Winter ice storms, depending on the severity, can bring down tree limbs, cause wide spread power outages, and create hazardous ground conditions for roads and sidewalks by coating everything is a layer of ice. These storms can cause extensive property damage and hamper the response time for those who would normally fix problems created by other forms of weather. Knowing how to prepare for a winter ice storm is a good way to prevent damage to both the home and the individual caught by it.
Before going over what an ice storm is, it's good to know a little background concerning all storms. In the basic beginnings of all forms of precipitation, anything that falls from clouds begins in a frozen form that is built by the ice particles within clouds depending on thermal updrafts from the ground. In summer, when the ground heat is high, the updrafts keep the clouds large and thus form heavy balls of ice that when fall, either melt to form rain or stay frozen to become hail. In winter, clouds are thin, and the updrafts are light. This effect creates a more crystalline form of ice cluster, and snow is formed. Whether it remains as snow when it falls depends on the temperatures below it. This dependence is based on the two temperature layers, the atmosphere below it, and the surface temperature layer in which buildings and other forms of matter lie.
In the case of normal winter proceedings, the three layers of precipitation are cold cloud, middle, and ground. This means that snow is likely to fall and stick. Unlike snow storms, ice storms form ice by having freezing temperatures at ground level, and warmer temperatures in the middle layer. The formation in the cloud layer is also often different, and clouds coming from warmer climates have bigger forms of ice within their layers. When these storms release their precipitates, they either melt to become rain, stay frozen as sleet, or are a combination. When any of these forms get to the ground level, the rain to sleet mixture freezes against the ground level, and accumulates. In the cases of the rain freezing, it coats everything in a layer of ice, increasing weight loads and making branches and trees fall. The falling limbs or trees can take down power lines.
In order for the home or business owner to prepare for these storms, it is necessary to assess possible complications. With trees, the best thing to do is evaluate which branches may break under burden of the extra weight, and trim low branches above roof tops, driveways, and electric lines. For sidewalks and driveways, keeping extra amounts of ice-melt on hand is preferred to an ice pick, though that should be on hand as well.
When knowing an ice storm is approaching or forecasted, it is good to stock up on reserves of water and food, and perhaps a backup generator to ensure that people can stay warm should power failure occur. Travel should be avoided if the ice is on the ground, but if one must leave, allow extra time for travel periods. Because cars themselves may be coated in a layer of ice, it is good to have a way to melt the joints and the key slot, in order to get in. By starting the vehicle and letting it run with defrost on, it will take the ice off the windows much faster than trying to scrape through it. If possible, cars should be parked in a garage. Besides being prepared for an emergency, caution is the best approach for the icy environment.