This past year has brought one surprise after another, from a worldwide pandemic prompting lockdowns in late March to multiple hurricanes in late November. As we move into 2021, expert sources like the Farmer’s Almanac are making winter weather predictions with at least a bit of good news we all need: it looks like a somewhat mild winter is on its way for the majority of regions.
However, AccuWeather is predicting that the climate pattern La Niña (the opposite of El Niño) is going to bring a wetter winter to the Pacific Northwest and some periodic blasts of cold air to the Northeast.
As the U.S. prepares for winter 2021, businesses should remain aware of weather predictions both short-term and far out in order to be proactive in their disaster response. A business that takes steps to prevent ice dams and freezing pipes is a business that comes out on top in the summer.
Preparing your business for winter 2021
Winter weather predictions for a slightly dryer, milder winter than normal throughout most of the U.S. still doesn’t mean “nothing can happen.” however. There are still disasters that can occur in the winter. Your business may have been closed or working mostly from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but winter still means changed weather and potentially hazardous conditions.
The National Weather Service warns that in warmer U.S. regions, cold weather hazards don’t start when the temperature gauge falls below zero. Near-freezing or freezing temperatures can cause safety hazards even if they’re in Southwestern or Southeastern regions which seldom, if ever, have snowfall. Some common hazards when temperatures drop below freezing include:
High winds and cold weather can lead to power outages. If your power goes out during freezing weather, temperatures can drop dangerously. Accuweather warns that many road accidents occur during power outages when street lights are dark, and if roads are dangerous employees may find themselves stuck at the office. Make sure your workplace has adequate emergency supplies, including flashlights, towels, water and blankets.
Put towels under doors and cover windows with black blankets to retain heat when you’re sheltering in place during a power outage. AccuWeather also warns: don’t use any type of gas generator, charcoal grill or gas stove while sheltering indoors during a power outage. Carbon monoxide gas, which you can’t smell, is potentially life-threatening and can easily build up by using one of these sources indoors without ventilation.
Snow and ice can build up on roofs, causing too much stress and potentially leading to a collapse. In the Northeast, roofs are usually built to support 30 pounds per square foot, but they can be built to handle 50 or even 100 pounds of extra weight per square foot to prevent collapse. But in the South you may need to take extra precautions during an uncommonly heavy winter weather storm.
If the roof is within reach, you can hire contractors to remove built-up snow or you can use a snow rake to get it off. The highest risk of collapse occurs when snow melts at the end of the storm and later refreezes.
Pipes within your building can freeze if the temperature drops too low. There is nothing more frustrating than turning the tap and hearing that tell-tale groan that signifies frozen pipes. With the cost of repairs for broken pipes following a freeze exceeding $5,000, keeping your pipes well-insulated is a must. Pipe insulation is affordable and it should be used as much as possible to prevent frozen pipes. If you rent space in your business, consult building management on their plans for preventing frozen pipes and how you can help.
Oftentimes letting cold water drip from faucets can be key to preventing burst pipes. In addition, you can follow these tips:
- Keep your garage door or other exterior or out-building doors closed
- Open cabinet doors in kitchens and bathrooms
- Keep your thermostat set to the same temperature day and night
- If you’re not at work, keep the thermostat set at a steady, moderate temperature
- If you suspect you’ve got frozen pipes, there are a few things you can do. First, if applicable, call building management. If not applicable, turn on the faucet and apply gentle heat to the pipe. However, if the pipe has already burst you’ll have a flood on your hands, so be cautious about how you handle a frozen pipe situation.
An ice dam is a ridge of ice that builds up around the edge of the roof, preventing water from draining when snow melts, and potentially causing backed-up water to leak into a building, damaging your walls, ceilings, and attics/insulation. Heating the house while snow builds up outside can cause ice dam conditions. Even a small amount of water leakage due to an ice dam could lead to later problems, including mold and mildew buildup.
Preventing ice dams usually requires keeping your building’s roof in good shape, increasing ventilation, plugging air holes and adding more insulation. If building management is responsible for your roof, ask them if they’ve had concerns about ice dams in the past. If an ice dam does occur and the roof is out of your control, the best thing you can do is create a disaster preparedness plan making it easy for employees to quickly pivot to work from home.
2021 Winter Weather Predictions for U.S. Regions
With La Niña influencing the weather for winter 2020/2021, each region of the U.S. is going to experience differing winter conditions according to NOAA.
NOAA is predicting that La Niña is going to bring potentially wetter, colder conditions to parts of the northern U.S., including Montana, North Dakota, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana. There’s a 50% probability that portions of Washington State, Montana, and North Dakota will have colder than normal temperatures.
New Mexico and southwest Texas will have a high chance of warmer-than-usual winter temperatures, according to NOAA. Many other southern-tier states, including states bordering the Gulf of Mexico, will also have a chance of warmer winters than usual. Southern States, especially New Mexico and west Texas, will see less precipitation than usual this winter as well.
The Northeast will see another snowy winter, while New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland/DC/Northern Virginia will see “sheets of sleet,” according to the Farmer’s Almanac. Mid-Atlantic states, including North and South Carolina will be “not so cold, not so wet,” the Almanac reports, but that still doesn’t mean there’s zero chance of freezing weather or snow.
Most of California should expect a cool, dry winter, but northern regions, moving into coastal Oregon and Washington State, will have a wetter winter than usual, according to the Almanac. Inland regions in the Western states, as well as higher elevations in Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado west of the Rockies will see “snow pelting, then melting.” Watch out for snow all winter long in the Mountain States and persistent drought conditions throughout dry regions across Western states. This dry climate will continue up to and include Northern California, which has already been hit hard by the 2020 fire season.
The height of winter hasn’t yet begun, so it’s important to get prepared and stay prepared for potential disasters. La Niña is bringing some milder-than-usual temperatures to some U.S. regions, but sub-zero winter temperatures, snow, ice and sleet are still on the way for the majority of the country.
The best way to get prepared for winter and stay prepared year after year is a partnership with a pre-disaster partner. A reliable partner will know your area’s winter weather predictions as well as typical disaster risks and how to best prepare your business to meet and overcome them. ServiceMaster DSI is the world’s first pre-disaster partner committed to getting your business ready for disaster preparedness year-round. Click here to learn more about our services, the first of their kind.