Emergency Preparedness  |  Winter Weather Safety

Winter Weather Safety

The coming winter months hold the possibility of icy roads, downed power lines and snow drifts. Regardless of the severity of a winter storm, you should be prepared in order to remain safe during these events. Winter storms can range from a moderate snow over a few hours to a blizzard with blinding, wind-driven snow that lasts for several days. Some winter storms are large enough to affect several states, while others affect only a single community. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures and sometimes by strong winds, icing, sleet and freezing rain. 


Winter Storm Outlook - Winter storm conditions are possible in the next 2 to 5 days.

Winter Weather Advisory - Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter Storm Watch - Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.

Winter Storm Warning - Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.


Even experienced drivers can find their nerves and skills tested by winter road conditions. Here are some tips to help you drive safely as the weather turns cold:

  • Before beginning your trip, know the current road conditions and weather forecast. For statewide highway information 24 hours a day, call 511 or go to 511virginia.org.
  • Make sure your vehicle is ready for winter:
    • Check your brakes and tires
    • Check your battery and ignition system
    • Check your antifreeze and thermostat
    • Check your windshield wipers and de-icing washer fluid
    • Check your headlights, tail and brake lights, blinkers and emergency flashers
    • Check your exhaust system, heater and defroster
    • Check your oil
    • Properly lubricate door locks that may be prone to freezing
  • Keep your car's windows, mirrors and lights clear of snow and ice.
  • Always wear your seat belt.
  • Leave a few minutes early.
  • Start out slowly in the lowest gear recommended by your vehicle's manufacturer.
  • Be aware of potentially icy areas such as shady spots and bridges.
  • Keep a safe distance of at least five seconds behind other vehicles and trucks that are plowing the road.
  • Don't pass a snowplow or spreader unless it is absolutely necessary. Treat these as you would emergency response vehicles.
  • Keep an emergency winter driving kit in your car.
  • Drive smart!


With the recent cold snap, Albemarle County would like to remind its residents to take certain safety precautions when dealing with home heating devices.  Over one-third of home fire deaths in the United States occur during the winter.  The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that heating equipment fires are the second leading causes of fire deaths in American homes and the biggest fire culprit during December and January.  Most of these fires are due to human error, as they are most commonly caused by the following items:

  • Lack of consistent cleaning of chimneys in fireplaces and woodstoves.
  • Placing flammable items too close to space heaters and portable heaters. 
  • Flaws in design, installation, or use of equipment.
  • Fueling errors involving liquid or gas-fueled heaters.
  • Leaving portable heaters or space heaters unattended.

County officials recommend specific fire prevention tips to keep in mind during the winter months:

  • Portable and Other Space Heaters
    Portable and space heaters should be kept at least 36 inches away from anything that can burn, including furniture, clothing, people and pets.  Space heaters should never be left operating when you leave the room or go to sleep.  Children and pets should be supervised at all times when the heaters are in use.  A high fire hazard is associated with drying clothing or placing combustibles above the heaters.

  • Portable Kerosene Heaters
    Only use the fuel specifically recommended by the manufacturer of the liquid-fueled space heater.  Using a substitute fuel can cause the equipment to burn hotter than it was designed to handle and a serious fire could ensue.  Always keep the fuel clearly labeled and stored away from the heater.  The heater should be turned off and cooled completely before refueling.
  • Fireplaces
    Chimneys should be inspected by a professional prior to the start of every heating season and cleaned if necessary.  Always use a sturdy fireplace screen for protection and remember to burn only wood.  Paper and pine boughs can float out of your chimney and set your roof on fire.  Do not use flammable liquids in your fireplace.  Also, do not use your fireplace if you have placed decorative materials, such as Christmas stockings, in it.
  • Wood Stoves
    Follow the same rules for wood stoves as you would for space heaters.  Burn only wood and place the wood stove on an approved store board to protect the floor from heat.  Check with local fire and code officials before installing your stove.