Agencies have reviewed plans, conducted trainings, prepared resources ahead of winter season
During Winter Weather Preparedness Week, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced New York state agencies have fully prepared all emergency response resources in advance of the upcoming winter season. The governor is also reminding New Yorkers of the steps they can take to ensure their households are prepared for extreme weather and informed this winter, which includes encouraging everyone to subscribe to NY-Alert to receive real-time weather and emergency alerts throughout the 2023-24 winter season.
“As we enter the winter weather season, I have directed state agencies to prepare emergency response assets so we can be ready to assist our partners at the local level whenever and wherever extreme weather strikes,” Hochul said. “New Yorkers know all too well that climate change has caused more frequent, intense, and unpredictable storms, so I encourage all New Yorkers to stay alert and be prepared: Sign up for NY-Alert to receive notifications on nasty weather heading your way and build an emergency kit with supplies in case of a power outage or an evacuation. Don’t wait – be prepared today.”
Hochul’s team said, “New Yorkers should consider taking an emergency preparedness course thorough the New York State Citizen Preparedness Corps program. During these courses, New Yorkers are taught an all-hazards approach to preparedness, giving them skills that can be utilized in life-threatening situations, information on how to develop family emergency plans and the importance of stocking up on emergency supplies. Since 2014, more than 370,000 New Yorkers have enrolled in in-person CPC courses. There are more than 40 events scheduled throughout the state in November and December. To find a course near you, click here.”
In terms of state preparedness, the following efforts have been, or are, underway at a multitude of state agencies. Hochul’s team shared the following:
Agency Preparedness Efforts and Resources
•The Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services (DHSES)’s office of emergency management (OEM) works throughout the year with its local government partners throughout the state to ensure preparedness for all hazards, including winter weather hazards. OEM also hosts and conducts routine trainings and exercises out of the State Emergency Operations Center with state and local officials. OEM staff conducted four winter weather tabletop exercises in October at various locations across the state to ensure an effective, coordinated response to emergencies between all levels of government and response organizations this season. Another winter weather tabletop exercise is scheduled to take place in November.
The division’s disaster recovery unit works on the ground with federal and local officials to assess damages following a storm to maximize federal disaster assistance for impacted communities. It supports recovery efforts across the state throughout the year following any disaster. The unit also administers the Hazard Mitigation Grant for the entire state on behalf of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This program prioritizes capital projects that address long-term solutions for addressing the impact of climate disasters and bolstering infrastructure.
The division’s office of fire prevention and control (OFPC) supports winter storm response through administration and activation of state fire mobilization and mutual aid plan, coordinating the assignment of fire service resources from across the state in response to requests from storm-impacted areas. OFPC personnel are also available to deploy four-wheel drive and tracked vehicles, and provide technical rescue capabilities to supplement and support local emergency response agencies as needed.
•The state Department of Transportation vigilantly prepares for any weather that may occur with nearly 3,500 operators and supervisors available statewide. Throughout the winter and snow and ice season, staff continuously monitor the current and future weather forecasts, focusing attention on keeping the equipment most often needed during these events up and running. This includes plows, snowblowers, loaders, and dump trucks.
•Thruway Authority staff is ready for the upcoming winter season with more than 650 operators and supervisors prepared to respond to any snow or ice conditions with more than 400 pieces of snow-fighting equipment, including large and medium-duty plow trucks, tow plows that can clear and treat up to two lanes at once, large loaders and more than 110,000 tons of salt on hand.
During winter weather, variable message signs (VMS) and social media are utilized to alert motorists of weather conditions on the thruway. The Thruway Authority encourages motorists to download its mobile app, which is available to download for free on iPhone and Android devices. The app provides motorists direct access to live traffic cameras, real-time traffic information and navigation assistance while on the go. Motorists can also sign up for TRANSalert emails, which provide the latest traffic conditions along the thruway, follow @ThruwayTraffic on X (formally Twitter), and visit thruway.ny.gov to see an interactive map showing traffic conditions for the thruway and other New York state roadways.
•The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is closely monitoring weather conditions to ensure safe, reliable service. MTA employees will be poised to spread salt, clear platforms and stairs where ice exists; keep signals, switches and third rail operating; remove any downed trees that may fall across tracks; and attend to any weather-related challenges during the storm. MTA bridges and tunnels is advising motorists to use caution when driving on icy roadways and drive at reduced speeds.
Customers are encouraged to check new.mta.info for the latest service updates, and to use caution while navigating the system. Customers can also sign up for real-time service alerts via text or email. These alerts are also available via the MTA's apps: MYmta and TrainTime.
•The Port Authority monitors weather conditions across all its facilities. In the event of severe weather conditions, the agency issues regular travel alerts and updates as needed. For the latest information about Port Authority facilities, check social media, sign up for PA alerts or download one of the PA mobile apps, including RidePATH, which provides real-time updates and alerts for PATH service.
•The New York State Police is prepared for the winter season and will be vigilant in monitoring weather conditions. The State Police is prepared to deploy additional troopers as needed. All State Police four-wheel drive and specialized vehicles, including snowmobiles and utility-terrain vehicles, are staged and ready for immediate response, and all emergency power and communications equipment has been tested.
•The Division of Military and Naval Affairs (DMNA) oversees the New York military forces, which consist of the Army and Air National Guard, the New York Naval Militia, and the New York Guard. These forces are equipped with helicopters, high-axle vehicles, specialized communications equipment, and engineering vehicles.
To prepare for winter weather conditions, the Army and Air National Guard are reconfiguring their engineer assets to be prepared to assist local governments with road clearance.
DMNA establishes initial reaction forces of high-axle vehicles in six regions across the state. These initial response forces are prepared to provide support to local governments during hazardous weather events. These elements, which are ready to respond within eight hours of notification, assist local first responders.
DMNA communicates with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services to anticipate additional requirements during hazardous weather situations. This follow-on response of additional soldiers and equipment will be available 24 hours following the need being identified and unit mobilization.
•The Department of Public Service (DPS) oversees regulated utility emergency preparedness and response, including preparation activities, customer impact and storm response. As part of assessing utility readiness, DPS staff reviews and oversees regulated utilities’ emergency response plans, which includes preparing for snowstorms and other natural disasters.
New York's utilities have approximately 5,500 workers available daily to engage in damage assessment, response, repair and restoration efforts across New York state, but thousands more workers can be called in, depending on the severity of the storm. DPS staff will track utilities' work throughout the event and ensure utilities shift appropriate staffing to regions that experience the greatest impact.
DPS begins tracking various forecasts to understand possible utility exposure prior to weather events reaching New York. DPS assesses the likelihood of an event to affect the state and prepares internal correspondence for those weather events that may cause damage or issues to utility infrastructure. As confidence grows in a storm’s impact, the correspondences provide greater details.
New York’s utilities also track weather forecasts and make preparedness decisions based on the forecast, internal modeling and previous experience. DPS staff communicates regularly with the utilities prior to a weather system impacting New York to ensure preparedness is underway, pre-incident classifications are being discussed and assigned and, as necessary, appropriate external staffing is being secured prior to impact.
The various utilities also coordinate prior to and following a storm event, to aid in 911 emergency make safe, damage assessment, repair and restoration efforts. Municipal officials are also kept abreast of pre-event forecast and preparedness, by the utilities, and kept aware of the status of response, repair and restoration efforts throughout an event.
•The New York Power Authority (NYPA) collaborates with New York state’s investor-owned utilities, as well as the municipal and rural cooperative electric systems throughout the state, to review and discuss mutual assistance for potential power restoration efforts associated with weather events. NYPA also maintains open lines of communication with the American Public Power Association as part of its mutual assistance network, which provides a safety net of support to public power utilities around the country.
•The Department of Environmental Conservation’s police officers, forest rangers, emergency management staff, and regional staff will be on alert and monitor weather forecasts to prepare for assisting with any emergency response. In addition, DEC closely monitors weather conditions for potential impacts on New York's coastline and will conduct post-storm coastal inspections to assess erosion and possible impacts to projects currently underway. DEC also offers region-specific guidance for storm preparation and response.
When the potential for heavy rains exists, hikers are advised to temporarily avoid all high-elevation trails, and trails that cross rivers and streams. Check the Adirondack backcountry information or Catskill backcountry information webpages for updates on trail conditions, seasonal road closures, and general recreation information before heading out. During fall, hikers are reminded that weather forecasts are for low elevations. Anticipate losing 5 degrees Fahrenheit for every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. There is already snow and ice on some peaks above 4,000 feet. Hikers should pack the appropriate layers and gear in case a trip goes longer than planned or an unexpected overnight occurs. Hypothermia is always a risk in wet conditions, even when it's warm outside. Be prepared with extra dry layers and keep an eye on the weather.
•Individuals can call the Department of Financial Services disaster hotline at 800-339-1759 or visit the DFS Disaster and Flood Recovery Resource Center for assistance and to answer any insurance-related questions.
•As New York state’s IT service provider, the Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) plays an essential role in supporting critical winter weather emergency management operations, including providing on-site technological assistance and multifaceted communication tools such as mobile phones, laptops and Wi-Fi capability to ensure emergency personnel stay connected and can communicate effectively during a hurricane or other similar event.
In order to respond to quickly changing weather conditions, ITS has recently initiated a plan to create regional stockpiles of critical technology equipment to ensure deployment is rapid and efficient. ITS is responsible for maintenance and support for NY-Alert, the state’s all-hazards alert and notification system, and is currently collaborating with its agency partners to expand the subscriber base to ensure real-time emergency, traffic and public safety information is delivered to as many New Yorkers as possible.
The agency’s geospatial services (GS) team can utilize its extensive database to capture, create, store, interpret, analyze and visualize spacial data that can be used to inform and assist the state’s emergency preparedness and response efforts during a snow event.
•The New York State Department of Health urges New Yorkers to take precautions, as winter approaches, to prevent serious injury and dangerous health complications that can result from colder weather and winter activities.
Cold weather tips can be found here.
Winter can be a delightful time to enjoy outdoor activities, but they can also become tragic without preparation and caution.
Dressing appropriately to prevent frostbite, being careful when using generators and space heaters, and making sure to be aware of road conditions before traveling can keep New Yorkers safe and healthy during the winter months.
•The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance began accepting applications for the Home Energy Assistance Program, or HEAP, Nov. 1. HEAP can provide up to $976 this winter to help low- and middle-income households and older adults keep their homes warm and cope with high energy costs.
Eligibility is based on income, household size, and how the home is heated. Applications are accepted at local departments of social services and can be submitted online, through the mail or in person. New Yorkers are encouraged to apply early, as assistance is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, visit: otda.ny.gov/HEAP.
•In the event of predicted severe weather, New York State Park Police and state Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation personnel stay on alert and closely monitor weather conditions and impacts. State Park Police and park personnel coordinate with other state agencies to provide needed emergency response equipment and personnel, including rescue teams equipped with tracked UTVs, snowmobiles and 4x4 vehicles; sawyer crews and logistics support.
Park visitors can visit parks.ny.gov, check the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call their local park office for the latest updates regarding park hours, openings and closings.
Safety Tips for New Yorkers – Winter Travel
Some of the most important tips for safe driving include:
√ Do not drive unless necessary.
√ Use caution on bridges, as ice can form quicker than on roads.
√ If you must travel, make sure your car is stocked with survival gear like blankets, a shovel, flashlight and extra batteries, extra warm clothing, set of tire chains, battery booster cables, quick energy foods and brightly colored cloth to use as a distress flag.
√ If you have a cell phone or other communications device such as a two-way radio available for your use, keep the battery charged and keep it with you whenever traveling. If you should become stranded, you will be able to call for help, advising rescuers of your location.
√ The leading cause of death and injuries during winter storms is transportation accidents. Before getting behind the wheel, make sure your vehicle is clear of ice and snow; good vision is key to good driving. Plan your stops and keep more distance between cars. Be extra alert and remember that snowdrifts can hide smaller children. Always match your speed to the road and weather conditions.
√ It is important for motorists on all roads to note that snowplows travel at speeds up to 35 mph, which in many cases is lower than the posted speed limit, to ensure that salt being dispersed stays in the driving lanes and does not scatter off the roadways. Oftentimes on interstate highways, snowplows will operate side by side, as this is the most efficient and safe way to clear several lanes at one time.
√ Motorists and pedestrians should also keep in mind that snowplow drivers have limited lines of sight, and the size and weight of snowplows can make it very difficult to maneuver and stop quickly. Snow blowing from behind the plow can severely reduce visibility or cause whiteout conditions. Motorists should not attempt to pass snowplows or follow too closely. The safest place for motorists to drive is well behind the snowplows where the roadway is clear and salted. Never attempt to pass a snowplow while its operating.
√ Check with your utility to determine area repair schedules.
√ Turn off or unplug lights and appliances to prevent a circuit overload when service is restored; leave one light on to indicate when power has been restored.
√ If heat goes out during a winter storm, keep warm by closing off rooms you do not need.
√ To report an electric outage, call: Central Hudson: 800-527-2714; Con Edison: 800-752-6633; National Grid: 800-867-5222; NYSEG: 800-572-1131; O&R: 877-434-4100; PSEG-LI: 800-490-0075; and RG&E: 800-743-1701.
√ Use only safe sources of alternative heat such as a fireplace, small well-vented wood or coal stove or portable space heaters.
√ Always follow manufacturer's instructions.
√ When using alternative heat sources such as a fireplace, woodstove, etc., always make sure you have proper ventilation.
√ Keep curtains, towels and potholders away from hot surfaces.
√ Have a fire extinguisher and smoke detectors – and make sure they work.
√ If you use kerosene heaters to supplement your regular heating fuel, or as an emergency source of heat, follow these safety tips: Follow the manufacturers' instructions; use only the correct fuel for your unit; refuel outdoors only and only when the unit is cool; keep the heater at least 3 feet away from furniture and other flammable objects; and when using the heater, use fire safeguards and ventilate properly.
For more winter safety tips, visit dhses.ny.gov/safety.
For all non-emergency service needs in New York state before, during or after a storm, call 211 or visit 211nys.org.