Severe Weather Toolkit

1.6 Sleet, Snow, Ice and Extreme Cold

Texas has limited areas of the state that experience snow, sleet, ice and extreme cold. Because of the infrequency of this type of weather incidences in Texas, it can create even more challenges for managing an emergency. Lack of sufficient snow and ice removal equipment make it more likely that schools will delay start times or cancel school in order to keep students safe. School districts should develop procedures for delay or cancellation of classes and coordinate those plans and procedures with appropriate local and regional authorities. This coordination should include other neighboring schools and districts that would be affected by district closures. Communities often base their decisions for work closures on what decisions are made by their school district, so collaboration and coordination is vital.

Texas school districts may also experience utility failures as a result of extreme winter weather conditions. Loss of power, loss of natural gas supply, water line breaks and disruption of water service can accompany these extreme conditions. In many cases, this forces a district to cancel or delay school. If these disruptions occur after students are in school, an early dismissal may require recalling of buses for transportation as well.

Schools should include scenario based planning in the development and updating of their emergency operations plan to effectively respond to any situation that can occur. Communication with the National Weather Service (NWS) and local, regional, and state responders will assist in guiding an appropriate response. Schools in areas with a greater likelihood of extreme weather should include supplies of food and water in the event that students are required to remain at school for safety reasons beyond normal school hours. During extreme cold spells, municipal infrastructure failure could mean that school facilities may be needed as a temporary sheltering location for the public. Schools must therefore monitor weather notifications as weather conditions can develop quickly anytime during the school day or affect after school activities. Schools should plan for athletic and other events when traveling out of the area is likely. Monitoring of the weather in areas of travel outside of the school region is essential to the safety of those traveling. Advance planning and warning is the key to being prepared for extreme weather conditions.

Extreme winter weather can take a toll on the affected communities. Heavy snow and freezing rain can immobilize a region and paralyze a city, strand travelers, stop the flow of supplies, and disrupt emergency and medical services. Accumulations of snow can collapse buildings and knock down trees and power lines. When snow is accompanied by wind, travel becomes even more hazardous. School bus routes may be blocked by drifting snow and travel may be hindered by near whiteout conditions. Often times, bus service is delayed or unavailable. Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down trees, utility lines, and communication towers. Roadways become a glaze of ice and nearly impassable. Again, school buses may be delayed or unavailable.

Winter Weather Advisories

Winter weather advisories are issued by NWS when weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. Severe winter weather may involve freezing rain or sleet, snow and extreme wind chill.

Winter Storm Watch

A winter storm watch is issued when a winter storm is possible in the area. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for more information. The NWS issues a winter storm watch when severe winter conditions, such as heavy snow and/or ice, may affect the area but the location and timing are still uncertain. A winter storm watch is typically issued 12 to 36 hours in advance of a potential severe storm.

Winter Storm Warning

A winter storm warning is issued when severe winter weather is occurring or will soon occur in the area.

Blizzard Warning

Sustained winds or frequent gusts up 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 to prevail 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 to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.

Extreme Cold and Wind Chill

Often, extremely cold temperatures accompany a winter storm. Prolonged exposure can cause frostbite or hypothermia which can become life threatening. This can be an issue especially for children waiting at bus stops, during outdoor recess or athletic or fine arts practice. Frostbite and hypothermia can also be an issue for support staff working outdoors; therefore, appropriate precautions should be taken.

When extremely cold temperatures are present and the wind increases, heat is carried away from the body at an accelerated rate which drives down the body temperature, and eventually results in frostbite.

The NWS provides a Wind Chill Chart that shows the difference between air temperature, the perceived temperature, and the amount of time until frostbite can occur. Wind Chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the combined effects of wind and cold.

Wind Chill Chart

Cold-Related Illness

Cold-related illness, or cold stress, can occur when an individual's skin temperature decreases and eventually the internal body temperature drops. This can cause serious health issues; therefore, precautions should be taken to prevent cold-related illness.

Cold Stress Risk Factors

  • Wetness/dampness, improper attire for the conditions and physical exhaustion
  • Pre-existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, hypothyroidism, diabetes, or poor physical condition
  • Lack of physical acclimation to severe cold
  • Mental problems or issues
  • Use of alcohol and drugs

Frostbite

Frostbite can occur when the skin and body tissues are exposed to extreme freezing weather conditions. For instance, loss of feeling in the fingers and toes and the white or pale appearance of the earlobes and face are some symptoms of frostbite. It is imperative to cover exposed skin. However, if frostbite occurs, do not rub the affected area in an attempt to warm it up, rather seek medical attention immediately.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia results when an individual experiences dangerously low body temperature. Uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion are common symptoms associated with hypothermia. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, take the person's body temperature. If the person's body temperature is below 95°, seek immediate medical attention. Also, moving the victim to a warm location, removing wet clothing, and warming the center of the individual's body by wrapping the person in blankets or changing into dry clothing can also reduce the effects of hypothermia. Warm beverages can also be given if the victim is conscious. Always remember that hypothermia is a significant medical condition that requires immediate emergency medical assistance.

Sleet, Snow, Ice and Extreme Cold Resources

Winter Weather Advisory and Warning Checklist

NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Cold Stress

CDC: Extreme Cold Guide