Blizzard prep: 5 tips to stay warm, be smart as weather worsens

Here's what you need to know for this week's blizzard

A car is seen through snow covered branches
A car drives through the snow during a winter storm in south Minneapolis on Thursday. A blizzard this week will test Minnesotans' winter savvy.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated 3:35 p.m.

Blizzard conditions and subzero temps this week will again test Minnesotans' winter savvy. Make sure you pass the test.

Here are some tips we’ve gathered — by Minnesotans, for Minnesotans.

1) Layers, layers, layers

Just like everyone’s told since you were a kid, it’s all about layers. Undershirt, turtleneck, sweater, sweatshirt, parka, scarf, hat — you get the picture. Mittens are warmer than gloves. Snow boots protect you against the ice and keep your feet dry. Wear them.

Frostbite often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes. Bundle up and watch for any symptoms including numbness, skin discoloration or waxy-feeling skin. Hypothermia comes on fast; even five to 10 minutes outside without the proper protection can be dire.

2) Don’t laugh off frostbite

It can be fashionable in Minnesota to wave off warnings about the bitter cold. It’s not uncommon to see people out in T-shirts and shorts here no matter the weather.

The next few days, however, will be different and dangerous.

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"Don't forget that this is really kind of scary weather. We've got to be prepared for it,” said Dr. Thomas Masters, emergency medicine physician at Hennepin Healthcare.

Frostbite can happen fairly easily as temps drop, he added. Since Sunday, his hospital has treated 25 patients with cold weather exposure concerns, including frostbite and hypothermia.

"Windchill impacts our ability to withstand frostbite. So the more severe the wind chill, the more likely you are to get frostbite. And then, if your clothes get damp, your socks or your gloves get damp, that also lowers your ability to avoid frostbite,” he said. “It can happen in a matter of minutes, depending on the conditions and the amount of exposed skin that one has."

Masters urged Minnesotans to “listen to your body. What happens is, you can get ice crystals that form under the surface of the skin. And the longer you're out there, the deeper those ice crystals will pervade. Your body lets you know pretty early on when things aren't going right. And so listening and being like, wow, this doesn't feel right, this is starting to hurt, is really important."

If you’re shoveling, make sure you’re dressed appropriately. “Avoid kind of the freezing and thawing and then refreezing situations that are particularly dangerous to people,” Masters said.

3) Survive the ditch

Yes, you want to see family and friends for the holidays, but it may not be worth risking the drive. Here’s what the National Weather Service says about travel from Wednesday to Friday night:

“Travel could be very difficult or impossible. Widespread blowing snow could significantly reduce visibility. Gusty winds could bring down tree branches. The dangerously cold wind chills as low as 35 below zero could cause frostbite on exposed skin in as little as 10 minutes. This could be a life-threatening situation if you get stranded traveling late this week.”

If you’re not going to adjust your travel plans, load your car with the essentials.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety has a “winter survival in your car” list reinforcing the need to keep a flashlight, snacks, blankets and more in your vehicle. If you have space for bigger items, toss in a shovel, kitty litter for traction and jumper cables.

If you become stranded, pull far off the road to minimize being hit by passing vehicles, and call 911. Provide information on your location and the condition of all people in the vehicle. Follow instructions and do not hang up until you know who you have spoken with and what will happen next.

In a snowstorm it is recommended to stay inside your vehicle, but If you must leave your vehicle, write down your contact information and leave it on the front windshield.

4) Find a place to get warm

Not everyone has access to housing, and furnaces seem to bust at just the wrong moment. Here’s a look at some available resources. If you know more, email tell@mpr.org.

Hennepin County

Ramsey County

Through the end of February, the following St. Paul locations will be open every night from 9:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. as warming centers.

Warming gear will be provided as well as transportation to the warming spaces. The free shuttle service will run from 9 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. every night.

Housing services and staff will be answering calls and emails from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. to refer people to available warming spaces or extra shelter beds.

Rochester

Winona

  • The Winona Community Warming Center provides emergency shelter for Winona area adults, 18 and older, experiencing homelessness. Guest check in is between 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. each evening. Admittance after check-in can be facilitated through local law enforcement. (507) 454-2270

Duluth

  • CHUM Warming Center, 214 West Third Street, Duluth, (218) 720-6521. It opened in November and will remain open every night through the middle of April from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Brainerd

  • The overnight shelter at Bridges of Hope is open from 7 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day. Walk in intakes stop at 11 p.m., and while people are allowed to leave at any time, they will not be allowed to re-enter after 11 p.m. (218) 825-7682.

St. Cloud

If you need help but are unsure where to go, call 211 or text your ZIP code to 898-211, or check out the 211 United Way website here.

5) Check forecast updates

Weather conditions will change rapidly at times over the next few days. Here are three ways to keep tabs on what’s happening.