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Blizzard 2015: Caught in the Snow? Don't Panic

Here's what you need to know ahead of time if you're caught outside in a winter storm.
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So a tractor-trailer slid out in front of your car, blocking the road and stopping snow plows. The snow is piling up fast, and you know you're in for a long wait. Or maybe you've slid off the road where no one can see you and you have to face the cold.

Here's what you need to know ahead of time to survive a winter storm:

Dress right. Even if you don't think you'll get caught in the snow, you might. Wear layers, have an extra coat or sweater on hand, and have a pair of sensible shoes. Your 10-minute commute could turn into a snowy hike if the roads back up.

Keep your hands and toes warm. They're vulnerable to frostbite, and you might not feel it coming on. In extreme cold, the body diverts blood to the vital organs.

Skip the booze. Alcohol may make you feel warm for a moment, but that comfortable flush means you're losing body heat to the outside air. And alcohol impairs your judgment so you might take unnecessary risks — like leaving a cozy car to walk.

Seek Shelter. Your house or car will likely be the safest place, even if it means being uncomfortable in a days-long traffic jam or an extended power outage.

Danger signs

Here's what to look for if you are outside for a long time in the cold:

Shivering, dizziness, nausea, fast breathing, rapid heart rate, trouble speaking and mental confusion are all signs of hypothermia and call for emergency action to get warm.

A prickly feeling on the skin, fingers or toes can signal frostbite. Red or pink skin will turn white, which is a danger signal. Get that skin covered. Gentle — not brisk — rubbing can push blood into the affected area and warm it. Breathing gently on the affected area can help. Don't use direct heat from a stove or a fire on frostbitten skin — putting hands or feet under someone's armpit can help, and warm — not hot — water may also help.

Shoveling snow can be dangerous, too. Watch your back, use a smaller shovel to make sure you're not lifting too much weight, don't eat a heavy meal before you go out to shovel, and call 911 if you feel sudden chest pain, arm weakness or sudden nausea under or after exertion.

— Maggie Fox and Nancy Snyderman