Winter Storm

Severe winter weather conditions can affect day-to-day activities.  These can include blizzard conditions, heavy snow, blowing snow, freezing rain, heavy sleet, and extreme cold.

Winter storms are common during the winter months of October through April. The various types of extreme winter weather cause considerable damage. Heavy snows cause immobilized transportation systems, downed trees and power lines, collapsed buildings, and loss of livestock and wildlife.  Blizzard conditions are winter storms which last at least three hours with sustained wind speeds of 35 mph or more, reduced visibility of 1/4 mile or less, and whiteout conditions. Heavy snows of more than 6 inches in a 12-hour period or freezing rain greater than 1/4 inch accumulation causing hazardous conditions in the community can slow or stop the flow of vital supplies as well as disrupt emergency and medical services. Loose snow begins to drift when the wind speed reaches 9 to 10 mph under freezing conditions. The potential for some drifting is substantially higher in open country than in urban areas where buildings, trees, and other features obstruct the wind. Ice storms result in fallen trees, broken tree limbs, downed power lines and utility poles, fallen communications towers, and impassable transportation routes. Severe ice storms have caused total electric power losses over large areas of Iowa and rendered assistance unavailable to those in need due to impassable roads. Frigid temperatures and wind chills are dangerous to people, particularly the elderly and the very young. Dangers include frostbite or hypothermia. Water pipes, livestock, fish and wildlife, and pets are also at risk from extreme cold and severe winter weather.

From 1983-2008, Iowa has had 848 heavy snow, ice storm, or extreme wind-chill events. There are many accounts of large numbers of deaths due to cold and blizzards in Iowa’s history. While we are not as vulnerable as the early settlers, there are recent accounts of multiple deaths from snowstorms and extreme cold around the state.  From 1953-2008, four Presidential Declarations of Major Disaster have been declared in Iowa that were related to severe winter storms.  

There were 115severe winter storms reported in Linn County from 1950-2009 with four being Presidential Declarations of Major Disasters. These severe winter storms have resulted in 5 deaths, 14 injuries and 18 million in damages.

Hazardous driving conditions due to snow and ice on highways and bridges lead to many traffic accidents. The leading cause of death during winter storms is transportation accidents. About 70% of winter-related deaths occur in automobiles and about 25% are people caught out in the storm. The majority of these are males over 40 years of age. Emergency services such as police, fire, and ambulance are unable to respond due to road conditions. Emergency needs of remote or isolated residents for food or fuel, as well as for feed, water and shelter for livestock are unable to be met. People, pets, and livestock are also susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia during winter storms. Those at risk are primarily either engaged in outdoor activity (shoveling snow, digging out vehicles, or assisting stranded motorists), or are the elderly or very young.  Schools often close during extreme cold or heavy snow conditions to protect the safety of children and bus drivers. Citizens’ use of kerosene heaters and other alternative forms of heating may create other hazards such as structural fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.