Winter Storm Quinn Carbon Monoxide Danger: How Snowstorms Bring Poisoning Risk

When snowstorms like Winter Storm Quinn blow into town, they carry many risks with them, such as frigid and potentially deadly temperatures. Some of the dangers, however, aren't so visible. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious risk during the most intense storms and it can sneak up on people in many ways.

Poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide fills a confined space and is inhaled. The gas takes the place of oxygen in a person's blood, cutting off the supply to the brain, heart and other organs. When the lack of oxygen becomes critical, the victim of carbon monoxide poisoning can lose consciousness and die of suffocation.

Before the person collapses, CO poisoning can bring symptoms like a headache, drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, confusion, weakness and fatigue, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Winter storm Quinn, a nor'easter, is due to blow rain, snow and wind through the East Coast, roughly from Maine down to Delaware and Maryland on Wednesday and Thursday. Snow predictions vary by area: New York was projected to get between six inches to a foot of snow, while some parts of Massachusetts were expecting 19 inches.

That snowfall, rainfall and wind can increase the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, for example, if the storm knocks out electricity or gas service. The gas is found in combustion fumes, so generators, lanterns, stoves, gas ranges and other equipment people use during an outage are a problem if the area in which they are used is not well-ventilated. Burning charcoal or wood can also release CO.

"CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explains. "People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing CO."

Cars are another issue. Many people know that keeping a car running in a closed garage is potentially dangerous, but during and after a snowstorm the danger is outside as well. Some may leave their vehicle running as they shovel the snow around it but if snow is blocking the exhaust pipe on the car, carbon monoxide could build up in the car. That endangers anyone sitting inside the vehicle as it is being shoveled, such as a baby.

According to the National Weather Service, after winter storm Quinn blasts the Northeast it will later move west and south, with snow possible in the Great Lakes area, the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies and rain in southeastern places like Florida. Depending on the intensity of the storm, those places could also face carbon monoxide poisoning risks.

People can die of carbon monoxide poisoning when they leave their car running as it is being shoveled out if snow is blocking the exhaust pipe. Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images