equipment needed to fight a fire, a fire extinguisher(s) and battery-powered smoke detectors on every level of your home. Be certain that all family members know how to take precautions that would prevent a fire. During a winter storm, help from the fire department may not be immediately available.

  8. Never try to thaw frozen water pipes with a blow torch or other open flame (the pipe could conduct the heat and ignite the wall structure inside the wall space). Use hot water or a UL labeled device such as a hand-held dryer for thawing.

  9. If you plan to use a backup generator, read info on Emergency Generators.

Winter Home Safety Checklist

  Working flashlight
  Battery-powered radio or TV with extra batteries
  Extra food, water, medicine, and baby items
  First aid supplies
  Heating fuel (propane, kerosene, fuel oil, etc.)
  Fire extinguisher and smoke detector
  Carbon monoxide detector
  Extra blanket

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Prepare For Winter Travel

If you must travel, use public transportation if possible. However, if you are forced to use your automobile for a trip of any distance, take precautions. Travel by daylight and use major highways, if you can. Keep the car radio on for weather information and advice. Call and get the Road Report at 511 or 1-866 (MY ND 511).

  1. Make sure your car is in good condition, properly serviced, and equipped with chains or snow tires.

  2. Take another person with you if possible.

  3. Maintain a full tank of gas.

  4. Have an emergency "Winter Storm Survival Kit" - it should always remain in the car and replenish after use. Essential supplies include:
  • Container of sandCar Stuck In Snow
  • Shovel
  • Windshield scraper, exterior windshield cleaner, and snow brush
  • Scissors and string/cord
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Flares
  • Working flashlight and extra batteries
  • Reflective triangles and brightly-colored cloth
  • High energy, non-perishable foods like unsalted canned nuts, dried fruits, and hard candy
  • Blankets or sleeping bags
  • First aid kit
  • Heavy gloves or mittens, extra woolen socks and winter headgearEmergency Car Kit
  • Water container
  • Compass
  • Small can and water-proof matches to melt snow for drinking water (Do not eat snow, it will lower your body temperature. Melt it first).

If Your Car Breaks Down Or If You Should Become Stranded Or Lost

  • Don't panic.

  • Do not leave your car unless you know exactly where you are, how far it is to possible help, and are certain you will improve your situation. Your car provides more safety than attempting to walk during storms and
    periods of extreme cold.

  • To attract attention, light two flares and place one at each end of the car a safe distance away. Hang a brightly colored cloth from your antenna, set your directional lights to flashing, or raise the hood of your car.

  • If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending upon the amount of gas in the tank, open the windows for a little fresh air to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • To protect yourself from frostbite and hypothermia use the woolen items and blankets to keep warm.

  • Keep at least one window open slightly. Heavy snow and ice can seal a car shut.

  • Eat a hard candy to keep your mouth moist.

Winter Travel Checklist

Prepare your car for winter. Start with a checkup that includes:

  • Fully check and winterize your vehicle - check the ignition, brakes, wiring, hoses and fan belts. Change and adjust the spark plugs. Check the air, fuel and emission filters, and the PCV valve. Inspect the distributor. Check the battery. Check the tires for air, sidewall wear and tread depth. Check the antifreeze level and the freeze line. Your car should have a tune-up (check the owner's manual for the recommended interval) to ensure better gas mileage, quicker starts and faster response on pick-up and passing power.

  • Keep your gas tank near fullDriving in Winter

  • Winter Storm Survival Kit

  • Check road conditions

  • Tell friends or relatives of your travel timetable

  • Check road report - 511 or 1-866 (MY ND 511)

Necessary Travel Equipment

An emergency situation on the road can arise at any time and you must be prepared. Following the tune-up, a full tank of gas, and fresh anti-freeze, your trunk should carry:

  • A properly inflated spare tire, wheel wrench and tripod-type jack

  • A shovelNecessary Travel Kit

  • Jumper cables

  • Tow and tire chains

  • A bag of salt or cat litter

  • Tool kit

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If You Are Caught Outside In A Storm

  • Find a dry shelter. Cover all exposed parts of the body.

  • If shelter is not available, prepare a lean-to, wind break, or snow-cave for protection from the wind.

  • Build a fire for heat and to attract attention. Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect heat.

  • Do not eat snow. It will lower your body temperature. Melt it first.

Surviving The Cold Weather

Prolonged exposure to low temperatures, wind and/or moisture can result in cold-related injury from frostbite and hypothermia. Here are some suggestions on how to keep warn and avoid frostbite and hypothermia.

Dress Properly

Wear several layers of clothing to insulate your body by trapping warm, dry air inside. Wool and polypropylene best trap air and do not retain moisture. Choose a coat with a wind and waterproof outer layer.

The head and neck lose heat faster than any other part of the body. Your cheeks, ears and nose are the most prone to frostbite. Wear a hat, scarf and turtleneck sweater to protect these areas.


What To Look For

The extent of frostbite is difficult to judge until hours after thawing. There are two classifications of frostbite:

  • Superficial frostbite is characterized by white, waxy or grayish-yellow patches on the affected areas. The skin feels cold and numb. The skin surface feels stiff and underlying tissue feels soft when depressed.

  • Deep frostbite is characterized by waxy and pale skin. The affected parts feel cold, hard, and solid and cannot be depressed. Large blisters may appear after rewarming.

What To Do

  • Get the victim out of the cold and to a warm place immediately.

  • Remove any constrictive clothing items and jewelry that could impair circulation.

  • If you notice signs of frostbite, seek medical attention immediately.

  • Place dry, sterile gauze between toes and fingers to absorb moisture and to keep them from sticking together.

  • Slightly elevate the affected part to reduce pain and swelling.

  • If you are more than one hour from a medical facility and only if refreezing can be prevented, then frostbite can be rewarmed by immersing the area in lukewarm, not hot water (100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit). If you do not have a thermometer, test the water first to see if it is warm. Rewarming usually takes 20 to 45 minutes or until tissues soften.

What Not To Do

  • Do not use water hotter than 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

  • Do not use water colder than 100 degrees Fahrenheit since it will not thaw frostbite quickly enough.

  • Do not rub or massage the frostbite area.

  • Do not rub with ice or snow.

  • Do not apply a heat source to frostbitten skin.


Hypothermia occurs when the body loses more heat than it produces. Symptoms include change in mental status, uncontrollable shivering, cool abdomen and a low core body temperature. Severe hypothermia may cause rigid muscles, dark and puffy skin, irregular heartbeat and respiration, and unconsciousness.

Treat hypothermia by protecting the victim from further heat loss and seeking immediate medical attention. Get the victim out of the cold. Add insulation such as blankets, pillows, towels or newspapers beneath and around the victim. Be sure to cover the victim's head. Replace wet clothing with dry clothing. Handle the victim gently because rough handling can cause cardiac arrest. Keep the victim in a horizontal (flat) position.

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