Winter Storm Safety

Winter is a beautiful time of the year in Rhode Island, especially when a fresh layer of new snow covers everything. Winter can also be a very dangerous time of the year. If you plan on traveling during the winter, it pays to prepare your vehicle for winter driving, including having winter car supplies. Just following some simple safe driving tips and using common sense while driving near snow plows could ensure that you make it to your destination safely. However, be prepared for the unexpected. Below are some tips and useful resources so you'll know what to do in case you're stranded or in an accident.

General Winter Safety

  • Ice skating is a fun winter activity; however, if the ice is not safe to skate on, you could be putting your life at risk. See the Rhode Island Division of Parks & Recreation's information on ice safety.
  • Hundreds of people are injured while sledding and tubing every year. Keep safety in mind while enjoying the snow and follow these Winter Activity Safety Tips.
  • For information on the dangers of extreme cold, visit FEMA's Winter Weather page
  • In the winter you should have no less than a quarter of a tank in your vehicle at any time. Condensation can build up in a near-empty gas tank in extremely cold temperatures, which can cause fuel line freeze-up and no-start conditions.
  • Do not leave pets outside for extended periods of time. Although they have fur coats, they can be affected if exposed to extremely cold temperatures.
  • If you will be going away during cold weather, leave the heat on in your home, set to a temperature no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You don't want to come home to find that a water pipe has burst inside your house.

Be Prepared for Winter Storms

  • Keep an emergency kit and supplies in your home, office and car, including blankets, extra sweaters or sweatshirts, and mittens or gloves.
  • Have your car tuned up for winter driving. This includes checking fluid levels. Also make sure that the tires on your car have good treads. Replace old, warn tires.
  • Keep a shovel and salt handy for clearing sidewalks and driveways.
  • Monitor local weather reports.
  • Charge your mobile phone before a storm in case of a power outage.

During Winter Storms

  • Drive only if absolutely necessary. Let someone know your destination, try not to travel alone, and avoid back road shortcuts. Public transit is a good alternative.
  • Park in your driveway, not in the street. This allows snow plows and salt spreaders room to safely clear the street. Also, local parking bans may be in effect. Illegally parked cars may be ticketed and/or towed.
  • Clear snow away from fire hydrants. This makes it easier for the fire department if there is an emergency.
  • Stay away from rivers and creeks. Heavy rainfall and melting snow causes elevated water levels, swift-moving currents and bank erosion.
  • Most town/city ordinances require you to shovel the sidewalk in front of your home and business. Failure to do so may result in a fine.
  • Never blow, shovel or plow snow onto the street, expecting a plow to push it out of the way. Doing so is against the law (R.I.G.L. § 31-22-9).
  • Always remove all snow from your vehicle. Driving with significant amounts of snow or ice on your car is against the law (R.I.G.L. § 31-23-16).

If you are in need of assistance with clearing snow, call a neighbor to see if they can help. You may also call United Way of Rhode Island by dialing 2-1-1 anytime for help.

Remember to check on neighbors and family members who may need assistance, particularly if they are elderly.

Things to Keep in Mind

  • During or after any storm event, consider all downed wires to be energized and dangerous, including telephone, fiber optic and cable TV wires. They may be in contact with energized electrical wires that are not within your view. Report downed downed electrical wires to your power company the immediately.
  • During extended power outages, ATMs and credit card machines may not work and pharmacies may be closed. Include extra cash and medications in your emergency kit.
  • If evacuating to an emergency shelter, bring your cell phone along with a charger and/or extra battery.
  • Travel may be restricted on the Jamestown Bridge, Mount Hope Bridge, Pell (Newport) Bridge, and Sakonnet River Bridge during times of high winds. When winds are recorded in excess of 58 MPH, the following vehicles are prohibited from crossing the bridges: panel vans, panel body/box trucks when empty, truck/trailer combinations when empty, house trailers, and motor homes. When winds increase to a sustained 69 MPH, the bridges are closed to all traffic.
  • A hand-crank or battery powered radio will help keep you informed of what's going on if the power goes out.
  • Children will become bored when confined indoors during extended power outages. Put small games or toys in your emergency kit to keep them busy.
  • When high winds are forecasted, bring in all outdoor furniture and secure anything else that is not tied down that might blow away or cause damage.
  • If you have an electric garage door opener, find the manual release lever and learn how to use it in case the power goes out.
  • Never drive over a flooded roadway. Its depth is not obvious and the roadbed may have washed out beneath the water.
  • Keep in mind that after snow storms, plows have no place to push snow except to the curbs, sidewalks, and shoulders of roads, and homeowners usually pile snow at the end of their driveways. This creates a twofold problem; pedestrians enter a street without being able to see if a car is coming and drivers will not be able to see around snowbanks to see if a pedestrian is crossing. This is especially important in mornings and afternoons when children are on their way to/from school. Snowbanks should be an indication for drivers and pedestrians to exercise caution and slow down, knowing the potential dangers that lurk on the other side of the snowbank.

Rhode Island Special Needs Emergency Registry

The Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) have joined together to develop a registry for Rhode Islanders with disabilities, chronic conditions, and other special health care needs. This system is designed to identify individuals who may require special assistance during emergencies. Enrollment in the Registry does not guarantee assistance, but allows first responders to appropriately plan for, prepare for, and respond to the needs of the community. For more information or to enroll, visit the Rhode Island Department of Health website.

Winter Storm Resources

If you are experiencing an emergency that requires police, fire, or medical assistance, dial 9-1-1 on your mobile phone to contact the closest State Police barracks.

Travel and Public Transportation Information

Immediately Report Downed Power Lines

Immediately Report Natural Gas Leaks

Winter Driving Tips

Driving a motor vehicle with any significant amounts of snow or ice on the vehicle is against the law (R.I.G.L. § 31-23-16). Clear all snow and ice off the entire car including the roof, hood, trunk, and license plates. Also, all glass surfaces and lights should be clear and transparent. This includes your windows, side-view mirrors, headlights and tail lights.

If you must drive during a storm

  • Never leave a vehicle unattended while it is warming up. Also, never warm up a vehicle in an enclosed area, such as a garage.
  • If you have a mobile phone, take it with you and make sure it is fully charged before you leave.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full to avoid gas line freeze-up.
  • Drive slowly. Accelerating, stopping and turning takes longer on snow-covered or icy roads. Give yourself time to maneuver by driving slowly.
  • Do not follow the vehicle in front of you too closely. Remember that it takes extra time to stop on icy roads. The more space there is between you and the vehicle in front of you, the less likely you will rear-end them if they stop short.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don't use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges, entrance and exit ramps.
  • Don't pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you're likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Travel on high-volume roads as much as possible, as clearing these roads is top priority for plows. Avoid driving on back roads or traveling on roads that have not been treated.
  • As always, never text while driving and be sure everyone in the vehicle is wearing a seat belt.

If your rear wheels skid...
Take your foot off the accelerator.
Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they're sliding right, steer right.
If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If your front wheels skid...
Take your foot off the gas and shift to neutral, but don't try to steer immediately.
As the wheels skid sideways, they will slow the vehicle and traction will return. As it does, steer in the direction you want to go. Then put the transmission in "drive" or release the clutch, and accelerate gently.

If your vehicle becomes stuck or you are snow-bound...
Pull off the highway or move as close to the side of the roadway as possible.
Stay in your vehicle. It provides temporary shelter, makes it easier for rescuers to locate you, and is easier for other motorists to see (versus you walking outside of your car, where you could be hit).
Don't try to walk in a severe storm. It is easy to lose sight of your vehicle in blowing snow and become lost.
If you are sure the car's exhaust pipe is not blocked, run the engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so depending on the amount of gas in the tank.
Turn on the dome light at night so work crews or rescuers can see you.
Call 9-1-1. Describe your location and immediately report any injuries.

Remember, if your vehicle starts to skid, always look and steer in the direction you want to go.