As Maine prepares for a hefty winter storm that could dump buckets of snow across the state, the National Weather Service has issued a hazardous weather outlook in anticipation of bad conditions.
The weather statement could be updated to a winter storm watch or warning, or, under certain circumstances, could be upgraded to a blizzard alert.
What is a blizzard?
A blizzard is defined as blowing and/or falling snow with winds that reach at least 35 mph, which reduces visibility to a quarter of a mile or less for at least three hours, according to the NWS.
If you are caught outside in cold temperatures with high winds, the risk of hypothermia or frostbite increases significantly. Winds that bring the temperature down below zero can affect anyone outside in just a matter of minutes.
Blowing snow, whether current precipitation or previous snowfall that is being blown up by high winds, can severely limit visibility, making travel dangerous and can affect sense of direction.
Extended periods of snow can impact snow removal efforts, damage infrastructure and leave people without heat or power if maintenance crews are unable to mediate the damage.
How to prepare for a blizzard
The best thing to do to prepare for long periods of snow is to plan ahead.
Planning ahead can mean creating a communication and disaster plan, making sure that your home is prepared to handle cold temperatures and high winds and removing potential risks — such as branches that could fall and damage your property — according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It also means having an ample source of heat or electricity, whether that is a generator, wood for a wood stove or other means of staying warm.
If you have a vehicle, it is advised to keep its gas tank as close to full as possible, to avoid ice building up in the gas lines and engine, according to the CDC.
It is also ideal to have backup sources of power for electronic devices, especially cellphones, in case you need to call someone or reach emergency services. Flashlights are also advised as a source of light, rather than candles, if the electricity goes out.
How to stay safe during a blizzard
When a blizzard hits, it is important to stay safe indoors as much as possible.
While keeping your home warm is important, it is crucial to be as safe as possible when using a fireplace, wood stove or electric space heater. It is not advisable to use a stove or kitchen appliance to supplement your heat.
If you use a space heater that runs on fuel, make sure that you have the proper fuel that it takes, and that it has an automatic shut-off switch. Keep all space heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable or combustible materials.
Fireplaces and wood stoves should be properly vented outside, and should not create a smokey interior. Use dry wood, and do not burn paper in an open fireplace, as it can shed sparks that can cause a fire to spread.
Generators should be placed outside at least 20 feet away from any doors or windows in a place that will not be affected by rain or snow.
Any source of heat should be used in a space with adequate ventilation with a fire extinguisher and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on hand.
Having extra blankets or quilts, layers and an adequate winter coat can stave off frostbite in the event that you lose power or heating, the CDC advises.
You should also cover all windows with curtains, or blankets, to prevent unnecessary heat loss, avoid opening doors or windows unless necessary, and towels or blankets can be used to insulate around doors. Rooms that you will not be using can be closed off to conserve heat in the rooms you will be staying in.
Older adults and babies lose heat from their bodies much faster than teenagers and adults, so keeping warm indoor temperatures can help prevent those who are at a higher risk from getting hypothermia or frostbite, or other adverse effects from the cold.
It is also crucial to keep a water supply available, as cold temperatures can cause pipes to freeze.