A member of the Community Emergency Response Team assists an injured woman
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FEMA Data Digest: Winter Storm Safety

December 2021

To learn more about research at FEMA, please visit: https://www.ready.gov/preparedness-research.

Have questions about this data? Want to receive the Data Digest? Contact FEMA at FEMA-Prepare@fema.dhs.gov

Use the FEMA Data Digest

Help us to build a culture of preparedness by using the FEMA Data Digest to inform your work!

FEMA publishes Data Digests to share important findings from the National Household Survey (NHS) about preparedness. Our goal is to provide you with relevant hazard-specific insights, graphics, data, and messaging that you can use to engage with your communities. Below, we’ve identified:

  • Data-Driven Key Messages for the preparedness community
  • Calls to Action for individuals and communities to take protective actions
  • Helpful Links to free preparedness publications, research, and tools

We encourage you to use the information below, download the graphics, and incorporate these resources into your winter weather-related publications or stakeholder outreach.

Background on the NHS Winter Storm Oversample

FEMA created the Winter Storm oversample for the 2021 NHS using data from the National Risk Index.

“Map of Contiguous United states showing risk for Winter Weather

Figure 1. Map of National Risk Index for Winter Storm


To get data for this oversample, FEMA targeted 50 high-risk counties prone to winter storms across the contiguous United States. In total, FEMA interviewed 510 individuals.


Start the Conversation with Your Community


Did you know?

  • Winter storms are a type of winter weather. They may include blizzards and can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice and high winds.
  • Winter storms create a higher risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion.
  • A winter storm can last a few hours or several days, cut off heat, power, and communication services, and put older adults, children, and sick individuals at greater risk.


Key Message #1



According to the 2021 NHS, many people have not taken key steps to prepare for winter storms – and some may not know how.

Ask community members these three important questions to help lead them to taking key steps to prepare for winter storms:



Start the Conversation with Your Community



1) What’s your plan to stay warm?



Scene of winter storm knocking down electric poles and causing a power outage.

Figure 2. Winter Storms Can Cause Power Outages




69% of people living in winter storm-prone areas reported that they were concerned about power outages during a winter storm.



Help Your Community to Prepare


  • Winter storms may cause power outages. Create a plan to stay warm safely during a winter storm!
  • Remember, fireplaces, candles, and generators can be dangerous! Never use a generator indoors. Learn how to keep you, your family, and your pets safe and warm during a winter storm by downloading or ordering free copies of FEMA’s Winter Storm Hazard Information Sheet.



Start the Conversation with Your Community


Did you know?

Half of all home heating fires occur in December, January, and February.
1 in every 7 home fires involves heating equipment.


(Source: U.S. Fire Administration)



Download and Share This Graphic

Plug only 1 heat-producing appliance into an outlet at a time; keep anything that can burn at least 3 feed from any heat source.

To download, visit the USFA Social Media Toolkit for Severe Weather.

Figure 3. USFA Winter Fire Facts Graphic #1


1 in 7 home fires and 1 in 5 home fire deaths involves heating equipment; get a professional chimney cleaning and inspection annually; store cooled ashes in a tightly covered container, at least 10 feet from any building.

To download, visit the USFA Social Media Toolkit for Severe Weather.

Figure 4. USFA Winter Fire Facts Graphic #2




During a power outage, many people may rely on generators or alternative heat sources to stay warm. According to the 2021 NHS:

  • Only 1 in 5 (20%) people in winter storm-prone areas expressed that they were concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning during a winter storm, and
  • Fewer than 1 in 4 people in winter storm-prone areas installed and tested smoke alarms (24%) or carbon monoxide detectors (20%).


Call Individuals to Action


Be careful when using generators or alternative heat sources, like fireplaces or space heaters, to heat your home.

Stay safe by:

  • Only using generators and grills outdoors and away from windows.
  • Not using a gas stovetop or oven to heat your home.
  • Cleaning your chimney and vents each year.
  • Installing carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and testing them on a monthly basis.

For more information, check out the Severe Weather Fire Safety Outreach Materials from the U.S. Fire Administration.



Generators should always be used outside the home.   Never use an oven or stovetop to heat your home

Have Chimneys and vents cleaned and inspected by qualified professional at least once a year.   Install and test carbon monoxide (CO) alarms at least once a month.

Figure 5. Tips for Staying Safe and Warm in Winter


Start the Conversation with Your Community



2) Where do you keep your emergency supplies?



Think about what you have on hand already that you could use in an emergency; supplies don’t need to be expensive or fancy.

Figure 6. Emergency Supplies Can Be Found in Your Home




2 in 3 (66%) people living in winter storm-prone areas do not have emergency supplies at home.



Pie chart showing 1 in 3 people have emergency supplies in their home; 2 in 3 people don’t have emergency supplies in their home.

Figure 7. Number of People Who Have and Don’t Have Emergency Supplies in the Home




Only 16% of people have emergency supplies in their car, and only 9% have them at work.



Two pie charts showing people who have emergency supplies in their car (16%) and at work (9%).

Figure 8. Percentage of People Who Have Emergency Supplies in Their Cars and at Work


Start the Conversation with Your Community


Did you know?

  • Winter storms and blizzards can happen suddenly, bringing extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds.
  • You may need to stay at home or work without utilities or other services until it is safe to drive. Don’t forget to consider winter storm risks as you pack for holiday travel.


Call Individuals to Action


Stay safe by:

  • Gathering supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Don’t forget:
  • Medications
  • Pet supplies
  • Extra batteries for radios and flashlights
  • Putting an emergency supply kit in your car. Don’t forget:
  • Jumper cables
  • Sand
  • Flashlight/extra batteries
  • Warm clothes
  • Blankets
  • Bottled water
  • Non-perishable snacks
  • Keeping your gas tank full


Start the Conversation with Your Community



3) Do you know how to protect your health during a winter storm?




  • People living in winter storm-prone areas reported being concerned with the following health problems:
  • Frostbite (41%),
  • Hypothermia (38%), and
  • Heart attacks (24%).

  • And they reported needing help with:
  • Recognizing the signs (37%) of and treating (45%) frostbite, and
  • Recognizing the signs (37%) of and treating (46%) hypothermia.


Start the Conversation with Your Community


Did you know?

  • Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers, and toes.
  • Signs:
  • The signs of frostbite are numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, and firm or waxy skin.
  • Response
  • You can treat frostbite by going into a warm room, soaking in warm water, or using body heat to create warmth.
  • Do not massage or use a heating pad to treat body parts affected by frostbite!


Download and Share This Graphic

Examples of the signs of frostbite and how to treat the ailment.

Figure 9. Signs and Treatment for Frostbite



  • Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency!
  • Signs:
  • The signs of hypothermia are shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness.
  • Response
  • You can treat hypothermia by going into to a warm room, warming the center of the body first — chest, neck, head, and groin — and by keeping dry and wrapped up in warm blankets (don’t forget to include the head and neck in the blanket).



Download and Share This Graphic

Example of a sign of hypothermia and how to treat the ailment.

Figure 10. Signs and Treatment for Hypothermia



  • A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction. It happens when a part of the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood.
  • Signs:
  • The major symptoms of a heart attack are chest pain or discomfort; feeling weak, light-headed, or faint; pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back; pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders; or shortness of breath.
  • Response
  • Call 9-1-1 if you notice symptoms of a heart attack. At the hospital, health care professionals can run tests to find out if a heart attack is happening and decide the best treatment.


Download and Share This Graphic

Example of a sign of a heart attack and how to treat the ailment.

Figure 11. Signs and Treatment for Heart Attack



Call Individuals to Action



One of the greatest risk factors for winter storm-related deaths is exposure to cold winter weather. Exposures to cold temperatures and overexertion can be dangerous. Make sure to check on neighbors – especially those who are older!

Visit FEMA’s Protective Actions Research site to learn more about response planning for winter storms.



Download and Share This Graphic

A man is checking on his neighbor after a winter storm. Make sure friends, family, and loved ones have a plan to stay warm!

Figure 12. Checking on Neighbors


Help Your Community to Prepare


Stay safe by:
  • Limiting your time outside; wear layers of warm clothing and watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Remaining dry (to prevent hypothermia).
  • Avoiding overexertion when shoveling snow.
  • Learning the signs of and treatment for frostbite.

For more information, check out the Be Ready for Winter Infographic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).



Download and Share This Graphic

24% of people in winter-storm areas are concerned about heart attacks; reduce your risk by avoiding overexertion when shoveling snow.

Figure 13. Reduce Your Risk of a Heart Attack While Shoveling Snow


The following questions were asked of NHS survey respondents; their responses informed Key Message #1:

  • What have you done to prepare for a winter storm in the last year? (Select all that apply.)
  • Respondents who reported that they made their home safer in the last year were asked: “Which of the following have you done in your home?” (Select all that apply.)
  • Respondents who reported assembling or updating supplies in the last year were asked: ”In what scenarios would you have access to the supplies you have assembled?” (Select all that apply.)
  • Have you or your family ever experienced the impacts of a winter storm?
  • Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. Thinking about the area you live in, how likely would it be for a winter storm to impact you?
  • In the event of a winter storm, which of the following are you most concerned about? (Select all that apply.)
  • For which of the following would you need assistance? (Select all that apply.)

Key Message #2


81% of people in winter storm-prone areas have experienced a winter storm and recognize their risk,

but only 59% of people in winter storm-prone areas have received information about how to prepare.




Two in three (64%) people in winter storm-prone areas feel prepared for a winter storm.



Download and Share This Graphic

1 in 3 don’t feel prepared for a winter storm; 1 man is shivering (not prepared for a winter storm); 2 women are dressed warmly and prepared for a winter storm.

Figure 14. Preparedness for a Winter Storm


Call Individuals to Action


Be Prepared for a Winter Storm! Winter storms can happen in every region across the country, last up to several days, and knock out heat, power, and communications services.



Engage With Your Community



Thinking about your community…

  • How can you motivate people who are not prepared or who haven’t considered preparing?
  • How can you support people who feel prepared to continue making preparations?



In 2021, only 44% of those living in winter storm-prone areas were confident that they could take steps to prepare and believed preparing would help.



Percentage of people who were (44%) and weren’t (56%) confident in taking steps to prepare and believed preparing would help.

Figure 15. Percentages of Self-Efficacy for Winter Storms


Call Your Community to Action


  • Knowing how to prepare for a winter storm can help people to feel more confident. FEMA’s NHS data identifies information that can help people prepare for winter storms.
  • Use this data to inform your messaging and use FEMA’s free preparedness products to help increase other’s confidence in preparedness!


The following questions were asked of NHS survey respondents; their responses informed Key Message #2:

  • Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. In the past year, have you read, seen, or heard any information about how to get better prepared for a winter storm?
  • Have you or your family ever experienced the impacts of a winter storm?
  • How much would taking steps to prepare help you get through a winter storm in your area? How confident are you that you can take steps to prepare for a winter storm in your area?
  • Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. Thinking about the area you live in, how likely would it be for a winter storm to impact you?
  • Thinking about preparing yourself for a winter storm, which of the following best represents your degree of preparedness?

National Household Survey (NHS) Information

Since 2013, FEMA has measured preparedness attitudes and behaviors annually in the nationally representative National Household Survey.  59% have pursued 3 or more of 12 basic preparedness actions; 44% have saved for a rainy day.

* Data obtained from the 2021 NHS

NHS Data Tables

Preparedness Actions

Table 1: 12 Preparedness Actions – Winter Storm

Question

Response

Winter Storm-Prone Area
2021

What have you done to prepare for a winter storm in the last year?

(Respondents could select all that apply.)

Assemble or update supplies

38%

Document and insure property

14%

Get involved in community

10%

Know evacuation routes

20%

Make a plan

32%

Make your home safer (insulation, caulking or weather stripping)

41%

Plan with neighbors

14%

Practice emergency drills or habits

12%

Safeguard documents

19%

Save for a rainy day

30%

Sign up for alerts and warnings

31%

Test family communication plan

20%

None

16%

Table 2: Taking Multiple Preparedness Actions – Winter Storm

Question

Response

Winter Storm-Prone Area
2021

What have you done to prepare for a winter storm in the last year?

(Respondents could select all that apply.)

Taking at least 1 of the 12 preparedness actions

84%

Taking at least 3 of the 12 preparedness actions

48%

*See Table 1 for the 12 Preparedness Actions which could have been taken

Preparedness Influencers

Table 3: Preparedness Influencers – Winter Storm

Preparedness Influencers

Description of Preparedness Influencers

Winter Storm-Prone Area 2021

Awareness

Have read, seen, or heard information in the past year about how to get better prepared for a winter storm

59%

Hazard Experience

Have personal or familial experience with the impacts of a winter storm

81%

High Preparedness Efficacy

Believe that preparing can help in a winter storm AND are confident in their abilities to prepare

44%

Risk Perception

Acknowledge that the occurrence of a winter storm could impact where they currently live

81%

The following questions were asked of NHS respondents:

  • Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. In the past year, have you read, seen, or heard any information about how to get better prepared for a winter storm?
  • Have you or your family ever experienced the impacts of a winter storm?
  • How much would taking steps to prepare help you get through a winter storm in your area? How confident are you that you can take steps to prepare for a winter storm in your area?
  • Winter storms and blizzards can bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, and high winds. Thinking about the area you live in, how likely would it be for a winter storm to impact you?

Stages of Change

Table 4: Stages of Change – Winter Storm

Stage

Description

Winter Storm-Prone Area 2021

Precontemplation

I am NOT prepared, and I do not intend to prepare in the next year

7%

Contemplation

I am NOT prepared, but I intend to start preparing in the next year

10%

Preparation

I am NOT prepared, but I intend to get prepared in the next six months

19%

Action

I have been prepared for the last year

36%

Maintenance

I have been prepared for MORE than a year, and I continue preparing

28%

The following question was asked of NHS respondents:

  • Thinking about preparing yourself for a winter storm, which of the following best represents your degree of preparedness?

Additional Analysis

Table 5: Accessibility of Assembled Supplies for Winter Storm

Question

Response

Winter Storm-Prone Area 2021

In what scenarios would you have access to the supplies you have assembled?

(Asked of those who reported having assembled or updated supplies in the last year. Respondents could select all that apply.)

While at home

34%

While at work

9%

While in a personal vehicle

16%

While traveling

9%

While visiting others

5%

Table 6: Preparing Home for Winter Storm

Question

Response

Winter Storm-Prone Area 2021

Which of the following have you done in your home?

(Asked of those who reported having made their home safer (insulation, caulking, or weather stripping) in the last year. Respondents could select all that apply.)

Caulk structural gaps or drafts

24%

Inspect and improve insulation

19%

Install and test carbon monoxide detectors

20%

Install and test smoke alarms

24%

Install weather stripping

22%

None

2%

Table 7: Winter Storm Issues Requiring Assistance

Question

Response

Winter Storm-Prone Area 2021

For which of the following would you need assistance?

(Respondents could select all that apply.)

Recognizing signs of frostbite

37%

Recognizing signs of hypothermia

37%

Treating frostbite

45%

Treating hypothermia

46%

None

32%

Table 8: Biggest Concern During Winter Storm

Question

Response

Winter Storm-Prone Area 2021

In the event of a winter storm, which of the following are you most concerned about?

(Respondents could select all that apply.)

Car accidents

40%

Carbon monoxide poisoning

20%

Frostbite

41%

Heart attacks

24%

Hypothermia

38%

Power outage

69%

None

9%

Helpful Links