Staying safe during WNY snow storms

Background photo of a winter storm. Text reads: "Snow Storm Safety Tips".

Published January 17, 2024

Another Western New York storm is underway, and our physicians have advice on how to keep safe during this time. 

Take warnings seriously

Brian Clemency, DO, MBA advises that people adhere to the weather reports and news advisories, following a "better safe than sorry" mentality. This includes winter weather advisories, travel bans and other safety notices that may be reported on before or during a storm.

Clemency is a physician with UBMD Emergency Medicine’s Division of Emergency Medical Services and a professor at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo (UB).

Avoid driving


“The number one thing the community can do to keep themselves and others safe in a weather emergency is to stay home,” said Clemency. “Traveling in blizzard conditions – especially when there is a travel advisory or ban –  not only endangers you, but also those around you and potentially first responders who need to rescue you in an emergency.”

Anne B. Curtis, MD, cardiac electrophysiologist and former president of UBMD Internal Medicine echoes this sentiment: “Don’t drive if conditions are bad. Lake effect storms can be so unpredictable. People need to be prepared to stay indoors, possibly for a few days, if the storm is bad.” 

Be prepared

If you're not in an area impacted by the storm or advisories, take this time to prepare in case of emergencies.

During the winter season, UBMD physicians encourage purchasing non-perishable items that could be used in case of an emergency.

These items are especially helpful as they don’t require refrigeration and have a longer shelf life.

Consider purchasing foods like:

  • Dry cereal
  • Granola
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit
  • Energy bars, protein and/or fruit bars
  • Canned items: meats, vegetables, fruits and/or soups
  • Canned dietetic foods, juices and soups can also be good for those who may be ill or the elderly
  • Bottled water: Store at least three days’ worth of water supply for each person in your household and for each pet, the CDC recommends. FEMA recommends storing at least one gallon of water for each person in your household for each day, as well as water for any pets you may have.
  • Pet food: try to have enough food to feed your pets for the at least three-to-five days’ worth of meals

If buying canned goods in case of a storm, it’s advised to use have a manual can opener on hand in case of a power outage. Note: if a can is swollen, dented or corroded, do not eat from it.

As not everyone has the ability to buy these extra grocery items, consider stopping by the local food bank and request these types of non-perishable items.

Stay safe while staying home

When staying home, people will still be at-risk for potentially serious injuries as they keep up with the snowfall.

Avoid strenuous activity

“The biggest issue from a heart health standpoint comes when people over-exert themselves by shoveling snow when they are not used to such activity,” says Curtis, one of the world’s leading clinical cardiac electrophysiologists and an expert in cardiac arrhythmias. “Sudden intense exertion can lead to a heart attack or cardiac arrest in vulnerable people.”

While important for all not to over-exert themselves, Curtis warns that those with known coronary heart disease and heart failure should be extra cautious with engaging in cold-weather tasks, such as clearing snow.

“It’s out-of-the-ordinary stress that gets people, whatever they are doing,” says Curtis, noting that cardiac deaths have occurred during attempts at snow removal.

“Many people are sedentary most of the time and not used to a lot of exertion,” says Curtis. “Shoveling is a lot of work and a risk for people with heart disease. The stress puts them at risk for a fatal heart rhythm problem, cardiac arrest.”

While shoveling is more arduous than snow blowing, people using snowblowers still need to be vigilant.

“A snowblower seems more benign, but people are still out in the cold and may operate it for a longer period of time; it still requires maneuvering through a lot of snow.”

Heavy storms where snow accumulates several inches or more are especially dangerous.

“Snow blowing probably wouldn’t be an issue if someone was trying to remove 2-3 inches of snow from their driveway or sidewalk,” says Curtis. “However, I’ve seen people pushing snow blowers through much higher piles of snow. That is difficult to do, and it’s a stress on the body.”

In addition to the heart risk, use caution when clearing the snowblower.

“Remember to shut it off completely before trying to clear any snow from it,” says Samantha Bordonaro, MD, a physician with UBMD Emergency Medicine. “Hand injuries and finger amputations can be common snow-blower injuries, as well.” Bordonaro is also the assistant dean for Student & Academic Affairs and an assistant clinical professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Jacobs School.

Keep areas clear

“During these events we often see injuries from slips and falls – anything from wrist fractures to broken hips or head injuries,” says Bordonaro. “Make sure to avoid areas that haven’t been cleared of snow or ice and wear the right footwear.”

“Make sure you have a good, rugged bottom shoe with a sticky rubber sole to increase traction,” says Susan Daoust, MD, an ankle and foot specialist with UBMD Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine and an associate professor at the Jacobs School.

Dr. Daoust also recommends:

  • Keep areas well-lit, so you can identify changes to surfaces more easily.
  • Use salt or kitty litter on areas you need to walk on.
  • For your winter shoes or boots, be sure to lace them tightly to support your ankles.
  • Walk like a penguin: take short strides, keep your feet mostly underneath you, keep your arms free to help with balance.
  • If you need to carry anything, distribute the weight evenly – don’t keep it to one side or the other.
  • Take your time! Don’t rush while walking on potentially slippery surfaces.

Video of Dr. Daoust discussing avoiding slips and falls 

When going outside, dress for the weather

“If you have to go out, dress appropriately,” says Clemency.

During storms in our region, often times we experience cold to extreme cold conditions, so be sure to wear 2-3 layers of clothing, waterproof boots, a warm hat, mittens/gloves, scarf, and an outer layer to keep wind and wet snow out.

For your inner layers, it’s recommended to wear loose-fitting clothes as tight clothing can reduce blood circulation.

Additional winter and snow weather safety tips

For you and your families’ safety, consider these additional tips to stay safe during this storm.

  • Make sure you have all your medications.
  • Check your carbon monoxide detectors and make sure they are fully functioning. “Carbon monoxide poisoning is a concern from heaters and generators that are not properly ventilated,” says Clemency.
  • If you have a snowblower, make sure you have enough gasoline on hand.
  • Ensure heaters and generators are in properly ventilated areas.
  • Have a plan if you lose power: fully charge cell phones before the storm, have flashlights ready, and a communication plan with a friend, family member or neighbor. 
  • If you develop chest pain or experience trouble breathing at any time, stop whatever activity you may be doing and rest. If it doesn’t go away, call 911.

And remember: “We are the City of Good Neighbors – look out for each other and work together to keep our community safe,” said Bordonaro. “If you don’t need to go out in the storm, please stay home. Keep access clear for emergency vehicles and first responders.”