(University of Pittsburgh)

A winter storm occurs when there is significant precipitation and the temperature is low enough that precipitation forms as sleet or snow, or when rain turns to ice. A winter storm can range from freezing rain and ice, to moderate snowfall over a few hours, to a blizzard that lasts for several days. Many winter storms are accompanied by dangerously low temperatures. 

Of course, not all weather events  are extreme, but they can become dangerous if you're not prepared.

First thing to know is some key terminology. Depending on the severrity of the storm, the National Weather Service may issue a a winter storm watch, an advisory, or a warning. What's the difference?

A watch means that wintry conditions such as snow, sleet or ice are possible, so be prepared.

An advisory is issued when adverse wintry conditions are expected and you should exercise caution.

A winter storm warning is issued when significant amouns of snow, sleet or ice are expected.  During a warning, travel  should be considered dangerous and avoided. Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the beginning of an event.

Some other important terms

  • Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground.
  • Freezing rain: Rain that freezes when itt hits the ground.
  • Flurries: Lght snow falling with little or no accumulation.
  • Blizzard: When snow and high or gusty winds combine to create low visibility and dangerous conditions, especially while driving.
  • Snow squall: The sudden burst of heavy snow creates near-zero visibility and can create icy road conditions. They are extremely dangerous while driving.
  • Wind chill: The temperature when factoring in the wind. A warning will be issued when wind chill temperatures are expected to be hazardous to life.

Extreme Weather

Pitt will remain open in all but the most extreme circumstances. However, all Pitt employees and students are urged to use their own discretion in deciding whether they can safely commute to class or to work.

For further information, refer to the updated University-wide Closure and Class Cancellation Policy.

Preparing for a Winter Storm 

  • Be alert to changing weather conditions by monitoring local news and weather outlets for updates and instructions.
  • Gather emergency supplies. This could include non-perishable food items, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, and first-aid kits.
  • Make specifics plans for how you will avoid driving. If driving will be absolutely necessary, ensure that your car is stocked with emergency supplies. 

During a Winter Storm

  • Avoid driving if possible. If driving is absolutely necessary, use extra precaution on the roads.
  • If the power goes out, close off unused rooms to retain heat. Wear layers and use blankets and sleeping bags to keep warm.
  • NEVER use a generator, grill, camp stove, or charcoal burning device inside or in any partially enclosed area to heat your home. NEVER heat your home with a stove.
  • Limit your time outdoors. If you must be outside, wear several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, rather than one heavy layer. Wear mittens; they are warmer than gloves. Wear a hat and a scarf, covering your ears and mouth to help prevent the loss of body heat. 

After a Winter Storm 

  • Driving conditions may still be dangerous. If you must drive, use caution.
  • If you go outside, dress warm to prevent frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Be aware of overhead hazards such as broken tree limbs and ice.
  • Be careful on snowy, icy walkways.

Protect Yourself

Frostbite: When the skin and body tissue just beneath it freezes. First, your skin becomes very cold and red, and then numb, hard and pale. Extremities such as fingers, toes, ears, nose and other areas of the face are most susceptible to frostbite.

What to do: Cover exposed skin and seek medical help immediately. Do not rub the area.

Hypothermia: Dangerously low body temperature. Signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, slurred speech, drowsiness.

What to do: Take the person's temperature. If it is below 95˚F, seek medical attention right away. Carefully move the person into a warm location. Remove wet clothing and wrap the person in layers of blankets until medical help arrives.

To avoid these ailments, you need to dress the part:  Not all members of our student body are familiar with cold temperatures and wintry conditions.  Here are is what you need for your wardrobe:

  • A warm winter coat that closes fully
  • Gloves or mittens
  • Boots that cover your ankle
  • Something to cover your neck and ears
  • A knit or winter cap

Driving During a Winter Storm

According to the National Weather Service, nearly three of every four winter weather-related deaths occur on highways. Here are some tips on how to drive in the snow:

  • Reduce your speed
  • Turn on your headlights
  • Avoid hard braking and hard accelaration. Doing either can lead to loss of control
  • Keep an ice scraper and snow brush in your vehicle.
  • Have a flashlight and fresh batteries
  • Keep a bag of salt or kitty litter in the trunk
  • Keep a blanket or a sleeping bag in your vehicle in case you get stuck and need to wait for help.