Winter Preparedness Guide

About the Guide

Beautiful blankets of snow are perfect for building snowmen, snowshoeing and fantastic winter views. However, it can also affect the services we provide to our residents during the winter months. If you’re interested in snow plowing, parking, refuse and more, come back to this guide for helpful information throughout the season.


Download the Guide in Spanish

Image of Calder in snow Globe
The Winter Preparedness Guide is a public service of the City’s Communications Department and 311 Customer Service Center. 


Contact Us

Phone: 616.456.3000

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Snow Plowing

Ever wonder how we operate snow clearing on our streets? We're here to demystify the process.


photo of snow plow with a painted plow

Our primary goal is to clear all roads of snow within 24-36 hours of a weather event

We’re constantly improving our winter operations, so we can deliver the highest level of service to our community. Our plow operators use de-icing materials on major streets to minimize snow and ice. Pretreating material may be applied to bridges, hills and curves before a snow event, if needed. We work hard to minimize our salt use as part of our commitment to environmental sustainability as it reduces runoff in our rivers and streams. This is also part of our commitment to be a good steward of funds. Plus, many of our plow trucks also have side wings that plow an additional half lane of snow.
When we do have to use salt, our plow trucks have liquid storage capabilities. This allows for the pre-wetting of salt as plows spread it on street surfaces. Pre-wetting salt reduces the bounce to keep it on the road. It also helps us reduce the amount of salt we use by 30 percent – another money saver. Plus, salt activates faster when treated. 


We prioritize plowing on first-attention routes

The major high-traffic streets in our city are first-attention streets for snow plowing. These streets carry the most traffic and have the highest speed limits. We apply salt to all first-attention streets to make travel safe. Examples of first attention streets include:
  • Burton Street 
  • Division Avenue
  • Fulton Street
  • Leonard Street
  • Monroe Avenue
photo of an alley with snow


We plow secondary (local) streets and alleys when more than 3 inches of snow falls

We monitor weather conditions and clear secondary streets and alleys when there are more than 3 inches of snow. These streets are often less traveled and have lower speeds. De-icing salt typically is not applied to secondary streets. We may salt these streets if there are hills, severe curves or special circumstances in the city. This protects our local watershed and keeps winter maintenance costs manageable. Examples of secondary streets include:
  • Side streets like Merrifield St
  • Cul-de-sacs
  • Alleys
When snow events last a long time, our snow plow crews may need to leave secondary streets and return to first-attention routes to ensure safety on high-traffic streets. While we make every effort to clear bike lanes our main priority is to keep the automobile travel lanes clear of snow and ice.


Winter Parking

Help keep yourself and your neighbors safe by following winter parking rules on posted streets.


Graphic shows graphic of street with odd addresses, odd date parking, even addresses, and even date parking

Seasonal Parking Restrictions 11/01 - 04/01

Streets designated with seasonal parking signs will have the following restrictions in effect from 12:01 AM on November 1 of each year to 11:59 PM on April 1 of the following year:

Odd-Even Parking

  • On odd dates between 1:00 AM and 6:00 PM, park on the side of the street with odd addresses. Parking is prohibited on the even numbered side of the street.
  • For 7 hours each night between 6:00 PM - 1:00 AM, you can park on either side of the street. Just make sure to think ahead before bed and move your vehicle to the side of the road matching the next day’s date by 1:00 AM.
  • On an even date between 1:00 AM and 6:00 PM, park on the side of the street with even addresses. Parking is prohibited on the odd numbered side of the street.

One-Side Parking

  • Parking is prohibited at all times on the posted side of the street.


Purpose of Seasonal Parking

Seasonal parking restrictions throughout our city allow us to clear roads of leaves, tree debris and snow in addition to allowing cars and our service and emergency vehicles to travel safely on neighborhood streets in the winter. These restrictions include odd-even and same-side parking. Our plow crews work hard to clear streets of snow in line with parking regulations. That’s why they need your help. If you park on a restricted side of the street and the plows come through, your street won’t get completely plowed and your car may get buried in snow. We may not be able to return to plow this street until all regularly scheduled plow routes are complete.  

photo of snow on parked cars on street


Report Seasonal Parking Violations

It's important for us all to follow these parking restrictions to report a parking violation, click below. 

Report a Seasonal Parking Violation


Request Seasonal Parking Restrictions on Your Street

Do you want to add odd/even or one side winter parking restrictions to your street? You can petition and vote on seasonal parking limitations for your block. 

Request Seasonal Parking Restrictions 

Snow Shoveling

Getting a “handle” on keeping sidewalks clear benefits everyone.

Residents enjoy the walkability of our neighborhoods – even in the winter. Cleared sidewalks ensure you and your neighbors are able to use them, especially people who don't have the option to drive. When sidewalks remain clear in the winter, residents who can't or don't drive can get to the bus or get to work, school or their favorite businesses. Residents – including seniors, children and individuals with disabilities – remain safe when our sidewalks are clear of snow and ice.


photo of a person shoveling a sidewalk
The City ordinance for sidewalk snow removal says:
  • The clearing of ice and snow on sidewalks is the property owner’s responsibility
  • The full width of the sidewalk needs to be cleared down to the concrete within 24 hours after the end of a snowfall
  • Sidewalks not cleared of snow and ice after notification from the City may be cleared by a City contractor at the property owner’s expense


Shoveling Tips

Our primary goal is to remove snow from the streets. There is frustration when plows push snow into driveways, sidewalks, fire hydrants and mailboxes. Here’s how you can avoid frustration and help:
  • If you have a driveway, park on it and leave the road clear for plowing
  • If on-street parking is your only option, change where you park throughout the week
  • Follow all parking restrictions – map is at 
  • Don’t shovel or blow snow into the street – shovel it into your yard – to avoid a ticket and having it pushed back into your driveway by traveling vehicles
  • Never bury a fire hydrant with shoveled snow and try to keep the hydrant accessible in case of an emergency 
graphic showing how to prevent plowed in drive graphic from city plow trucks

Refuse and Recycling in the Snow

Shoveling out refuse and recycling carts

Want to make sure we can pick up your trash and recycling this winter? Follow these tips:
  1. Clear a path 3 feet wide from your refuse and recycling carts to the alley or street and make sure the carts can be moved freely
  2. Shovel out your refuse and recycling carts the night before your collection day 
  3. Shovel out your carts the following collection day if a heavy snowfall prevents you from doing so in time for your scheduled pickup
graphic of refuse bins on pavement at driveway


winter guide graphic of refuse bins on snow exed out


Refuse and Recycling Tips

Avoid frozen trash

  • Bag your trash – it keeps your cart cleaner and helps us do our job
  • Unbagged trash can freeze in the cart, making it difficult to empty
  • Avoid a partial tip and keep bags and materials from freezing to the bottom by putting a small amount of rock salt in the cart

Don’t block sidewalks and streets

  • Keep the curbs clear when setting out your trash and recycling carts on collection day – our vehicles need access to your carts
  • Keep a clear path between the carts and street

Keep the cart lids closed

  • Melting snow and rain can easily fill and freeze bags to the cart. We will not return to empty carts with bags frozen to the cart.
  • Frozen trash or recycling can result in an overweight or cracked cart 
Image of Winter refuse containers


Mark Your Calendar

Yard Waste

You can drop off yard waste until the second Saturday in December, weather permitting. That’s December 11 this year. Drop off yard waste at our site at 2001 Butterworth Ave. SW. It’s open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It’s closed Thanksgiving Day but is open the Friday and Saturday after the holiday. The site is free for city residents. Curbside collection also runs until early December each year. It typically ends the second Friday, weather permitting. That’s December 10 this year.


Refuse & Recycling Holiday Schedule

We collect refuse and recycling one day later during the weeks following:
  • Thanksgiving
  • Christmas
  • New Year’s Day 
Image of calendar with Push Pins

Adopt a Hydrant

Adopt a hydrant and keep your home and neighborhood safe.

graphic of fire hydrant clearing with arrows pointing at 3-feet away

What is “Adopt-a-Hydrant”?

The Adopt-a-Hydrant Program is a collaboration between the Grand Rapids Water System, Fire Department, and its citizens. Volunteers are a tremendous help in ensuring hydrants are ready for use by the Grand Rapids Fire Department.
Individuals, businesses, neighborhoods, civic groups, and other organizations can select a nearby hydrant and accept responsibility to:
  • Clear snow
  • Trim tall grass and vegetation
  • Report damage or water leaks

Get Involved

Sign up for the program online or over the phone.

Holiday Tree Recycling

Free drop-off sites

We offer free drop-off sites for Christmas trees after the holidays. All trees collected are chipped and returned naturally to the ground. 
The sites, open December 30 to January 31, are located at:
image of toy tree on a toy car


Fee-based curbside pickup program

The alternative method for disposing of your tree is to attach a $2.50 City bulk yard waste tag (purple or lime green tag) to the Christmas tree and place it in your pickup area by 7 a.m. on your scheduled refuse collection day.
Bulk yard waste tags may be purchased at City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave. NW, in the customer service lobby. City Hall is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Some local retailers also may have the tags in stock. Christmas trees placed in the refuse pickup area must be properly tagged for collection. The tag must be visible at the time of collection. Make every effort to be sure the tree is able to be collected (not buried in the snow) and the tag is visible. All ornaments, other decorations, tinsel, nails, tree stands and any plastic bags on the tree need to be removed prior to collection. If not properly tagged, the property owner is subject to a notice of violation and possible fine. Lost or stolen tags are the responsibility of the resident to replace.
Curbside collection may be delayed if there’s a snow event. 


image of christmas Tree with yard tag on it


Keeping Pipes Warm

Know where your water shutoff valve is located

Protect your water meter by knowing where your shutoff valve is located. It's very important that everyone in your home knows where the main water shutoff valve is, so it can be found quickly in an emergency. Typically, it is in the basement near the meter where the water line enters the building. If a pipe bursts anywhere in the house, turning this valve should stop water to the entire building. If a pipe bursts anywhere in your home, you can turn off the water at the valve to prevent damage and water charges. Be sure everyone in the home knows where it is and what it does in an emergency.
image of a burst water pipe

Here are some tips:

  • The water shutoff valve is located near the meter where the water line enters the home or building
  • The water meter is installed by the Water System. It is the property owner’s responsibility to protect the meter from damage.
  • Make sure the space where the meter is located is heated to protect it from freezing.
  • If the meter is frozen or damaged, there is a charge to the property for replacement.
  • Take extra precautions during extreme temperatures. 
  • Pipes located next to an outside wall are most susceptible to freezing temperatures. The same is true for pipes located in a garage or another unheated building.
  • Exposed pipes in these areas should be wrapped, insulated or shut off and drained before winter.
  • Open cupboard doors under sinks and pipe chases.
  • Where plumbing is in an exterior wall, access to interior heat helps to keep pipes warm.
  • Keep a steady but slow drip of cold water at an inside faucet farthest from the meter.
  • Keep water moving – it’s less likely to freeze.
  • If you’re away for more than a day, shut off your water and leave the thermostat at 55 degrees or higher.
graphic of water line and valve diagram showing water shut off

If your water pipes freeze:

  • Open a furnace vent or an inside basement door to help thaw a frozen pipe and get heat into the basement.
  • Don’t use electrical appliances in areas of standing water – you may be electrocuted.
  • Contact a licensed plumber to avoid damage when pipes thaw.
  • Assume frozen lines are broken or split and buy repair clamps at a plumbing store or contact a plumber and be prepared to turn off the water when the pipes thaw.


No water to your home?

If there’s no water to your home, the problem may be in the street if the water has been shut off for a water main repair or if there is a water main break near your home. Call 311 or 616.456.3000 to report this. 

Avoid Winter Fires

Put a freeze on winter fires and review these helpful tips from our Fire Department.
image of put a Freeze on winter fires

Importance of smoke detectors

Working smoke alarms is the only device which in the oven. work 24/7, 365 days a year to help keep you andyour family safe from home fires. Smoke alarms are designed to alert the household to the danger long before the smoke and fire can claim a life.
The average home should have 6-8 alarms: one in each bedroom, the adjoining bedroom hallway, main floor and one in the basement. More or less may be required depending upon the size and configuration of your residence.
Important things to remember:
  • Test the device monthly and change the battery (if applicable) annually
  • Replace the entire smoke alarm every 10 years
  • Acquire bed shakers and/or strobe alarms which can work with smoke alarms to alert hearing impaired residents

Residential safety assessment program

Grand Rapids homeowners can get FREE smoke alarms and CO detectors through the Residential Safety Assessment Program.  Local renters may get similar assistance calling the American Red Cross at 616.456.8661.


photo of smoke detector


Preventative and survival measures for home fire

graphics of calendar smoking stove
  1. Half of ALL home heating fires occur in the months of December, January, and February
  2. Improper disposal of cigarettes and smoking while in bed is the number one cause of home fires in Grand Rapids; second in the nation
  3. STAND BY YOUR PAN - Unattended cooking is the second major cause of fire incidents in GR. If you have to leave the kitchen, turn the stove off.
graphic of pan fire 3-feet from heat equipment and electrical cord
  1. Don’t allow children to run around the kitchen unsupervised with food cooking on the stove or in the oven 
  2. Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from any heat source like stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, space heaters, and water heaters.
  3. Don’t use cheap or worn out extension cords to power PCs, appliances, holiday lights, or surge protecto
graphics of tree and candle
  1. Install and test carbon monoxide detectors at least once a month. They can be placed high or low; with the optimal location being the adjoining bedroom hallway.
  2. Water your Christmas tree every day. Dry needles can ignite quickly. Avoid placing the tree near heat sources which can dry the tree out.
  3. Never leave a candle unattended. Never burn a candle on or near anything that can catch fire. Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
graphic of fire extinguisher pets and escape


  1. Know how to use your fire extinguisher. Read your user guide for proper use and recharging. Also see YouTube for the four basic steps during use.
  2. Ensure there are no areas where pets can start fires accidentally (including stove knobs, candles, etc.). If pets are in the home, inform the firefighters right away.
  3. GET OUT, STAY OUT. Once a fire starts, you may have less the three minutes to get out. Having gotten outside, never go  back in.
graphic showing door crawling and checking door temp
  1. CLOSE BEFORE YOU DOZE. Research shows that closing your bedroom door helps prevent a fire from spreading, lessens smoke damage, and could even save lives.
  2. In a fire, smoke and poisonous air hurt more people than the actual flames do. You’ll breathe less smoke if you stay close to the ground.
  3. In case of a fire and your door has been closed, first use the back of your hand and touch the middle of the door. A warm door indicates there is a fire in the hall.
graphic of icons for phone usb and web
  1. Get outside, away from the fire and call 911. Should you have a mobility issue, keep the door closed and call 911. Stay near a window so they can spot you.
  2. Protect your important information. Make digital copies of valuable documents and records like phone numbers, passwords, and birth certificates.
  3. Get additional information and safety tips to know how to prevent home fires and what to do during a fire at: 

Every second counts - plan two ways out

During a home fire, you may only have three minutes to get everyone to safety. Create a home fire escape plan. Download a Home Fire Escape Plan Template here. The grid sheet will help you map out your floor plan.   
The GRFD stresses it is important to plan and remember your emergency escape plan so you and your family can exist safely and quickly. Here are a few things you need to know to make the appropriate plans:
  • Draw a map of each floor of your home. Include all windows and doors.
  • Mark two ways out of every room (e.g., bedroom door and bedroom window).
  • Go through the home and ensure that doors and windows are not blocked or locked in a manner to obstruct existing.
  • Choose and outside meeting place. It can be the mailbox, a neighbor’s home, a specific tree or other landmark.
  • Practice an emergency drill with everyone in the home at least twice. 
graphic example of a home emergency escape plan

Winter Driving Tips

If you can see your breath, it’s time to switch!

Summer and all-season tires may not provide optimum performance capabilities when the temperature approaches freezing — even when the roads are dry. Look for the mountain/snowflake symbol to identify tires that meet the newest snow standards.

photo of car with snow tires


Gas up

Keep your gas tank on no less than half full in the winter. This will help keep your gas line from freezing up.

photo of fuel gauge


Wear your seatbelt

Accidents happen more frequent with wet and icy roads. Always wear your seatbelt and ensure everyone in your vehicle does the same, including young children in proper car seats.

photo of putting on a seatbelt


You cruise, you lose

Avoid using cruise control in wet, icy, or snow conditions to maintain control of acceleration and deceleration at all times.

photo of cruise control buttons


Dial before you drive a mile

Call 511 to access travel and traffic conditions to where you are headed before leaving. Forty-one states utilize the intelligent transportation system (its) to improve driving safety and enhance mobility.

photo of a phone with 511 number on it


Prevent a bad situation from getting worse

If you’re involved in an accident, try to pull your vehicle off the road and use hazard lights, flares, reflectors, or flashlights to warn other drivers. Stay off the road, dial 911, and wait for the police to arrive. These actions can help prevent multi-vehicle crashes in winter weather. 

photo of a car damaged by a winter crash

Home Emergency Kit

After an emergency, you may not have easy access to stores for food, water, and supplies. Every home should have a basic disaster supplies kit that will last you several days. A basic emergency supply kit should include: 
  • extra batteries
  • wrench or pliers to turn off appliances
  • battery-powered or hand crank radio
  • whistle to signal for help
  • cell phone with chargers and a backup battery
  • dust mask to help filter contaminated air
  • plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter in place
  • flashlight
  • moist towelettes and trash bags for personal sanitation
  • water (at least one gallon per person per day for three days)
  • first aid kit
  • food (at least a three day supply of non-perishable foods
  • manual can opener
Store your items in airtight plastic bags, and place all supplies in one or two easy-to-carry containers (i.e. plastic bins or duffel bags). Keep the kits in an easy-to-access location and consider keeping additional supplies at work and in your car. Maintain your kit and update supplies as needed each year. For a full list of recommended emergency kit supplies, visit


photo of emergency kit supplies like mask, flashlight, first aid kit, etc.

Emergency Alerts

When emergencies happen, you want to be in the know. Stay informed by signing up for the Grand Rapids emergency alert system. Alerts are sent for weather warnings, boil water notices, evacuation notices, and other emergency messages.

Sign up for emergency alerts

photo of ice on trees encouraging sign up for emergency alerts

Winter Events

Grand Rapids is known for its year-round vibrant and unique events and activities. From experiencing interactive art and the World of Winter to running a 5K and ice skating in the park, winter in Grand Rapids provides many opportunities for you to stay engaged in your community.


For more information on upcoming events, visit our Events & Activities page. For more information about planning an event, visit the Office of Special Event page.  


photo of rosa parks ice rink event

Homeless Outreach Team

The Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) is a partnership between the Grand Rapids fire and police departments with the addition of mental health professionals from Network180. HOT is available for street outreach to unsheltered persons. They do not respond to general issues outside of street homelessness. Any individual or family who is experiencing housing instability or seeking shelter (homeless or soon to be homeless) should call 2-1-1 to access community resources. 


HOT is available for non-emergent issues related to unsheltered homelessness.   

Operating Hours

Monday - Saturday
6 AM - 6 PM  

Contact Info

Phone: 616.456.4240


photo of the GR homeless response team


Other Resources

  • Call 211 if you are experiencing homelessness, or at risk of homelessness to connect to resources
  • Call 311 with general questions or concerns related to homelessness in the City of Grand Rapids
  • Call 911 in instances related to safety concerns, crimes in progress, damage to property, or threat to life

Emergency Shelters

Locations for emergency shelter for men, women, and families are below. Please contact 211 for information about emergency shelter or warming centers.