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Staying informed is a big key to winter safety

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues winter storm warnings, watches and advisories, which helps people stay safe during winter weather events.

Winter Weather Advisory – There is a high confidence that a hazardous winter event will occur over a 12-hour period (3-5 inches of snow), but should not become life threatening, if caution is used.

Winter Storm Watch – Winter storm conditions including freezing rain, sleet and heavy snow, are possible within the next 3648 hours. Continue monitoring the weather forecast.

Winter Storm or Ice Storm Warning – A significant winter storm is occurring, or will begin in the next 24-36 hours. Heavy snow (6 inches in 12 hours) or the combination of snow, sleet, freezing rain and moderate winds, will impact travel and outdoor activities, and could become dangerous or deadly. An ice storm warning is issued when mostly freezing rain is expected, with ice accumulations of at least 1⁄4 inch within a 12-hour period. When a warning is issued, take necessary precautions – consider canceling travel plans.

Blizzard Warning – A dangerous storm with winds that are 35 mph or greater, in combination with falling and/or blowing snow that reduces visibility to 1/4 mile or less, for a duration of at least three hours. Canceling travel plans is advised.

Snow Squall Warning - A short duration warning issued for a relatively small geographic area, when intense shortlived bursts of heavy snowfall occur. Although rare, these snow squalls can lead to quick reductions in visibilities and are often accompanied by gusty winds. Sudden whiteout conditions and slick roads can develop.

Wind Chill Advisory – Issued for bitter cold wind chills of 20 to 34 below zero (25 to 34 below zero in the northwest portion of the state).

Wind Chill Warning – Issued with wind chills of 35 F below zero (40 F below zero for the far northwestern portion of Wisconsin). Frostbite is possible when someone is outside for 10 minutes, or less.

Knowing how a body will react to cold temperatures, is also important. Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold, which causes a loss of feeling, and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear tips or the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, seek medical care immediately.

Hypothermia is a condition that develops when the body temperature drops below 95ΒΊ F. It is very deadly, and warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, slurred speech and drowsiness. Seek medical care immediately.

Overexertion is also dangerous. Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unaccustomed exercise such as shoveling snow or pushing a car, can bring on a heart attack or make an existing medical condition worse.

Pets also need extra care when the temperatures fall. They should be brought inside when the temperature reaches 30ΒΊ F with wind chill. Dogs and cats can get frostbitten ears, nose and feet if left outside during bitter cold weather.

Chemicals used to melt snow and ice can also irritate pets’ paws – be sure to keep anti- freeze, salt and other poisons away from pets.

Some of the dangers associated with winter storms include loss of heat, power and telephone service, and a shortage of supplies. To help protect the family, now is the time to put together a disaster supply kit.

The following are items recommended for a home winter weather emergency kit: flashlights and extra batteries; battery-powered NOAA weather radio; a commercial radio; bottled water and non-perishable food that requires no cooking; first-aid supplies; fire extinguisher; smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector; extra medications and baby items (if needed).

If a home has an emergency heating source, such as a fireplace or space heater, make sure there is proper ventilation. Also, make sure pets have shelter, and plenty of food and water.