Rave blog Post

Winter Weather Safety for K-12 Schools

With temperatures dropping across the United States as winter settles in, it’s important that K-12 schools and districts have a good understanding of potential winter safety hazards that could impact students, faculty, and staff. Winter weather can certainly take its toll, with heavy snow and freezing rain being responsible for numerous traffic fatalities each year.

Weather.gov explains that hundreds of deaths and injuries from hypothermia, exposure, and frostbite are reported each year as bitter cold air masses plunge into the United States during the winter. For this reason, schools must be on alert for winter weather dangers and fully understand what safety hazards to be prepared for.

How to Get Winter Weather Information

Usually winter storms are relatively slow to develop taking one to three days to mature, according to Weather.gov’s School Weather Safety Plan. This is good news for schools as they can monitor and prepare with advanced notices of winter storms. The School Weather Safety Plan outlines some of the following winter weather situations that administrators should be on the lookout for:

  • Winter Storm Watch
    When you hear of a winter storm watch this typically means that hazardous winter weather due to multiple elements such as sleet, ice, or heavy snow are a possibility but not a certainty.
  • Winter Storm Warning
    A Winter Storm Warning is issued when Winter Storm Watch thresholds are met or exceeded, meaning a dangerous combination of heavy snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain is expected to occur.
  • Ice Storm Warning
    When an Ice Storm Warning is issued it means there is a heavy accumulation of ice, a half of an inch, due to freezing rain. This can result in loss of electricity and downed phone lines as well as unsafe road conditions.
  • Blizzard Warning
    When there is a combination of strong winds averaging about 35 mph with low visibility due to falling or blowing snow, a Blizzard Warning will be issued. These are the most dangerous winter storms, especially when combined with low freezing temperatures.
  • High Wind Warning
    If winds are expected to average 40mph or more for at least an hour, a High Wind Warning will be issued.
  • Wind Chill Warning
    A Wind Chill Warning means there are life-threatening cold with wind chill temperatures recorded to be at least -30F degrees or less with wind speeds of at least 5mph. The School Weather Safety Plan tells us that exposure to this combination of strong winds and low temperatures without protective clothing will quickly lead to frostbite, hypothermia and even death.
  • Winter Weather Advisory
    A Winter Weather Advisory is issued when there is a combination of snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain.

Related Blog: How Westchester County Aims to Create Safer Schools

Tips to Prepare Your School for Winter Weather

There are a few things your K-12 school can do to prepare for winter weather. Being ready for a winter storm or extreme temperatures can ensure student safety as well as safety for your faculty and staff.

  1. Coordinate a Plan for Winter Weather
    Having a solid plan in place for the several winter weather situations is important. If your area is expecting a snow storm, school administrators must use their judgement on whether there will be a delay of school, or a snow day. Having constant communication with your busing companies, those who clear and salt walkways, teachers, staff, students, and their parents will help streamline operations if school has to close for the day.
  2. Get Rid of Outside Hazards
    There may be some hazards on school grounds that go unnoticed during the warmer months. Make sure the school’s gutters have been cleaned to avoid icicles building up and dropping. Tree limbs may also be weighed down by snow, making them a hazard to students walking into school.
  3. Check Your Bus Fleet
    Your school district may have their own fleet of buses, or contract out to another company, but it is the school’s responsibility to make sure students get to and from school safely. School buses must be maintained to have heat on board, and good tires to handle the snowy roads.
  4. Implement School Safety Technology
    If your school stays open during winter weather, there can still be some risks to look out for. Having school safety technology, such as a mobile panic button application, allows teachers or administrators to simultaneously alert 9-1-1, first responders, and staff of an emergency. Slips and falls happen more often when there is snow and ice on the ground, which is why having a panic button to alert of a medical emergency is crucial.
  5. Test Your Communication Plan
    Making sure your school notification platform is ready to go is extremely important. Nobody wants people on the snowy or icy roads when they don’t need to be, which is why reaching students, teachers, and parents is extremely important. Consider testing your notification system and updating your contact lists to make sure everybody receives their alerts.

SwiftK12 School Notifications

Tara Gibson
Tara Gibson

Tara is a Marketing Coordinator on the Rave Mobile Safety marketing team. She loves writing about all things K-12, State & Local, Higher Ed, Corporate, and Healthcare, and manages the Rave social media channels. When she's not working, she's taking care of her smiley, shoe eating, Instagram-famous fur baby, Enzo!

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