Preparing for and Coping with Winter
In the Bible
Fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling his word! (Psalm 148:8)
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs; who can stand before his cold? (Psalm 147:17)
Pray that it may not happen in winter. (Mark 13:18)
Do your best to come before winter. (2 Timothy 4:21)
And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in … (Acts 27:12)
She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. (Proverbs 31:21)
In the News
Saturday, January 12, 2019, Asheville, NC area - Sunday services were canceled or delayed as a winter storm was moving in with ice and deep snow making hazardous driving conditions.
December 7, 2018, Charlotte, NC - For safety reasons, churches in the Charlotte area monitored a winter storm coming in bringing snow and ice. They were prepared to cancel or reschedule services and other activities.
October 17, 2018, Marysville, WA - Anticipating winter weather a little more than a month away, churches and fire department officials work together to find a compromise so they can shelter local homeless persons when it is freezing outside. The problem is that most local churches do not meet the code for housing people overnight.
Thursday, January 5, 2017, Martha's Vineyard, MA - Churches on Martha's Vineyard provide a safety net for island residents in need of food and shelter during the winter.
"Man, it's cold outside!"
This is being written while much of the country is in the grip of record lows and wind chills.
Winter weather in northern states extends into the first half of March. It's not too late to consider winter. We can determine and plan to be better prepared for the next winter while this season is still fresh in our minds.
Winter - the Beautiful Beast
Winter can be beautiful. Many gorgeous photos shot of icicles, frost on windows, snow drifts, and flocked trees, also of children, and animals at play in the snow, grace calendars, greeting cards, and Internet pages. Beautiful, yes, but …
Winter can also be a beast. Jesus told his followers to pray that they would not have to flee Jerusalem in winter. Paul asked Timothy "to come before winter." Winter has its hazards, with risks of illness, injury, and death. For instance:
- Slips and falls on slick walking surfaces
- Traffic accidents on icy roads
- Blocked roads hampering access for supplies and vital services
- Damage to pavement from freeze-thaw-refreeze cycles
- Power outages
- Damage from frozen pipes
- Ice fingers in attics
- Snow falling from roofs
- Ice downing trees and utility lines
- Roofs collapsing from heavy snow
- Hypothermia and frostbite
- Fires and carbon monoxide poisoning from using heating devices and power generators
Winter readiness for churches means being ready to meet the beast in three areas: Structural Stewardship, Safety, and Health.
Structural stewardship is taking care of the congregation's property. This may not look like a concern for the Church Safety Ministry, but it overlaps concern for safety and health. This is not an issue the Safety Ministry tackles alone, but must be in cooperation and coordination with the church's governing board.
While preparing the church building for winter, it should also be readied for the hazards of other seasons. For instance, trimming branches which may break off if iced also protects against them breaking off during a thunderstorm, as well as reducing an exterior fire hazard and making it harder for a burglar or vandal to use it to gain access.
The integrity of the church building is an issue of both safety and health. If there is too much snow on the roof, it could collapse, endangering those inside. Melting snow and ice leaking through the roof could compromise ceilings, and ceiling tiles could fall on a room's occupants. The same could be said for a melting ice finger developing from loose or missing flashing on a gable.
Leaks have led to the growth of toxic black mold. Public buildings and businesses have been closed by mold. In a high school in Virginia, the mold was discovered only after several illnesses were reported and investigated.
When pipes freeze, the water expands and could split the pipe. Then the water thaws and the pipe leaks, causing costly damage which may be a hazard to both safety and health.
This is the greatest category of winter weather concern for a Church Safety Ministry with safety issues, such as slips and falls, cascading snow and ice, falling lines and tree limbs, fire, carbon monoxide, and structural failure.
Slips and Falls
The Safety Team and custodians work together for safety of walking surfaces inside and outside. Outside, keep walkways free of snow and salted to melt ice. Have the parking lot plowed. Inside, have safety mats to drain melting snow and provide traction in the entryway and foyer. Mop up water when needed, and have "wet floor" signs ready to use.
Check for tripping hazards created by the weather. Freeze-thaw cycles damage paved surfaces, such as parking lots, creating driving and walking hazards. People tripping on cracks, holes, and uneven pavement have filed insurance claims and lawsuits.
Cascading Snow and Ice
Metal roofs are nice for letting snow slide off, reducing the chance of building up too much. However, this creates the hazard of snow cascading off the roof (like an avalanche) onto people walking under the eaves. Even on a shingled roof, snow can still cascade off. The Christian Church inKansas (Disciples of Christ) suggests using a snow rake to clear snow back from the edge of the roof . A metal roof should have snow guards to break up snow when it starts to slide. If you are building or remodeling your church, consider a shelter for those walking under the eave.
Falling Lines and Tree Limbs
We can trim tree limbs over walkways to reduce the hazard of breaking off under ice, but have little choice in where utility lines go. We can, however, watch and warn. When we see a branch or line dangerously iced up, we can steer pedestrians around the hazard.
If a power line comes down, immediately call the utility. If it is over the church's property, block all routes under the line, even if it keeps everyone inside the building. If a tree blocks the street, call the local street department.
Fire and Carbon Monoxide
Space heaters pose dual hazards. Using anything other than the installed heating system poses a fire risk. If the power is on, electric space heaters have to be a safe distance from combustible materials and have to be electrically safe - no overloaded circuits, worn cords, lines under rugs, etc.
Using combustion for heat and light if the power is out calls for extra care because of fire risks. If safe to do so, send people home. Combustible heat and light are not only fire hazards, but they use up oxygen. Then, when the oxygen gets low, burning fuel emits less carbon dioxide and more carbon monoxide, which is toxic. Generators operated by combustible fuel engines are also carbon monoxide hazards.
Structural failure is a low-probability hazard, but not entirely impossible. The most common winter structural failures are collapsing roofs, outside stairs, or canopies weighted down with snow and ice. Watch for build-up. Have it cleared if possible. Otherwise , warn people and restrict access to endangered areas.
Winter has its health hazards. The most common are frostbite and hypothermia, but the crowding of people in enclosed places increases exposure to communicable diseases, such as influenza, tuberculosis, and measles.
Right now, about a third of the country has frostbite warnings with dangerously low wind chills, down to -50˚ or lower in some places. We don't expect it to be that cold in March, but persons out in freezing temperatures too long without gloves or proper shoes/boots can experience frostbite. This is an even greater danger to diabetics. Be prepared to recognize and treat frostbite
Hypothermia is always a hazard in cold weather. It does not have to be freezing. All it takes is for someone to be exposed long enough for their body temperature to fall too low. Again, we should be alert to persons at risk of hypothermia and try to prevent or treat it.
As to contagious disease, the best we can do is to try to keep a place well-ventilated while keeping it warm.
Winter requires preparation. The woman in Proverbs 31 saw to it that her family was properly clothed for winter. So must we, as a Church Safety Ministry, prepare for winter.
First, you and the rest of the Safety Team should be properly dressed for winter. This means warm and skid-proof footwear, warm clothing for working in the foyer, and proper outerwear, including gloves, for the cold weather.
Be certain all doors are working properly. Not only should they seal when closed, they should not be subject to jamming on opening. The same goes for windows.
Have equipment and supplies on hand to handle snow and ice: brooms, floor squeegees, mops, shovels, snow blowers, safety salt and/or sand, emergency thermal blankets, flashlights, emergency barriers. Also have enough supplies if the church might become a shelter.
Your church should be able to monitor the weather to know what to do. You also need a way to warn members of hazardous conditions, and to notify the congregation of cancellations, restrictions, and schedule changes due to winter weather conditions. In December, Sheepdog Church Security recommended using Alert.Church for communication with church staff, ministries, and members. 
There is More
Other articles in this series cover preparation for severe weather, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, thunderstorms, tornadoes, firestorms, and providing shelter.
- Sheepdog Church Security, TrainingCourses, "Severe Weather and Natural Disasters"
- Online Training [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters],
- Training Materials [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/severe-weather-and-natural-disasters-training-bundle].
- Station Staff, "Winter storm prompts local churches to cancel, delay Sunday services," WLOS, Saturday, January 12th 2019 [https://wlos.com/news/local/winter-storm-prompts-local-churches-to-cancel-delay-sunday-services].
- Dedrick Russell. "Safety a top priority for local churches winter weather rolls in," WBTV, December 7, 2018 [http://www.wbtv.com/2018/12/07/local-churches-bracing-weekend-winter-weather/].
- Eric Wilkinson, "Marysville churches, fire officials look for compromise to house homeless," King5 News, October 17, 2018 [https://www.king5.com/article/news/local/marysville-churches-fire-officials-look-for-compromise-to-house-homeless/281-605356049].
- Louisa Hufstader, "Vineyard Churches Help Weave Safety Net of Food and Shelter," Vineyard Gazette, Thursday, January 5, 2017 [https://vineyardgazette.com/news/2017/01/05/faith-action-vineyard-churches-help-weave-safety-net-food-and-shelter].
- Christian Church in Kansas (Disciples of Christ), "Preparing Your Church For Winter," January 22, 2019 [https://kansasdisciples.org/preparing-your-church-for-winter/].
- Sheepdog Church Security, Articles, "Attention! Medical Emergency," December 10, 2018 [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/archive/attention-medical-emergency/].
- Alert.church [https://www.alert.church/].