How to Weather Winter Storm Warnings

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Ready for snow?

Depending on where you live, you might be getting the first snowstorm of the season this week. Learn how to prep for the first big snowfall and stay safe out there! 

When huge winter storms are wrapping their snowy, icy arms around the US winter storm warnings get sent out. Winter storm warnings mean more than just colder temperatures. They mean dangerous conditions you need to prep for. Here's what you need to know to stay warm and safe.

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A weather radar map showing a storm warning

A winter storm warning. Image: SafeWise

What is a winter storm warning?

A winter storm warning means that there will be significant ice, snow, blowing snow, sleet, or a combination of these and that you need to take action to stay safe, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). 

This year, the NWS has given its Winter Storm Warning system a major makeover, making it easier for everyone across the U.S. to understand and prepare for winter weather. They've rolled out a new, color-coded map to guide the issuing of winter storm watches and warnings. It's all about keeping things simple and consistent. Pink areas on the map are winter storm warning areas. 

Qualifications for winter storm warnings have changed, too. In the past, each of the 122 local NWS offices had their own set of rules for their area, which could get a bit confusing. Now, they're all following the same playbook set by the main NWS office. This means no matter where you are in the country, the criteria for warnings and watches will be more uniform.

Let's take a peek at how it works: Different areas have different snowfall thresholds for warnings. For example, in East Tennessee, it takes just 3 inches of snow to trigger a winter storm warning. But in the snow-loving Wasatch Mountains of northern Utah, the bar is set at 18 inches.

This update aims to streamline the whole process, making sure that winter storm information is clear and consistent nationwide. So, whether you're planning a trip or just cozying up at home, keeping an eye on the forecast is key to staying safe and prepared as the winter weather rolls in.

Drive safe

That adds up to poor driving conditions in many areas of the country (we're looking at you southern states).

Just stay home. And if you have to drive stick to well-traveled city streets to avoid ice patches on highways and bridges.

For more, check out our best winter driving tips.

Make sure your carbon monoxide detectors are working

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If you use anything other than electric or solar to keep your home warm, make sure your carbon monoxide detector is working properly. Wood, natural gas, propane, and other heating fuels can create this deadly, colorless, odorless gas. You need a reliable warning system if carbon monoxide is present in your home.

Learn more in our carbon monoxide guide.

Stay warm

Heating your home can be a challenge as the temperatures dip. Here are some ways to stay warm:

  • Use one room as your "warming station."
  • Have pets, family members, and roommates stay in this room (with the doors closed) as much as possible. The body heat will keep the room toastier. 
  • Hang quilts or blankets over windows and open doorways to insulate your warming station.
  • Make your ceiling fans rotate counter clock-wise to push warm air down from the ceiling to your level. There's a switch that changes the fan's direction just below the blades.

Don't use your stove or oven as heating

Image: Ron Lach, Pexels

While you can take advantage of cold weather to up your baking game and supplement the warmth in your house, don't use your stove or oven as a heating source. Leaving your stove or oven on can increase your chances of fire, accidental burns, and CO poisoning. 

Give your space heaters space

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Be sure to keep at least three feet of space clear around your space heaters to prevent fires.

Check out our other space heater safety tips.

Video: Space Heater Tips

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Alina Bradford
Written by
Alina Bradford
Alina is a safety and security expert that has contributed her insights to CNET, CBS, Digital Trends, MTV, Top Ten Reviews, and many others. Her goal is to make safety and security gadgets less mystifying one article at a time. In the early 2000s, Alina worked as a volunteer firefighter, earning her first responder certification and paving the way to her current career. Her activities aren’t nearly as dangerous today. Her hobbies include fixing up her 100-year-old house, doing artsy stuff, and going to the lake with her family.

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