Preparing for Winter Storms
Winter can be challenging when temperatures drop and air is cold and often dry—especially for those living with lung disease. And major snowstorms or other winter weather events can be dangerous for everyone. Power outages, extreme cold, icy roads and poor heating systems are some of the potential hazards when a winter storm hits. With climate change bringing more extreme fluctuations in weather, the need to prepare for winter storms is even greater and it's important to be ready in the event of severe weather to know how to keep your lungs safe and healthy.
Winter Weather Resources
- Ready.gov has information on preparing for snowstorms and extreme cold.
- Ready.gov also has several options for getting alerts in emergencies, including weather emergencies.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advice on preparing and staying safe during winter weather.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) also has preparation advice for different types of natural disasters and weather events, including snow and ice.
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a guide on how to prepare for a winter storm.
Emergency Power and Carbon Monoxide
Snow, wind and ice can cause power outages. Without electricity, people may turn to portable gasoline- or diesel-powered generators, gas stoves, charcoal stoves, grills, portable camping stoves and other devices for cooking or heat. Burning fuel, such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal, produces carbon monoxide and other air pollutants. Exposure to carbon monoxide reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen and can cause sudden illness and death if you breathe much of it. If your power goes out in a winter storm:
- Use battery-powered flashlights or lanterns for lighting. Avoid using candles to provide light.
- Use woodstoves, gas heating stoves and fireplaces to heat your home, but only if they are vented properly to the outside. Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Kitchen gas ranges and ovens are neither designed to heat nor effective at heating your home. Do not use ovens or gas ranges to heat your home.
- Outdoors is the only safe place to use generators, grills, camp stoves or any gasoline or diesel-powered engines. The fumes are deadly indoors.
Install a working, battery-powered carbon monoxide detector.
Watch for symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you or others in your house feel dizzy, lightheaded or nauseated, get out of the house and seek medical help immediately.
You may need to seek shelter elsewhere until the power is back on. Make a list of places you can stay with names and phone numbers written down for easy access.
It's a good idea to keep at least three days' supply of your medications on hand, such as your inhaler medicine, if you have asthma. Talk to your doctor in advance about how to reach them and access treatment during an emergency.
If you use medical equipment that needs power (such as home oxygen, CPAP machine, ventilator, nebulizer, etc.), have a plan to keep your device working during a power outage. Check with the instructions or product manufacturer to make sure the backup power source will work for your device. Let your power company and emergency responders know you are using a medical device that needs power. Talk to your neighbors who may have a generator and ask them to check in on you during a severe weather event. The FDA has a booklet for preparing and handling power outages for home medical device users.
In the event that you need to leave home, create a travel pack to ensure you have everything you need in one place. For example, an Asthma or COPD Travel Pack might have the following:
- Copies of your Asthma Action Plan or COPD Action Plan
- An extra written prescription in case medication is lost or destroyed
- Insurance card and healthcare provider contact information
- Both quick-relief and controller medications (make sure there is enough to get you through your stay, and extra in case you get held over unexpectedly)
- A valved holding chamber or spacer for your inhaler.
- Allergy medication
Sudden changes in the weather as well as extreme weather conditions, such as a cold front that might accompany a winter storm, can make symptoms worse when you have chronic lung disease. The cold, dry air can irritate airways and cause coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Follow your action plan and contact your healthcare provider if your symptoms worsen. Limit your exposure to cold and wind. If you need to go outside, cover your nose and mouth with a scarf and breathe through your nose. Don’t try to exercise outside in severe cold weather. If you shovel snow, watch your symptoms and do not overexert yourself.
Check on elderly friends and neighbors frequently to ensure that their homes are safely heated and ventilated. Older adults and young children are more susceptible to hypothermia and frostbite.
- American Red Cross has Safe and Well to help members of your family connect during and after a disaster.
For more information on protecting your lungs in winter weather, please contact our Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA.
Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel. Last reviewed December 14, 2018.
Page Last Updated: January 11, 2019
Sign up for the latest lung health news sent right to your inbox.
Join more than 500,000 people who receive research updates, inspiring stories, health information and more.