New York City winters, which often bring extreme cold, heavy snow, ice, sleet, and freezing rain, can pose serious hazards.
It's important to prepare for winter weather-related dangers. There are several steps you can take to stay safe before, during, and after winter storms.
Know the Terms
- Freezing Rain: rain that freezes when it hits the ground, creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
- Frost/Freeze Warning: issued when temperatures are expected to drop below freezing over a large area for an extended period of time.
- Sleet: rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground. Sleet also causes moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
- Ice Storm: when ice accumulations are expected during freezing rain situations. Significant ice accumulations are usually 1/4 of an inch or greater.
- Wind Chill: the temperature it "feels like" when you are outside.
- Heavy Snow: snowfall accumulating to 4 inches or more in depth in 12 hours or less; or snowfall accumulating to 6 inches or more in depth in 24 hours or less.
- Winter Weather Advisory: issued by the National Weather Service when a combination of winter weather (snow, freezing rain, sleet, etc.) may present a hazard, but does not meet warning criteria.
- Winter Storm Watch: issued by the National Weather Service when there is a potential for heavy snow or significant ice accumulation, usually at least 24 to 36 hours in advance of such event. The criteria for this watch can vary from place to place.
- Winter Storm Warning: issued by the National Weather Service when a winter storm is producing or is forecast to produce heavy snow or significant ice accumulation. The criteria for this warning can vary from place to place.
- Blizzard Warning: issued by the National Weather Service for winter storms with sustained or frequent winds of 35 mph or higher with considerable falling and/or blowing snow that frequently reduces visibility to 1/4 of a mile or less. These conditions are expected to last for a minimum of 3 (three) hours.
What to Do Before a Winter Storm or Extreme Cold
- Make sure your household disaster plan is ready and all members of your household are familiar with how to contact one another in an emergency.
- Winterize your Go Bag by adding a blanket, warm socks and gloves.
- Your emergency supply kit should be fully-stocked to allow you to sustain yourself for up to seven days without power, or in the event you are unable to travel far from home. You may wish to include additional items such as extra blankets, additional warm clothing, and a battery-operated radio to monitor weather conditions during a storm.
Winterize Your Home
- Install storm shutters, doors and windows; clean out gutters; repair any roof leaks; and have a contractor check the stability of your roof in the event of a large accumulation of snow.
- Insulate walls and attic. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows. Install storm windows, or cover windows with plastic from the inside.
- Have safe emergency heating equipment available. For residences with functioning fireplaces, keep an ample supply of wood. Utilize portable electric space heaters. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand.
- Install and check batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
- Make sure you have sufficient heating fuel; you may have difficulty obtaining fuel in the immediate aftermath of a bad storm.
- Service snow removal equipment, and have rock salt on hand to melt ice on walkways. Kitty litter can be used to generate temporary traction.
Winterize Your Car
Before winter sets in, have a mechanic check the following items on your vehicle:
- Windshield wipers and washer fluid
- Ignition system
- Lights (headlamps and hazard lights)
- Exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster
- Oil level (if necessary, replace oil with a winter oil or SAE 10w/30 variety)
Install good winter tires that have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require vehicles to be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
Regardless of the season, it's a good idea to prepare for an in-car emergency. Assemble an emergency supply kit for your vehicle, and consider adding the following items for winter conditions:
- Blankets, sleeping bags, extra newspapers for insulation
- Plastic bags (for sanitation)
- Extra mittens, socks, scarves and hat, raingear and extra clothes
- Sack of sand or kitty litter for gaining traction under wheels, small shovel
- Set of tire chains or traction mats
- Working jack and lug wrench, spare tire
- Windshield scraper, broom
- Small tools (pliers, wrench, screwdriver)
- Booster cables
- Brightly colored cloth to use as a flag, flares or reflective triangles
Other Ways to Prepare
- Listen to your local radio and TV stations for updated storm information. Know what winter storm watches and warnings mean.
- Check on relatives, friends, and neighbors who may need assistance preparing for a storm.
- Be alert to changing weather conditions and avoid unnecessary travel.
- Let faucets drip a little to help prevent freezing.
- Test smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.
What to Do During a Winter Storm or Extreme Cold
- Stay indoors during the storm.
- Dress for the weather:
- Wear a hat, hood, or scarf.
- Wear layers, as they provide better insulation and warmth
- Keep fingertips, earlobes, and noses covered if you go outside
- Keep clothing dry; if a layer becomes wet, remove it.
- Recognize the signs and symptoms of frostbite and hypothermia:
- Hypothermia: symptoms include slurred speech, sluggishness, confusion, dizziness, shallow breathing, unusual behavior, and slow, irregular heartbeat.
- Frostbite: symptoms include gray, white or yellow discoloration, numbness, and waxy feeling skin.
How to Help Others
- Infants, seniors, and people with paralysis or neuropathy are at increased risk of hypothermia and frostbite. Check on friends, relatives, and neighbors who may need assistance to ensure they are adequately protected from the cold.
- Community members that identify someone on the street they believe needs assistance should contact 311 and ask for the Mobile Outreach Response Team. The Department of Homeless Services will send an outreach team to the location to assess the individual's condition and take appropriate action.
- If you suspect a person is suffering from frostbite or hypothermia, bring him or her someplace warm and seek medical help immediately or call 911.
- If medical help is unavailable, re-warm the person, starting at the core of their body. Warming arms and legs first can increase circulation of cold blood to the heart, which can lead to heart failure. Use a blanket, or if necessary, your own body heat to warm the person.
- Do not give a person suffering frostbite or hypothermia alcohol or caffeine, both of which can worsen the condition. Instead, give the patient a cup of warm broth.
Safe Home Heating Tips
Improper use of portable heating equipment can lead to fire or dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Take precautions to ensure you are heating your home safely.
Fire Safety Tips
- Use only portable heating equipment that is approved for indoor use.
- Keep combustible materials, including furniture, drapes, and carpeting at least three feet away from the heat source. *never* drape clothes over a space heater to dry.
- Always keep an eye on heating equipment. Never leave children alone in the room where a space heater is running. Turn it off when you are unable to closely monitor it.
- Be careful not to overload electrical circuits.
Make sure you have a working smoke alarm in every room. Check and change batteries often.
Carbon Monoxide Safety Tips
- Install a carbon monoxide alarm/detector in your home and check it regularly to make sure the battery is working. NYC law requires owners to provide and install at least one approved carbon monoxide alarm within 15 feet of the primary entrance to each sleeping room.
Learn more about NYC's carbon monoxide detector law.
- Make sure your heating system is kept clean and properly vented; have worn or defective parts replaced.
- Have your fireplace, chimney, and flue cleaned every year to remove soot deposits, leaves, etc.
- Kerosene heaters are dangerous and illegal in New York City.
- Don't heat your home with a gas stove or oven.
- Do not use any gas-powered appliance, such as a generator, indoors.
- Never use a charcoal grill or a hibachi indoors.
- Automobile exhaust contains carbon monoxide. Open your garage door before starting your car and do not leave the motor running in an enclosed area. Clear exhaust pipes before starting a car or truck after it snows.
- The most common symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning is headache. However, symptoms may also include dizziness, chest pain, nausea, and vomiting. In severe cases, people can become increasingly irritable, agitated and confused, eventually becoming lethargic and lapsing into unconsciousness.
- If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, call 911, and get the victim to fresh air immediately, and open windows.
Learn more about carbon monoxide
For more information on how to properly and safely heat your home, please visit the FDNY's website.
What to Do If You Lose Heat
Every resident is entitled to heat and hot water. Tenants without adequate heat or hot water should first speak with the building owner, manager, or superintendent, or if you are a NYCHA resident, contact NYCHA directly. If the problem is not corrected, non-NYCHA tenants should call 311. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) will attempt to contact your building's owner to get heat or hot water service restored.
For non-NYCHA buildings, if service has not been restored, HPD will send an inspector to your building to verify the complaint and issue a violation. If your landlord does not live up to his or her legal obligation, HPD will call in emergency contractors to fix the boiler or do whatever is required to get your heat and hot water working again.
For more information about loss of heat or hot water, refer to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development's frequently asked questions for tenants.
If you lose heat, take measures to trap existing warm air, and safely stay warm until heat returns:
- Insulate your home as much as possible. Hang blankets over windows and doorways and stay in a well-insulated room while power is out.
- Dress warmly. Wear hats, scarves, gloves, and layered clothing.
- If you have a working fireplace, use it for heat and light, but be sure to keep the damper open for ventilation.
- Open your faucets to a steady drip so pipes do not freeze.
- Eat. Food provides your body with needed energy to produce its own heat and drinking helps your body avoid dehydration.
- If the cold persists and your heat is not restored, call family, neighbors, or friends to see if you can stay with them.
If your service line, pipes, or water meters freeze:
- Open a faucet near the frozen point to release vapor from melting ice.
- Direct a hair dryer or heat lamp at the frozen section, or put a small space heater nearby.
- *Never* thaw a frozen pipe or meter with an open flame; this could lead to fire or cause a steam explosion.
- If your meter is damaged or your pipes burst, call 311
Learn more about water supply disruptions
If you lose power, call your power provider immediately to report the outage.
- Con Edison: 1-800-752-6633 (TTY: 1-800-642-2308)
- National Grid: 718-643-4050 (TTY: 718-297-2857)
- PSEG Long Island: 1-800-490-0025 (TTY: 631-755-6660)
Learn more about power disruptions
If You Need Emergency Heating Assistance
The Human Resources Administration (HRA) administers the federal Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP), which provides low-income people with emergency heating assistance. Eligible residents will receive a payment for fuel delivery, or HRA will arrange for fuel delivery or boiler repair. Emergency assistance is given to those who qualify only once per heating season. Contact 311 for more information.
Snow and Ice
Snow Removal Safety Tips
- Stretch before you go out. If you go out to shovel snow, do a few stretching exercises to warm up your body. This may prevent injury.
- Cover your mouth. Protect your lungs from extremely cold air by covering your mouth when outdoors.
- Avoid overexertion Cold weather puts an added strain on the heart. Unfamiliar exercise, such as shoveling snow or pushing a car, can bring on a heart attack or make other medical conditions worse. Take frequent rest breaks, and drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Keep dry. Change wet clothes frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
- Stay safe. Walk carefully on snowy or icy sidewalks. If using a snowblower, *never* use your hands to unclog the machine.
- Maintain an awareness of utilities while shoveling snow. Do not cover fire hydrants with snow when clearing sidewalks and driveways. Do not shovel snow into manholes and catch basins.
- Offer to help individuals who require special assistance, including seniors and people with disabilities.
More Resources about Snow Removal
Clearing Snow and Dangling Ice from Roofs
- Snow and rain that collects on roofs becomes heavy and may damage buildings
- Remove leaves and debris from roof drains to prevent water from collecting.
- In addition to cleaning out gutters, clear snow from roofs and drains
- Flat roofs require special attention. Snow and water should be removed with drainage systems or manually.
NYC Emergency Management and the Department of Buildings urge building owners and managers to remove ice from their buildings where possible. If ice removal is not possible, building owners and managers should rope off the unsafe area.
Residents should take care to avoid areas roped off due to hazardous ice conditions, and be cautious of dangerous, hanging ice.
During the winter months, ponds and lakes in City parks may appear frozen, but venturing onto them is extremely dangerous and can cause potentially fatal accidents. To remind people of the dangers of thin ice, NYC Department of Parks & Recreation posts warning signs along the perimeter of city lakes and ponds in English and in Spanish. Special ladders are also installed around the edges of city lakes for trained personnel to use in case someone falls through the ice.
- Never go on frozen waters (unless clearly marked otherwise with official signs).
- Parents and caregivers should make sure children are never unattended near ice.
- If you hear cracking, lie down immediately to try to distribute your weight.
- If you witness someone falling through ice, never attempt to make a rescue by yourself.
- Call 911 and notify the proper authorities.
Learn more about outdoor skating rinks in City parks
If You Must Drive a Vehicle
Whenever possible, avoid driving in a winter storm. If you must go out, it is safer to take public transportation. However, if you must drive or get caught in a storm, heed the following tips:
- Avoid traveling alone, but if you do so, let someone know your destination, route and when you expect to arrive.
- Dress warmly. Wear loose-fitting, lightweight clothing in layers.
- Listen to the radio or call the state highway patrol for the latest road conditions.
- Drive slowly. Posted speed limits are for ideal weather conditions. Vehicles take longer to stop on snow and ice than on dry pavement
- Four-wheel drive vehicles may make it easier to drive on snow-covered roads, but they do not stop quicker than other vehicles
- If you skid, steer in the direction you want the car to go and straighten the wheel when the car moves in the desired direction.
- Know your vehicle's braking system. Vehicles with antilock brakes require a different braking technique than vehicles without antilock brakes in icy or snowy conditions.
- Try to keep your vehicle's gas tank as full as possible.
If You Get Stuck on the Road
- Stay with your car. Do not try to walk to safety unless help is visible within 100 yards. You could become disoriented in blowing snow.
- Display a trouble sign if you need help; tie a brightly colored cloth to the antenna and raise the hood to alert rescuers.
- Start the car and use the heater for about 10 minutes every hour. Keep the exhaust pipe clear of snow to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Leave the overhead light on when the car is running so you can be seen
- Move your arms and legs to keep blood circulating and to stay warm.
- Keep one window slightly open to let in fresh air. Use a window that is opposite the direction the wind is blowing.
What the City Does
The City works closely with the National Weather Service to monitor severe weather threats that could affect the five boroughs. The City uses several forms of media to alert the public in an emergency, including Notify NYC, the City of New York's official emergency communications program.
The NYC Department of Sanitation (DSNY) leads snow removal operations on city streets across the five boroughs, coordinating closely with the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) and other agencies to ensure that all roadways and sidewalks are cleared as soon as possible. DSNY tracks progress in real time and works with agency partners in the Emergency Operations Center to address problems as they arise.
The City works with government, private sector, nonprofit, and volunteer partners to address all types of winter weather conditions to meet the needs of incident conditions as they arise.