Winter Weather Awareness Week

Minnesota Winter Hazard Awareness Week Photo of snowplow plowing a road, pine trees in the background

November 13-17, 2023

Are You Ready For Winter?

Winter in Minnesota can be described in many ways, but unpredictable isn’t one of them. At some point, it will snow and temperatures will drop below zero. There will be ice on the roads. High winds will raise the risk of being outdoors from hazardous to life-threatening.

The best way to avoid the hazards is to stay warm and cozy indoors, but it’s tough to stay cooped up for months — and even staying indoors for long periods carries risks. Problems can arise with indoor air, and fire risks increase dramatically in the winter.

As we get out the gloves and boots, it’s time to refresh our winter safety knowledge and skills, and prepare.

That’s why the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DPS-HSEM), in collaboration with the National Weather Service, sponsors the annual Winter Hazard Awareness Week, a yearly public information campaign.

This campaign aims to help Minnesotans minimize the risks and hazards of winter by educating, informing, reminding and reinforcing the behaviors and actions that lead to a warm, safe and enjoyable winter season.

Photo couple of feet of snow on the ground with snowy park bench surrounded by snowy treesWinter Hazard Awareness Week Topics

Each day of Winter Hazard Awareness Week focuses on a different weather hazard.

  • Monday — Winter Storms
  • Tuesday — Outdoor Winter Safety
  • Wednesday — Winter Fire Safety
  • Thursday — Indoor Winter
  • Friday — Winter Driving
  1. Monday | Winter Storms
  2. Tuesday | Outdoor Winter Safety
  3. Wednesday | Winter Fire Safety
  4. Thursday | Indoor Safety
  5. Friday | Winter Driving

Winter is the signature season of Minnesota. It's normally a long season of cold temperatures and snow and ice lasting from November through April. Winter doesn’t slow Minnesotans down. We are just as mobile, social and active during the winter as we are during the summer months. But to ensure a safe and enjoyable winter, it is critical to be informed and aware of the potential risks and hazards associated with winter weather and how to avoid them.

Winter Storms: How Winter Storms Form

There are many ways for winter storms to form; however, all have three key components.

  • COLD AIR: For snow and ice to form, the temperature must be below freezing in the clouds and near the ground.
  • MOISTURE: Water evaporating from bodies of water, such as a large lake, is an excellent source of moisture.
  • LIFT: Lift causes moisture to rise and form clouds and precipitation.

Graphic how winter weather forms in a warm front, cold front, lake effect, mountain effect

Warnings and Alerts: Keeping Ahead of the Storm

Minnesotans should listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, and television for the latest winter storm warnings, watches, and advisories. The National Weather Service issues outlooks, watches, warnings and advisories for all winter weather hazards. Here’s what they mean and what to do.

  • OUTLOOK: Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2-5 days. Stay tuned to local media for updates.
  • WATCH: Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36-48 hours. Prepare now!
  • WARNING: Life-threatening severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours.
  • ADVISORY: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. If you are cautious, these situations should not be life-threatening. Electronic equipment is available to receive weather information: Weather Radio, radio, TV, and cellphone.

Heavy Snow and Ice

Heavy snow can immobilize a region, stranding commuters, closing airports, stopping the flow of supplies, and disrupting emergency and medical services. Accumulations of snow can cause roofs to collapse and knock down trees and power lines. The cost of snow removal, repairing damages, and the loss of business can have severe economic impacts on cities and towns.

Extreme Cold

At some point every winter, temperatures in Minnesota drop below zero. Adding even a tiny wind can drive the wind chill effect down to dangerous levels for anyone exposed to it for very long. The best way to avoid any danger is to stay indoors, but if you do feel the need to venture outdoors, make sure to take proper precautions and know how to spot the signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

What is the Wind Chill Temperature?

It is the temperature it “feels like” outside and is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin caused by the effects of wind and cold. As the wind increases, the body is cooled at a faster rate, causing the skin temperature to drop. Wind Chill does not impact inanimate objects like car radiators and exposed water pipes because these objects cannot cool below the actual air temperature.

What does this mean to me?

The National Weather Service will inform you when Wind Chill conditions reach critical thresholds. A Wind Chill Warning is issued when wind chill temperatures are life-threatening. A Wind Chill Advisory is issued when wind chill temperatures are potentially hazardous.

What is Frostbite?

Frostbite is an injury to the body caused by freezing body tissue. The most susceptible parts of the body are the extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, or the tip of the nose. Symptoms include a loss of feeling in the extremities and a white or pale appearance. Medical attention is needed immediately for frostbite. The area should be SLOWLY re-warmed.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is abnormally low body temperature (below 95 degrees Fahrenheit). Warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. Medical attention is needed immediately. If it is not available, begin warming the body SLOWLY.

Tips on how to dress during cold weather.

  • Wear layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing. Trapped air between the layers will insulate you. Outer garments should be tightly woven, water-repellent, and hooded.
  • Wear a hat because 40% of your body heat can be lost from your head.
  • Cover your mouth to protect your lungs from extreme cold.
  • Mittens, snug at the wrist, are better than gloves.
  • Try to stay dry and out of the wind.

Graphic National Oceanic and Atmospheric wind chill chart