Blizzards Can Bring Heightened Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning In Their Aftermath

By Tina Pappas


The recent blizzard blanketed New Jersey with over two feet of snow in some parts of the state.  As snow amounts start to inch up, so does the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Carbon Monoxide, known as the “silent killer,” is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas. It gets created when fuels such as gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane oil or methane, burn incompletely, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). In the home, heating and cooking equipment that burn fuel can be sources of carbon monoxide. In vehicles, tail pipes that get blocked by a substance such as snow, can cause a seepage of carbon monoxide in the passenger cabin.  

Carbon Monoxide poisoning has been the culprit for a slew of deaths in recent years, typically in the wake of a massive blizzard when snow blocks vents and exhausts in homes and vehicles.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, carbon monoxide poisoning claims the lives of hundreds of people every year and makes thousands more ill. Preventing accidental poisoning is the best defense because it may be too late once you start to feel its effects. Early symptoms are often mistaken for the flu and include shortness of breath, headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue. 

Several deaths in recent years were vehicle-related. One such tragedy occurred in 2016 when a Passaic NJ resident was digging out his family’s car as his girlfriend and their two children sat inside the car to stay warm. The car’s tail pipe was still covered in snow when he turned on the car to run the engine. As the car began to warm up, carbon monoxide seeped into the car within minutes, killing his girlfriend and their 1-year-old son. Their 3-year-old daughter was hospitalized in critical condition and eventually died. 

Revving an engine that is stuck in snow can also ignite a fire. A man in Little Ferry, NJ died this week when he tried to remove his car from being stuck in a snowbank. According to police, an officer tried to tell him a tow truck was on the way and to stop pressing on the gas. The man ignored the officer and kept revving his engine, when the car ignited. Officers tried to free him but the doors were locked. As they tried to break the windows to enter the car, flames and smoke quickly took over and officers were unable to remove him.

Many fire departments are reminding residents to clear their home and car exhausts of snow. Prior to starting a vehicle, a tailpipe needs to be cleared of snow. Never run an engine if the vehicle is even partially covered in snow. If you’re sitting in your vehicle after you turned it on waiting to warm up the engine and your tail pipe is partially obstructed with snow, carbon monoxide can seep into your vehicle by being redirected underneath the vehicle and entering the passenger compartment. Make sure the vehicle’s tail pipe is clear and roll down your windows to let air in if you do sit in your car and start the engine.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), suggests the following carbon monoxide safety tips:

– Make sure the tail pipe of a running vehicle is not covered with snow after a snowstorm.

– If you need to warm a vehicle, remove it from the garage immediately after starting it. Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors, even if garage doors are open.

– Make sure vents for the dryer, furnace, stove and fireplace are clear of snow build-up during and after a snowstorm. 

– Install carbon monoxide alarms, especially outside sleeping areas and in central locations inside a home.

– If a carbon monoxide alarm goes off, move to a location outdoors or by an open window or door.

– Test carbon monoxide alarms at least once a month.

– Use generators in well-ventilated locations that are outdoors and away from windows, doors and vent openings.

The NFPA also suggests having fuel-burning heating equipment and chimneys in a home inspected by a professional every year before cold weather sets in. When using a fireplace, open the flue for adequate ventilation. Never use your oven to heat your home. 

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Photo by Tina Pappas


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