How to Stay Safe in an Ice Storm

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on April 09, 2022
4 min read

What causes an ice storm? Ice storms happen when there are 3 layers of the atmosphere at significantly different temperatures. The uppermost layer is cold enough (below 32 degrees Fahrenheit) to create snow. The middle layer is warmer and turns the snowflakes into raindrops. The bottom layer, and the ground, are cold again, turning the rain into ice. Once it lands on the cold ground, it creates a frozen layer that can be hazardous. Ice can also form quickly during a rainstorm when the ground temperature is at or below freezing.

Ice storm safety starts before the storm hits. Pay attention to television, radio, or internet weather reports. In the US, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a good resource to turn to for accurate weather information in an emergency.

If you know a winter storm is coming, you should prepare in the days before the storm.

  • Come up with a family safety or evacuation plan in case the power goes out.
  • Replenish your emergency supplies.
  • Stock up on food and water.
  • Make sure to have extra heating fuel on hand.
  • Fill up your gas tank in case you need to go anywhere in an emergency and to keep your car's fuel line from freezing.
  • Bring pets inside.
  • Make sure animals that live outdoors, like cattle or horses, have shelter and access to non-frozen food and water.

Staying indoors is the best thing you can do to stay safe in an ice storm. Spending too much time in cold weather can lead to hypothermia or frostbite. Ice storms often cause branches and power lines to come down, putting anyone near them at risk. 

If you must go out:

  • Stay away from downed power lines
  • Stay away from downed tree branches and debris because they may be hiding a downed power line
  • If driving, make sure your car is equipped with emergency and first aid supplies
  • Only go out with a fully charged cell phone and bring a charger
  • Let someone know where you are going, your planned route, and when you plan to arrive at your destination
  • Go out during the day if possible
  • Bring someone with you if possible
  • Take breaks from the cold if you are outside
  • Dress warmly with gloves, a hat, a warm winter coat, and other layers

It is very common to lose power during an ice storm. If the power goes out and your heating source requires electricity to function, dress in warm layers. Close doors to rooms that you are not using to keep heat in one area. Put towels or rags under the door of the room you are staying in to keep it warmer. If you use an emergency heater, follow all of the instructions paying careful attention to proper ventilation.

If the power goes out, you should also unplug your electronics to avoid damage from a power surge once the power comes back on.

Other tips to stay safe and warm during an ice storm power outage include:

  • Covering windows with black cloth to keep heat in at night
  • Put the black cloth on the floor to draw heat in from sunshine through the windows during the day
  • Run a hot bath to make the bathroom warm
  • Set your faucets to drip so your pipes don't freeze

During an ice storm, you should also:

  • Make sure to eat regularly and stay hydrated
  • Sip on warm beverages and broths
  • Keep your thermostat no higher than 65 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night to save fuel
  • Check on friends and family members who are older, disabled, ill, or who live alone
  • Continue to check the radio, internet, or television news for the latest updates on the storm until the situation is safer
  • If you're not used to strenuous exercise, avoid exerting yourself when shoveling or clearing ice

If you live in an area with winter weather, each year, before winter you should:

  • Come up with a household plan for general winter storm safety.
  • Have your car checked and winterized, including checking antifreeze, windshield wipers, battery, and heating system.
  • Get winter tires put on your car.
  • Find out if your area requires tires with chains or studs.
  • Put a scraper and small broom in your car to clear snow and ice.
  • Make sure your car emergency kit is equipped with first-aid supplies, an emergency blanket, and a brightly colored piece of cloth to tie to the antennae if needed.
  • Put an extra warm set of clothes for each person in your household in the car.
  • Use caulk and weather seal strips on windows and doors to better insulate your home.
  • Have extra fuel for your heating source if it is safe to do so.
  • Consider having an emergency heating source, like a wood or coal stove, or an emergency generator.
  • Service your fireplace to ensure proper ventilation.

Ice storms can be hazardous, but by following these safety tips, you can weather the storm and enjoy it more safely.