In November 2022, the National Weather Service issued a statement warning that people in the U.S should expect “below average temperatures” this winter season.
As the temperature drops, winter storms and cold fronts become more of a risk across the U.S. These winter storms pose a serious threat to infrastructure nationwide; local governments need winter disaster planning strategies to keep citizens safe and the local infrastructure functioning.
The extreme weather in the winter of 2021 should be a lesson to both areas that regularly face cold winters, and lesser prepared places like Texas, which saw a major winter disaster due to a lack of planning and infrastructure.
Cold weather preparedness is key to helping your community stay safe during winter. Here are key steps your government should take to mitigate winter storms, as well as emergency response protocols.
What Problems Can Arise With a Lack of Winter Storm Preparedness?
When assessing how to best prepare your city to withstand extremely low temperatures, first consider all of the common issues your region faces. Anticipating what problems may arise helps to prevent some dangerous situations and solve others more quickly.
Below are some common issues to consider when forming local government winter preparedness and response plan:
Heavy snowfall can paralyze a city, stopping the flow of vehicles on the roads, public transportation, and emergency or medical services. Blocked roads make it nearly impossible to travel throughout a city and often impede medical vehicles from reaching their destination.
Dispatching snow plows to clear the roads may seem to be a simple solution, but often conditions are too brutal for municipal workers to immediately get out into the weather and clear the roads. It is typical for municipal workers to not be deployed to the streets until snowfall slows or temperatures rise a few degrees. In previous years, many communities lacked the number of snow plows needed to clear the snow.
Unsafe Driving Conditions
Roads blocked by snow or covered in ice are not safe to travel on by vehicle after brutal weather has struck. Winter storms typically include hail, frozen rain, extreme wind speeds, and heavy snow, all of which decrease driving visibility and driver reaction time in the midst of the storm. The ability of emergency vehicles to respond to crashes and accidents caused by unsafe driving conditions is typically limited in this severe weather, or at best, very delayed. It is best to encourage drivers to stay off of the road during and immediately after winter storms to prevent accidents.
Power outages are common during intense winter storms, as the local infrastructure is not meant to withstand such extreme circumstances. Heavy accumulations of snowfall and ice can bring down trees, electrical wires, telephone poles/lines, and communication towers. It is not atypical for power to be disrupted for days while utility companies work to fix the power lines. Without power, many families find themselves without heat or the ability to properly cook and prepare food which poses even more threat to their well-being.
Citizens Stuck at Home
In certain circumstances, getting trapped inside can be just as dangerous as being stuck outside. In extreme cases of heavy snowfall, people have been snowed into their houses with extreme difficulty of digging themselves out to retrieve supplies; this threat is very dangerous, especially to the elderly members of the community. It’s also worth mentioning the negative mental health impact being stuck inside for extended periods of time can have on your citizens. GovPilot's special needs and senior citizen registration modules can help emergency services support those in your community who may need assistance following a storm.
How Can Local Governments Mitigate the Impact of Winter Storms?
In order to mitigate the impact of a powerful winter storm, your local government mitigation strategy should include:
Protecting Physical Infrastructure
One of the main functions of your local government during severe winter weather is to protect transportation and energy operations; both are the main physical infrastructure typically compromised during a storm.
- Create plans to salt and eventually clear main roads as soon as weather permits.
- Keep constituents off the roads during a storm and ensure all emergency vehicles are shielded from the snow and able to be deployed quickly.
- Secure all exposed components of the power system, including powerlines, in order to decrease the likelihood of the power system taking damage.
Regular government inspections of energy infrastructure and properties to ensure winter storm mitigation compliance is a wise way to ensure your public infrastructure as well as commercial and residential properties are prepared for winter weather.
Protecting Government Data and Computer Systems
Protecting IT infrastructure during dangerous winter storms should be a priority to local governments. If you’re still using physical servers or paper filing, a destructive winter storm (or other natural disaster) could destroy your government data in an instant. Uploading public records to the government cloud ensures that they will be protected, saved, and backed up, regardless of what happens to their physical copies. Consider cloud-based government IT software from GovPilot to secure your data and allow your government to function digitally - with staff working remotely - in the immediate aftermath of a storm.
Learn more about the components of a Modern Government IT Strategy and Why the Cloud is Better Than Physical Servers for Local Governments.
Using Modern Fleet Management
Enforce proper government fleet management before snowfall begins, so your local government is prepared to dispatch the necessary amount of snow plows, salt supplies, and salt trucks that will support your city against a winter storm. Lacking in any of these areas can result in delays of getting your city back to normal after a storm.
Public works software should be used to automatically schedule regular inspections, maintenance of winter vehicles, and handle general inventory and asset management tasks to ensure your department of public works is fully stocked with all necessary items and gear in order to operate in preparation for, during, and after a winter storm.
Areas Most Impacted By Winter Storms
Recognizing the likelihood of your area being affected by brutal winter conditions will help your government to prepare in ways that will make the biggest impact.
Below are the areas in the U.S that are most at risk of being impacted by a winter storm:
- Upper Midwestern states: known as “Blizzard Alley” (Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota)
- New England: the “Highest Snowfall” states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut)
- Northeast states: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey
- Northwest states: Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming
Even if your region isn’t listed above, consider the repercussions of the Texas storm in 2021 as a lesson for being underprepared in areas not typically known for intense winters. Every community should have a winter emergency management strategy, regardless of location.
Do other types of storms pose a threat to your community too? Here is GovPilot’s full set of natural disaster resources.
- Local Government Disaster Preparedness Guide
- Tornado Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Wildfire Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Flood Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Landslide Mitigation & Disaster Plan
- Disaster Resilient Infrastructure
- Local Government & Disaster Recovery
- How to Form a Community Emergency Response Team
Problems Your Municipality Could Face This Winter
In regions where winter storms are rare, local governments usually lack the tools needed to keep the community safe. Here are some areas of concern to look out for this winter:
- Lacking in snow removal equipment that is needed to deal with harsh winter weather, causing difficulty with snow removal.
- Transportation vehicles and unprepared drivers may also not be ready or trained in how to operate in harsh winter conditions.
- Lack of a community safety plan or guidelines could leave constituents feeling confused and helpless in dealing with fallout from unusual weather conditions.
- No community emergency response team: you need officials on deck to prepare ahead of storms and respond in the wake of an emergency. Your local government HR department should recruit CERT volunteers.
- Unsecured physical infrastructure such as powerlines or natural gas pipes could be easily damaged if they are not built to withstand extremely low temperatures.
How to Prepare Community Members for Winter Storms
Your constituents deserve to have a firm understanding of cold weather safety and how to protect themselves. It is the local governments responsibility to reach out to community members with guidance on how to navigate the harsh weather conditions.
Here are some ways your government should train community members to prepare for severe weather:
1. Be Ernest
Constituents deserve to have access to all the same information and accurate data that the local government has regarding winter weather. Warn constituents about problems they may face before the weather strikes so they can understand and prepare both mentally and physically.
Urge your residents to stay off the roads and not to drive until the storm has passed and plows have worked to improve conditions.
2. Host an Online Meeting or Forum
Address constituents' questions and concerns in an online meeting that can be recorded and posted afterwards to reach the widest range of people. Taking the time to answer any questions people may have regarding steps they should take before a winter storm hits will reassure constituents of your support and give them potentially life-saving information.
How Can Your Local Government Run Better Public Meetings? Here is everything to know.
3. Share Tips and Updates on Social Media
Spread messages about weather updates, current temperatures, and possible weather warnings that can be re-shared throughout the community indefinitely; this informs the most amount of people quickly.
Use your government social media accounts to provide guidance to your constituents on the best ways to prepare themselves and their homes for incoming weather to ensure cold weather safety.
4. Post a List of Important Must Haves
Create a guide of all the best items to have in your home during a winter storm, or the best ways to stock up and prepare for severe weather. Include reminders and good habits to practice to ensure winter weather preparedness.
Below is a list of some items citizens will likely want to prepare for a winter storm:
Blankets, winter clothes, bottled water, non-perishable food items, flash lights, batteries, toilet paper, fully charged electronic devices, Band-Aids, a safety kit, pet food, candles, and an organized family communication plan.
Communicating With Constituents
Keeping your constituents informed on approaching weather conditions and the best ways to prepare themselves should be the main focus of your local government’s communication strategy. Updating constituents about a winter storm emergency, in real time is one of the most effective ways to ensure the safety of your community members.
- Broadcast weather forecasts on the news regularly to update constituents around the clock.
- Update your local government social media pages and government website to alert constituents quickly and cost-effectively. Social media has an unparalleled ability to spread information; use it as a tool to inform the community and share tips about how to stock up and prepare for the incoming weather.
- Use attention grabbing words to capture the attention of your constituents and emphasize the seriousness of the weather risks. To alert the community, use phrases such as:
Winter storm warning, Winter storm advisory, Winter storm watch, and Blizzard warning.
Responding in the Wake of a Winter Storm
The hours after a winter storm will require immediate action from your local government. Clearing the roads and making them drivable along with responding to emergencies and anyone who may be confined in their homes should take priority. Repairing any damaged physical infrastructure is key in moving forward from the fallout of the winter storm.
Be Proactive This Winter
Local governments need to remain focused on preparing their communities for both efficient preventative measures and predictable, long-term recovery from winter storms.
Don’t wait until severe weather strikes to begin work on local government winter preparedness. Review your city's infrastructure and ensure it is able to withstand low temperatures and winter storms without being compromised or at risk of failing. This infrastructure includes buildings, transportation vehicles, snow clearing and/or medical transportation vehicles, availability of emergency and municipal workers, and pre-planned preparedness strategies.
When a winter storm strikes, it is not a matter of if your local government will need to assist constituents and lead a recovery plan, but a matter of how you’ll accomplish this. Your winter storm response should be set into motion the moment the first snowflake falls. Recovering from a winter storm requires organization from your local government. Instead of focusing solely on immediate solutions for recovery, instill concrete plans and strategies to ensure constituent safety, road safety, repairing community damage and support and assistance to affected community members.
To learn more about how GovPilot can help your government streamline operations and services to better help your staff respond to winter weather, book a free 15-minute consultation.
Government Winter Emergency Planning FAQs
1. Why Do Local Governments Everywhere Need to Prepare for Winter Storms?
The 2021 storm that left thousands of homes without power due and infrastructure inactive in Texas and the midwest should be a crucial lesson that municipal and county governments everywhere in the United States should have a winter storm emergency management plan.
Failure to do so could result in loss of life, destroyed physical and digital infrastructure, and lack of access to food and other necessities with inoperable roads.
2. How Can Local Governments Prepare for Winter Storms?
Your local government should prepare for winter storms by:
- Prioritizing modern infrastructure to ensure roads, bridges, and other physical infrastructure as well as broadband Internet remain accessible to your citizens and government.
- Acquiring assets like snow plows to utilize before and after a winter storm.
- Store government data in the cloud so that it is backed up and accessible from a remote location.
- Educate citizens on the best practices to mitigate and prepare for a storm and what to do in the wake of a winter disaster.
- Get citizens involved in your local government by recruiting CERT volunteers.
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