Winter Safety Tips

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Winter weather? Know the difference.

Winter Weather Advisory - Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter Storm Watch - Winter storm conditions are possible within the next 36 to 48 hours. People in a watch area should review their winter storm plans and stay informed about weather conditions.

Winter Storm Warning - Life-threatening, severe winter conditions have begun or will begin within 24 hours. People in a warning area should take precautions immediately.


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Protect yourself and your home during winter:

Cold winter weather in Virginia is challenging and dangerous.  Protect yourself and your home with these tips:

Heating your home:

  • Do not use the kitchen oven range to heat your home. In addition to being a fire hazard, it can be a source of toxic fumes.
  • Plug space heaters into wall outlets, not extension cords.  Keep space heaters at least three feet from other objects. Never leave a space heater unattended, and turn it off before going to bed.
  • Portable generators and kerosene and propane heaters must be used with great caution. They should be inspected and cleaned by professionals so that they work safely. Proper ventilation is essential: the room must be ventilated by opening a window.  Keep heaters at least three feet away from flammable objects such as curtains, blankets and furniture.  Place heaters on a hard surface, not on carpet.  Refuel them outdoors after they have cooled. Follow manufacturer's directions exactly when hooking them up.
  • If you will heat with a fireplace or wood stove, have a professional check it, especially if it has been a long time since the last cleaning.  Residue can build up and cause fires.

Plan ahead:

  • It's essential that you and your family have a winter emergency plan. 

    Here's why: if your family cannot return home because of severe weather or closed roads, you need to decide ahead of time on meeting places away from your neighborhood.  You also need an out-of-town relative or friend to be your family's point of contact for emergency communications.  Learn more about making a plan for winter weather and all emergencies at

  • Keep your gas tank full during the winter, but it's always best to stay off roads during winter storms.  Most accidents happen within the first two hours after a storm starts.  If you must drive, know the road conditions before you go.  Call 511 or go to for around-the-clock travel information.  Also, if you are going to drive in a winter storm, be sure to tell someone your destination and the routes you are going to take to get there.

What if the power goes out?

  • If there is a severe storm, then power outages could occur.  If you can, stay in a place that has power and heat, such as a friend's home, hotel or local warming shelter.
  • If you must stay home during power outages, plan now how you will stay warm.  Choose a room that can be closed off and heated safely by something other than electricity. 
  • During power outages, don't use candles for light.  Flashlights are much safer.  Be sure to have extra batteries on hand.
  • Stay informed during power outages. Be sure you have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio (and extra batteries).  Get one with Weather Radio so you can hear local radio stations and reports directly from the National Weather Service.  These are available at electronics and sporting goods stores, department stores, boat and marine accessory stores, through catalogues and online.  Prices range from $20-100.



Winter weather tips from Including what to do before, during, and after a winter storm.

Winter Preparedness Week information and tips from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

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Extreme Cold:

Prepare Yourself for Exposure.

Stay indoors, but if you must go outside:

  • Dress warmly with several layers of loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. 
  • Limit skin exposure in order to prevent frostbite.
  • Wear mittens, which are warmer than gloves.
  • Wear a hat. A hat will prevent loss of body heat.
  • Cover your mouth with a scarf to protect your lungs.
  • Avoid getting wet to prevent hypothermia.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite, which include loss of feeling or pale appearance of fingers, toes or face.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia, which include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, drowsiness and exhaustion.
  • Minimize travel. If travel is necessary, keep a full tank of gas and an emergency preparedness kit in your vehicle. Put warm clothing, such as gloves, blankets and hats, in your kit in case you become stranded.

Staying Safe and Warm at Home

  • Weather-proof doors and windows to trap heat inside your home.
  • Plug portable heaters directly into wall outlets, not extension cords or power strips.
  • Make sure your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors are working.
  • Check and restock your emergency preparedness kit. If you don't have a kit, make one.
  • Prepare for possible power outages by charging devices, making sure generators are working, and identifying where you will go for heat.
  • Insulate pipes with newspaper and let faucet drip to prevent pipes from freezing.
  • Make sure you know how to shut off water valves in case pipes burst.
  • Bring your pets indoors!

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Snow shovelShoveling Snow?

Before winter weather hits, the City of Harrisonburg encourages residents to make plans and talk with their neighbors.

According to Section 6-1-15 of the Code of the City of Harrisonburg, Property Owners have 24 hours to remove snow if it is six inches or less. In the event of significant snowfall of six inches or greater, property owners have 36 hours to have the sidewalks clear. The times begins after the snow has stopped falling. PDF[1.7MB] View PDF of Sidewalk Snow Removal

Citizens should shovel snow to the right side of their driveways (looking toward the street). This way snow plows will not push already-shoved snow back into your driveway. Please do not plow snow from your sidewalks or driveways into the street. Doing so causes severe safety hazards for motorists.

Harrisonburg is a pedestrian‐friendly city and it is important to have clear sidewalks year‐round. If a pedestrian encounters a snow covered sidewalk, they may be inclined to walk in the roadway, which could pose a safety hazard.

The City also encourages neighbors to check in on one another and offer assistance to the elderly or those who are not physically able to clear the sidewalk.


Some things to keep in mind when shoveling snow:

  • Avoid overexertion when shoveling snow. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack—a major cause of death in the winter. If you must shovel snow, stretch before going outside.
  • Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.



All Apartment Complexes, Shopping Centers must keep Fire Hydrants accessible at all times.

Help HFD keep snow clear of fire hydrants through the Adopt-A-Hydrant Program.


The following is the City Code Section 5-2-3:

Obstructions within fifteen feet of fire hydrant
It shall be unlawful to place, store or keep any merchandise, building material or other thing (Snow, Weeds, Brush, etc.) within fifteen (15) feet of a fire hydrant within the city limits or otherwise to obstruct passage to a fire hydrant within such distance.

Failure to keep Fire Hydrant clear is a Class 1 Misdemeanor which is punishable by a fine of up to $2500.00 and or 1 year in Prison.


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Worried about frozen water pipes?

Helpful cold weather tips from Public Utilities.


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When will my street get plowed?

View the salt and plow routes for Harrisonburg.


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Sledding Safety

Did you know that there are over 20,000 child sledding injuries each year in the USA? Let's all do our part to keep kids safe while having fun in the snow this winter!

The majority of injuries happen to youths age 14 and younger, especially in the run outs at the end of the sledding path.

  • Parents or adults must supervise children in sledding areas to make sure the sledding path is safe and there are not too many sledders on the hill at the same time or at the end of the run to avoid collisions.
  • Adult supervision is needed to make sure that children sledding down a hill don't collide with children in the run outs and that the end of the sledding path isn't in a street or parking lot, pond or other hazardous area.
  • Helmets help prevent head injuries and should be worn by sledders under 12 years old.
  • Do not sled on public streets.
  • Sledding should be done only in designated and approved areas where there are no trees, posts, fences or other obstacles in the sledding path.
  • The sledding run must not end in a street, drop off, parking lot, pond or other hazard.


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