Montgomery County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Offers Tips to Prepare for Winter Storm Season

Image courtesy Montgomery County OEMHS


Per Montgomery County:
“As the winter season begins, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and the County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security (OEMHS) encourage residents to familiarize themselves with what to do before, during and after a winter storm.

This year, many forecasts for winter weather in the Washington, D.C. Region include above-average snowfall predictions. Winter weather may include freezing rain, ice, heavy snow, high winds or a combination of all these conditions. The weather events can cause power outages that last for days and make travel dangerous with slippery roads and sidewalks. The conditions also could lead to health emergencies such as frostbite and hypothermia due to cold temperatures.

Residents are encouraged to be prepared, stay informed and have a plan to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, whether at home or on the road. From snow removal tips to guides on preparing emergency kits and information on where to seek shelter from the cold, Montgomery County is preparing to help residents get ready for winter storms and extreme cold.

“We don’t know exactly what the winter months will bring us, but it is important for everyone to be prepared and understand when you need to take action,” said County Executive Elrich. “Everyone should sign up for Alert Montgomery to receive emergency notifications information on protective actions to take. When storms hit, remember to do your part by clearing sidewalks and giving our transportation crews plenty of room to operate as they clear the roads of snow and ice.”

For the latest warnings and notifications, subscribe to the County’s emergency notification system, Alert Montgomery. Alerts can be sent to one or more electronic devices, including cell phones and email accounts. In addition to weather alerts, subscribers can register to receive alerts about school closures, government closures, gas leaks, traffic, public health and other public emergencies. The free service is available to anyone who lives or works in the County.

Visit the OEMHS Winter Storms and Extreme Cold webpage for detailed tips, tools and guides on preparing for and coping with winter storms.

Before Snowstorms and Extreme Cold:

  • Make sure your emergency kit at home is well-stocked and updated.
  • Include an emergency kit in your car. To winterize your kit, include an ice scraper, car cell phone charger, blankets and sand or cat litter for better tire traction in ice or snow.
  • Fully winterize your vehicle. Check antifreeze, brakes, heater and defroster, tires and windshield wipers to ensure they are in good shape. Keep gas tank at least half full.
  • Have an emergency charging option (car, solar, hand crank, etc.) for your cell phone in case of a power failure.
  • Have shovels and salt, sand or alternatives ready. Be Salt-Wise and do not overuse.
  • People who depend on electricity to operate medical equipment should have alternate arrangements in place in case power is out for an extended period. Find more information on how to develop a specialized plan at Planning for People with Access and Functional Needs on the OEMHS website.
  • Plan to bring pets inside.
  • Have working carbon monoxide detectors and smoke detectors.
  • Use electric space heaters with automatic shut-off switches and non-glowing elements. Keep all heat sources at least three feet away from furniture and drapes.
  • Keep fire extinguishers on hand and make sure everyone in the house knows how to use them.
  • Practice how to escape safely in case of fire. House fires pose an additional risk in winter as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.

During Snowstorms and Extreme Cold:

  • Stay indoors and only travel if necessary. If you must drive, travel during the day and, if possible, do not travel alone. Keep others informed of your schedule and route and stay on main roads.
  • Check the County’s Winter Storm Information Portal for information on snow plowing schedules, where to park your car safely and how to identify County-maintained versus State-maintained roadways.
  • Walk carefully on snowy or icy walkways.
  • Montgomery County’s snow shoveling law requires all property owners to clear snow and ice from public sidewalks adjacent to their properties within 24 hours after the snow stops falling. Help neighbors who may not be able to shovel safely themselves.
  • Help firefighters maintain quick access to hydrants by clearing snow three feet around hydrants and avoid shoveling snow into the street.
  • Do not park on snow emergency routes.
  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack–a major cause of death in the winter. Use caution, take breaks, push the snow instead of lifting it when possible and lift lighter loads.
  • Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat.
  • If you must go outside, wear several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent.
  • Wear mittens, which are warmer than gloves.
  • Wear a hat and cover your mouth with a scarf to reduce heat loss.
  • Maintain ventilation if using kerosene heaters or a generator. Refill heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

Know the Terms:

Winter Weather Advisory: Cold, ice and snow are expected.

Winter Storm Watch: Severe winter weather is possible in the next 24-48 hours.

  • Tune in to your NOAA weather radio, local radio, TV or other news sources for more information.
  • Monitor alerts, check emergency supplies and gather items that may be needed if you lose power.

Winter Storm Warning: Severe weather conditions have begun or will begin soon.

Blizzard Warning: Sustained winds or frequent gusts to 35 miles per hour or greater and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter mile) are expected for a period of three hours or longer.

Frost/Freeze Warning: Below freezing temperatures are expected.

Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.

Sleet: Rain that turns into ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.

Wind Chill: Windchill is the temperature it “feels like” when you are outside.

Cold Weather Health Hazards and Sheltering:

  • Extreme cold poses a danger that can bring on health emergencies in susceptible people, particularly the very young, older adults, those without shelter, those with underlying health conditions or those with poorly insulated homes or an inability to heat their homes.
  • Pets also can be impacted by extreme cold and should not be left outside during periods of extreme cold or extreme weather situations per Executive Regulation 17-17.
  • Residents are asked to check on older adults, especially someone living alone. Visit the County’s Cold Weather and Hypothermia page for more information on hyperthermia, frost bite and cold weather health hazards.
  • Residents in need of a place to warm up can visit County facilities such as libraries or recreation centers or ride a Ride On bus during normal operating hours.
  • Montgomery County Health and Human Services staff, as well as community-based providers, will reach out to homeless community members to urge them to seek shelter when hypothermia or cold emergency alerts are activated. Residents concerned about the well-being of a homeless individual can call the 24-hour Line at 240-907-2688. Outreach partners will attempt to locate the individual and offer resources and support.

For general information during a storm, check the County’s website and social media accounts. For information on snow removal and roadways during the storm, visit the County Winter Storm Information Portal.

Visit the OEMHS website for more information on emergency preparedness.”

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