Freezes and Winter Storms
It doesn’t take a full blizzard to have a winter storm. Winter storms can include extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice and high winds. They increase the risk of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, carbon monoxide poisoning, and heart attacks from overexertion.
Winter storms can:
- Last a few hours or several days
- Cut off heat, power and communication services
- Put older adults, children, sick individuals and pets at greater risk
What causes freezing events?
A freeze occurs when temperatures are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of time. These temperatures can damage agricultural crops, burst water pipes, and create layers of “black ice.” Winter storms are events that can range from a few hours of moderate snow to blizzard-like conditions. These conditions can affect driving and impact communications, electricity, and other services.
There are several things you can do to prepare in advance for freezes and winter storms:
- Know your area’s risk for winter storms. Extreme winter weather can leave communities without utilities or other services for long periods of time. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a user-defined searchable database for a history of winter events in Williamson County which can be found here.
- Stay informed about your community’s risk and response plans. Links to response plans for various areas in the county are available at the bottom of this page.
- Prepare your home to keep out the cold. Make sure the insulation, caulking, and weather stripping is in good condition.
- Learn how to protect pipes from freezing. Something as simple as letting faucets drip and opening cabinet doors will help prevent pipes from bursting and causing water damage inside your home.
- Test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups. Have extra packages of batteries in each size for alarms and detectors, radios, and flashlights.
- Pay attention to weather reports and warnings of freezing weather and winter storms. There are a number of outlets to receive alerts and updated weather information.
- Sign up for Williamson County’s alert warning system. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.
- Gather supplies in case you need to stay home for several days without power. Keep in mind the needs of each family member, including pets. Don’t forget any medications.
- Create an emergency supply kit for your car. Jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water, and non-perishable snacks are staples of an emergency car kit.
- Make sure your car is ready for winter. Check on the battery, ignition, antifreeze, heater, defroster, windshield wipers, thermostat, headlights, hazard lights, brakes, oil, and filters.
- Keep your gas tank full. Don’t hoard gas in multiple containers, if enough people do this it can cause a fuel shortage.
- Learn the signs of and basic treatments for frostbite and hypothermia. For more information, visit the CDC's winter safety page.
It is important to understand the terminology used during winter weather:
- Freezing Rain: Rain that freezes when it hits the ground creating a coating of ice on roads, walkways, trees and power lines.
- Sleet: Rain that turns to ice pellets before reaching the ground, causing moisture on roads to freeze and become slippery.
- Freeze Warning: Below freezing temperatures are expected.
- Winter Weather Advisory: Issued when snow, blowing snow, ice, sleet, or a combination of these wintry elements is expected but conditions should not be hazardous enough to meet warning criteria. Be prepared for winter driving conditions and possible travel difficulties.
- Winter Storm Watch: A winter storm is possible. Watches are issued when conditions are favorable for a significant winter storm event (heavy sleet, heavy snow, ice storm, heavy snow and blowing snow or a combination of events.) Winter Storm Watches are usually issued 12 to 48 hours before the beginning of a Winter Storm.
- Winter Storm Warning: A winter storm is occurring or will soon occur. Warnings are issued for a significant winter weather event including snow, ice, sleet or blowing snow or a combination of these hazards. Winter Storm Warnings are usually issued 12 to 24 hours before the event is expected to begin, and occasionally beyond that as much as 36 hours before the storm moves into the region.
During a winter storm
- Find shelter right away. Bring your pets inside before the storm begins.
- Listen for emergency information. Use your radio, television, NOAA Weather Radio, or weather apps.
- Prepare for power outages. Close blinds or curtains to retain as much heat as possible and place rags in cracks under doors. Have an emergency kit in your home and car. See our page on building a kit (link) to find out what items you need.
- Stay off the roads. Drive only if it is absolutely necessary! If you must drive:
- Salt your driveway as early on as possible.
- Travel during the day and keep others informed of your schedule. If your vehicle gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
- Stay on main roads; avoid small, back roads and alleys. These will likely stay iced over longer than main roads.
- Where possible avoid bridges and overpasses. If you must drive over these, try to avoid having to break or accelerate. Be on the lookout for sleet, freezing rain, freezing drizzle, and dense fog, which can make driving very hazardous.
- Keep your gas tank as full as possible during cold weather.
- Do not park your car on the side of the road. Roadways should be kept clear for snow plows and other emergency crews.
- Use generators outside only. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects. Carbon Monoxide is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas and can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.
- Dress warmly. Wear several layers of loose, lightweight and warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. Mittens and warm socks will help protect your fingers and toes, hats and warm shoes will help keep heat from escaping your body, and cover your mouth with a scarf will help protect your lungs. If you feel too warm, remove layers to avoid sweating; if you feel chilled, add layers.
- Exercise but avoid overexertion. From time to time, move arms, legs, fingers and toes vigorously to keep blood circulating and to keep warm. Avoid overexertion such as shoveling heavy snow, pushing a car or walking in deep snow if you are not in good health. Overexertion can bring on a heart attack, a major cause of death during the winter.
- Avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of fluids, and avoid coffee and alcohol.
- Watch for signs of frostbite. Frostbite is a type of injury caused by freezing. Signs include extremities appearing white, skin that feels waxy and numbness.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia. Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposures to very cold temperatures. Signs include shivering, numbness, confusion, memory loss, shivering, fumbling hands, slow or slurred speech, and loss of consciousness. If you or someone you know is experiencing signs of hypothermia, warm up the center of the body first and go to a medical facility or call 911immediately.
- Check on friends, family and neighbors. If you see homeless people stranded in the cold, call your local authorities so they can find a shelter for them.
Using alert systems is crucial to being informed before and during winter events, just as with any other disaster. Our alert systems page has resources for a number of alert options.
Local Winter Storm Risks
History of freezing and winter storm events in Williamson County
In Williamson County, all jurisdictions are vulnerable to freezes and moderate winter storms, but not to the severity level seen in much of the northern U.S.
Based on previous occurrences, Williamson County averages three winter storm events per year, according to the data received between January 1, 2016 and October 11, 2021. The severity of winter storms is commonly measured by inches of snowfall. In February 2021, a two-day snow event occurred which accumulated 3.5-inches in Nolensville and 5-inches of snowfall in College Grove.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) maintains a user-defined searchable database for various events including winter weather which can be found here.
Williamson County can experience temperatures between 12 to 6 degrees Fahrenheit, thus causing multiple freeze conditions during the winter months.
Impacts of Extreme Cold
Throughout the county, many buildings and the majority of infrastructure networks can be vulnerable to winter storm impacts. Many of these structures could receive indirect impacts such as downed electrical lines that cut off electricity to the structures, frozen pipelines that crack, destroyed agriculture crops, and customers not being able to access travel to the buildings due to ice-covered roads. Road traveling conditions, electrical lines, and agricultural functions are some of the most vulnerable features in the county.
In a freeze or winter storm, exposure to extreme cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia, which can become life-threatening. However, what constitutes extreme cold varies in different parts of the country. In the South, near freezing temperatures are considered extreme cold. These temperatures can cause severe damage to certain crops and other vegetation. Pipes may freeze or burst in homes with poor insulation, causing severe home damage.
Wind chill is also a factor of extreme cold. Wind chill is the term used to describe the rate of heat loss on the human body resulting from the combined effect of low temperature and wind. As the wind increases, body heat is carried away at a faster rate and essentially lowers body temperature. Animals are also affected by wind chill, which could put livestock in danger.
Ranking Local Vulnerability
Williamson County uses a simple system called a vulnerability calculator to determine each jurisdiction’s vulnerability to hazardous events, as shown in the charts below.