When severe weather hits this winter, the difference between being safe and stranded can often come down to how prepared you are. A recent survey by AccuWeather found that the number one weather-related concern Americans have this winter is being caught by surprise by inclement weather. People also worry about being stranded while traveling or experiencing heat or power outages at home. What’s more, weather damage statistics show they have valid cause for concern.

According to the United Nations, extreme weather and natural disasters have killed more than 600,000 people and left behind trillions of dollars in damage over the last two decades.

While you can’t control the weather, predictive tools can help people better prepare for weather. Knowing when inclement weather is going to arrive, and what to expect, can help people avoid weather-related damage to their homes and vehicles, and stay safer and healthier throughout the winter season.

Types of winter weather damage

Snow, ice, wind and extreme cold are common causes of winter weather damage. Accumulated snow and ice can cause roof collapses, and bring down trees or power lines. Heavy snowfall can force road closures, leaving people in rural areas isolated for long periods of time. Even a small amount of ice can cause roads and walkways to be slick and dangerous for vehicles and pedestrians.

Extreme cold can also cause pipes to burst and make furnaces worker harder to warm homes. It can cause car batteries to fail and even create cracks and fissures on paved roads and walkways.

Preparedness tips

The top thing you can do to prepare yourself for inclement weather is to be informed and ready, monitoring local weather information and updates.

AccuWeather’s new preparedness program, AccuWeather Ready, takes its commitment to keep people prepared and safe even further with the addition of weather preparedness tips and tools including in-app push notifications when bad weather is coming, personalized weather preparedness plans, and tailored emergency kits with detailed shopping lists, adding to the most accurate forecasts all available on the 24/7 AccuWeather Network, AccuWeather.com/Ready and the AccuWeather app.

In addition to monitoring the weather, take these steps to ensure inclement weather never catches you by surprise:

* Create emergency kits for your home and car. Your home kit should include water for drinking and cleaning, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a flashlight with extra batteries, first aid kit, basic tools like a wrench or pliers, a manual can opener, and a solar charger for your cell phone. Your vehicle kit should include a warm blanket, ice scraper and/or liquid deicer, a shovel, bottled water, non-perishable food, LED flashlights, flares, spare clothes, a first aid kit, basic tools, jumper cables, and an additional source of traction such as sand you can pour under the tires.

* Have a family emergency communication plan. Inclement weather that moves in quickly can leave loved ones separated. Discuss how everyone will contact each other if you’re separated, and where family members caught away from home will go for shelter.

* Winterize your home and vehicle to ensure both are in top condition to weather the winter.

* Keep backup materials on hand, such as extra clothing and blankets, non-perishable food, bottled water and a backup generator with plenty of fuel in case the power goes out.

Winter weather is nothing to overlook – taking easy, proactive steps to prepare before bad weather arrives, in addition to monitoring AccuWeather for trusted information, is critical to keep you, your home and your loved ones safe throughout the season.