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Winter Weather Preparedness

winterweather PictureWinter time is that time of year that brings many families together for the holidays and wintery weather.  Unfortunately there are also many hazards that are associated with winter time to include weather related to keeping your family and home warm and safe.  One way to be better prepared is to understand what the weather terminology means.  It is also helpful to have some basic rules and checklist to follow to help you make smart decisions for you and your family to ensure everyone stays safe and enjoys the winter and holidays. Below are some definitions of winter storm watches, warnings and advisories and various winter precipitation types that may be issued by the National Weather Service (NWS).

Winter Terms  

Winter storm watches and warnings are issued by the NWS for potentially life-threatening conditions. In the winter, watches and warnings are issued for significant snow and/or ice storms. Below are a list of winter weather watches, warnings and advisories.  

Winter Storm Watch - issued when the following weather conditions are possible within 24 to 48 hours. At least 3 inches of snow and/or ice accumulations of 1/4 inch or more in a 12 to 24 hour period.  

Winter Storm Warning - issued when at least 3 inches of snow or ice accumulations of 1/4 inch or more are likely within 24 hours.  

Winter Weather Advisory - issued when 1 to 3 inches of snow or ice accumulations of less than 1/4 inch are likely within 24 hours.

Blizzard Warning - issued when strong winds combine with falling and/or blowing snow to reduce visibility to one quarter mile or less for at least 3 hours.  Deep snow drifts and dangerously low wind chills often accompany blizzard conditions.  

Wind Chill Warning - issued when wind chill temperatures (the combined effect of wind and temperature on exposed skin) are forecast to reach 20 degrees below zero or colder. 

Precipitation Types 

Freezing Rain - freezing rain is rain that falls and freezes to a cold surface such as a road or tree, causing a glaze of ice to form. Freezing rain forms when rain falls through a warm layer above the ground then freezes upon reaching the ground when the surface air and ground-level objects are below freezing. Freezing rain or "ice storms" can bring down trees and power lines, and severely hamper travel.  

Sleet - sleet is melted snow that has re-frozen into ice pellets prior to reaching the ground. Sleet forms in a similar manner to freezing rain. However, the layer of cold air near the ground is thick enough to allow the rain drops to re-freeze before reaching the ground. Sleet will bounce when it strikes a hard surface. Sleet can accumulate like snow and make a road slick, but it is not as hazardous as freezing rain.  

Blizzard - A blizzard occurs when winds 35 mph or greater combine with blowing snow reducing visibility to less than one quarter mile causing white-out conditions. People caught in blizzards can quickly become disoriented from the cold, snow and wind, losing their way when only several yards from their home or car.  

Flurries - the term flurries refers to very light snow or snow that occurs for a short time period only causing a light dusting at best.  

Wind Chill - wind chill temperature is the "feel-like" temperature denoting the combined effect of wind and temperature on people and animals. Wind chill is based on the rate of heat loss from exposed skin. Wearing layers of clothing will help retain your body heat and combat wind chill. Once wind chill temperatures drop below -20 degrees f, exposed flesh can freeze in 30 minutes or less, causing frost bite.  

Winter storms are deceptive killers because most deaths are indirectly related to the storm. Examples are traffic accidents due to icy roads, heart attacks while shoveling snow, fires and carbon monoxide poisoning. The advisories, watches and warnings issued by the national weather service are issued to help you prepare for upcoming winter weather and take appropriate action to protect yourself and your property.

Additional information on winter weather preparedness can be obtained on-line through the United States Fire Administration, the North Carolina Department of Emergency Management, or the National Weather Service Winter Weather Preparedness. The URL's are
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Is your home prepared for winter?

emergency supply Example 1We think of our homes as the place we want to be when the weather turns cold and blustery. However if certain precautions are not taken before a winter storm strikes life at home can be just as miserable as the weather outside. Severe winter storms produce conditions which can isolate you in your home for several days. Prolonged loss of power and telephone services can severely limit your ability to heat your home and call for help. In severe winter storms obtaining supplies food and other necessities can be hampered or prevented by poor road conditions. The following are some helpful hints to make your home a safe haven during winter weather.  

Do - stock an emergency supply of food and water prior to the onset of a winter storm. Include food items which require no cooking such as canned meats, peanut butter and other non perishables. Also do not forget to have necessary medicines and baby items on hand. A three to five day supply of food and medicine is generally sufficient. Also make sure you have a manual can opener.  

Do - keep an adequate supply of heating fuel (firewood...kerosene...etc.) at your home. Use your fuel properly and sparingly as supplies may be in short order during winter storms. Use heaters and fuels properly and safely in order to avoid deadly fires and carbon monoxide.  

Do - keep on hand a flash light, battery powered radio, extra batteries and a first aid kit.  

Do - prevent water pipes from freezing by wrapping them with insulation or newspaper covered with plastic. In really cold weather let your faucets drip slightly to help avoid freezing. If your pipes do freeze remove the insulation and wrap the pipes in rags. Open every faucet in the house and pour hot water over the rag wrapped pipes. Also know how to shut off your homes water supply should water lines break.  

Do – keep generators well away from the home. Never run a generator in your garage of any other enclosed area. Carbon monoxide from the exhaust of the generator can be a silent killer. Also make sure your generator is properly wired to your home.  

Never - heat your home using a charcoal grill gas grill or camp stove. Grills and camp stoves create deadly carbon monoxide fumes that will build up when used in your home. Always use grills outside.   

Driving in winter weather!!!  

Seventy-five percent of all winter weather related deaths occur on the road either in accidents or by people becoming stranded. Obviously when the weather is bad and driving conditions are poor the best bet is to stay at home. However if your must venture out, the following tips could make for a safer journey.  

  1. Make sure your car is in good running condition.  Make sure that your battery, antifreeze, windshield wipers, ignition and thermostat are all in good working order. Be sure your tires have enough tread. Replace any of these items if necessary.
  2. If you must go out when snow and ice are on the ground let someone know your destination and when you plan to arrive. Also carry a cell phone if possible.
  3. Clean snow and ice off all parts of your car before you drive away.
  4. Keep your gas tank as full as possible when snow are ice are forecast. This will not only give you added peace of mind it also increases the weight of your car and this will provide additional tracking.
  5. Keep the following basic items in your car - windshield scraper and brush, booster/jumper cables, a tow chain or rope, bag of sand or salt, blankets, flashlight, first aid kit and road map.
  6. Overall drive slow. Driving at even posted speeds is extremely dangerous when snow and ice are on the road. Many vehicles will lose traction especially at higher speeds resulting in serious accident and vehicle rollovers.
  7. Steer you car into the skid. If your vehicle loses traction and begins to skid, steer the front tires into the direction of the skid. Never hit your brakes as this will result in a more serious skid and spinning of the vehicle. When your vehicle skids keep your cool and remain calm. Again driving at slower speeds will help you recover from a skid. 

If you get stranded on the road 

  1. Stay in your car, do not seek alternate shelter unless it is close by or already visible. You can easily become disoriented in heavy snow and cold temperatures. Carry a cell phone with you when you travel if possible.
  2. Periodically turn on the car engine for brief periods. This will help provide heat to the inside of the car. However, to avoid carbon monoxide gas buildup, clear the exhaust pipe of snow and leave a downwind window slightly open for ventilation.
  3. Make yourself visible by tying a colored cloth to your antenna or door, or by turning on your dome light when running the engine.  

Being prepared for winter weather means having the necessary information to make the right decision. Weather forecasts play a large role in this decision making process. The National Weather Service recommends that you regularly tune into NOAA Weather Radio, local television and local radio in order to keep abreast of weather. 

The dangers of fire and improper heating increase during the winter.  Cold temperatures are a fact of winter. With these cold temperatures comes an increase in the number of house fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, someone is injured in a fire every 31 minutes and someone dies in a house fire every two and a half hours. Nearly four hundred thousand house fires claimed over twenty five hundred lives in 2009 nationwide. Eighty five percent of all fire related deaths occurred in the home resulting from smoke and toxic fume inhalation.  House fires resulting from heating material within the home ranks second for the most deaths and property loss falling behind improperly discarded smoking material. Chimney fires are the number one cause of home heating fires and are typically the result of a poorly maintained chimney where creosote is allowed to build up. Fires resulting from improper use of portable and fixed space heaters including wood stoves are responsible for a disproportionate share of fire deaths. Space heaters are typically involved in 25 percent of home heating fires but account for 74 percent of the deaths.  Listed below are some fire safety tips to ensure you and your family stay safe:

  1. Make sure all smoke detectors are working properly and have fresh batteries.
  2. Be extremely careful with candles. Colder temperatures result in more burning of candles. Winter storms and power outages further increase the use of candles and oil lamps in the home. Keep candles away from combustible materials. Never leave children unattended in a room with lit candles. Keep candles, matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
  3. Inspect fireplaces and wood stoves. Have your chimney connections and flues inspected by a professional and cleaned if necessary prior to the start of every heating season.
  4. Use a sturdy screen or door in front of your fireplace when burning fires.
  5. Burn only wood, never burn paper including discarded gift wrap or pine boughs.
  6. Do not hang holiday decorations from or on your fireplace if you plan to use it as a heat source.
  7. Be aware of overuse of electrical outlets.  Don't overload your electrical outlets and be careful of extension cords that present hazardous walkways.
  8. Have one or more working fire extinguishers in your home.