The December 2022-February 2023 U.S. Winter Outlook report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the third consecutive La Niña event would leave the entire South with drier-than-average weather, while the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, North Weather conditions were wetter than average in the Rockies and Pacific Northwest.
NOAA explains that La Niña causes “a wave-like jet stream across the United States and Canada, which results in colder-than-average conditions and more storms in the north and warmer and fewer storms in the south.” Falls tend to be warmer and drier than usual in some regions, while winters tend to be wetter than usual.”
For some parts of the U.S. and Canada, these conditions have taken their toll. In late November, winter brought its first harsh blow of the year to Buffalo and the rest of western and upstate New York, with a historic lake-effect storm dumping up to 80 inches of snow in some areas.
This is a preliminary map of storm total snowfall for the 5-day period of November 16-21, 2022. Thanks to NWS Albany for the mapping and to the spotters and observers who took the snowfall measurements during this historic lake effect event. pic.twitter.com/0m8twvnn2L
— NWS Buffalo (@NWSBUFFALO) November 22, 2022
“Knowing the dynamics of what’s going on around us is really important,” said Steve Hernandez (pictured), senior vice president of global risk controls at CNA Insurance. “When talking to clients about winter weather, you have to discuss the weather patterns that are happening – whether it’s El Niño or La Niña – and how they’re being amplified by the effects of climate change.
“Climate change is not going away. So what does that mean for business resilience when discussing winter weather risk with policyholders?”
Winter Weather Hazards Brokers Should Discuss with Clients
Proper winter disaster preparedness is an important part of a business’s resilience plan, Hernandez said. He explains four winter weather hazards that all agents and brokers should discuss with their business clients:
Winter weather presents a unique set of risks for drivers. In some areas, temperatures can fluctuate within hours, precipitation or snowmelt can freeze and cause icing, and short daylight hours combined with overcast skies can greatly reduce road visibility.
“It really takes advance planning, employee training, and some technology to help prepare for winter,” says Hernandez, who shares the following tips for protecting your vehicle:
- Make sure all vehicles have road safety kit.
- Conduct a winter vehicle inspection to check the condition of the vehicle, tires, brakes, lights and more.
- Make sure all vehicle safety features are functioning properly.
- If there is going to be a storm, park your vehicle in a garage to limit potential physical damage.
“During winter, route driving and planning are extremely important, [considering] weather conditions during shift changes or in anticipation of shift changes,” Hernandez added. The next is very different. Much work has been done around telematics, which can provide real-time driver insight and guidance. When weather patterns change – [and the risk of poor driving conditions] – Now is a good time to discuss all of this with the fleet operator. “
Winter weather inevitably increases the chances of slips and falls, and Hernandez said property owners must keep in mind their legal responsibilities (often state mandates) to mitigate or eliminate snow and ice-related walking hazards on their property to protect the public .
“In the times we operate today, with businesses reopening post-pandemic and employees and the public out and about, it’s important to [agents and brokers] Remind policyholders that they as a business have a responsibility to maintain their facilities and that their jurisdiction may also affect this [risk mitigation]’” Hernandez said.
CNA risk control experts say businesses should have a skid plan that includes:
- Agreement on equipment required for snow and ice removal and surface preparation;
- who is designated to clean and monitor walking surfaces;
- When you’re going to implement mitigation – two inches of snow is the norm;
- Labor – whether you do it yourself or subcontract snow removal – and when subcontracting, have the right risk transfer protocols in place; and
- Documentation for all of the above.
“In extreme cases, like the November snowstorm in Buffalo, where more than 70 inches of snow fell in 48 hours, businesses need to think about how to remove all the snow,” Hernandez said. “What strategy? There are multiple surfaces that need to be cleaned – sidewalks, parking lots, even roofs that can be unbearable to hold snow. Who will do the work – employees, or are you going to outsource it? What are the safety and risk transfer protocols? How recorded?”
BUFFALO: >30 major roofs collapsed from the weight of the snow; 3X many minor robberies collapsed. http://t.co/6mKPdxmaCh pic.twitter.com/nXBsu3D3V1
— Bill Stephen (@MetropForensics) November 22, 2014
“When you snow so much [like Buffalo], are you going to put it on your property? Hernandez added. “You don’t want to pile up snow on higher ground because when it melts, it can flow onto a flat parking lot and freeze overnight. So, you have to think about elevation, you have to think about drainage, and then Also make sure you take proper safety measures when your employees remove snow and clear gutters.”
Cold stress usually depends on the nature of the business. Those with workforces that work outdoors or in cold environments are especially vulnerable and should strictly adhere to the following:
- equipment used by employees;
- clothing for cold weather;
- employee training;
- employee selection (shift work);
- monitoring working conditions; and
- Make sure to provide appropriate breaks.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean the workforce is outside in the field. If you ask employees to remove snow and ice from a property in sub-zero conditions, they’re going to be exposed to cold stress,” Hernandez points out. “We may spend more time talking to workers about heat stress than cold stress, but under certain conditions and locations, cold exposure is just as much an exposure.”
Unheated areas in buildings
Some facilities have areas within their occupancy that are very exposed to the cold and, if not handled properly, can cause cold stress to employees or operations.
“Doors in areas such as loading docks may remain open for extended periods of time. [can expose the workplace to freezing conditions]sometimes they don’t realize that these areas are not heated,” Hernandez said. “We’ve seen a lot of work around IoT technology to monitor [and mitigate] that condition. “