Winter storms can bring a host of problems with them. Freezing temperatures, power outages, food shortages, and closed roads just to name a few.
Being prepared for a winter storm isn’t just important, it is vital to your cold weather survival.
What Is a Winter Storm
A winter storm is a weather phenomenon that occurs during the cold season. Winter storms are usually accompanied by heavy snowfall and strong winds.
Winter storms, simply put, can shut down an entire city in an instant. It can close roads, airports, stores, shut down the flow of supplies, and even prevent medical professionals from operating efficiently.
Heavy winter storms not only can shut down a community but can cause damage to property as well. Roofs can collapse, power lines break, trees can get knocked down and more.
Once power is lost, property is damaged, or food runs low, these winter storms can become deadly.
Planning ahead for a snowstorm is important because it allows you to get prepared before the storm hits. This way you won’t waste valuable time waiting around for the storm to pass.
If you live in an area prone to winter storms, here are some things that you can do to prepare yourself and your property. This includes things such as having emergency supplies ready, making sure you have enough food and water, and keeping your car well maintained.
Types of Winter Storms
A winter blizzard occurs when very cold air moves over warmer ground. It is also known as a “polar vortex” or an “Arctic blast.” These storms are characterized by strong winds and heavy snowfall. They often occur during the winter months from December through March.
Blizzards are known for high winds, often times more than 35 miles per hour and extremely low visibility. This low visibility can make travel virtually impossible in a blizzard.
A snow squall is a sudden drop in temperature caused when cold air from an Arctic front collides with warmer air over the Great Lakes region. It is also known as a lake effect storm. Snow squalls are known for brief but heavy snow falls followed by strong gusty winds.
Sleet / Ice Storms
An ice storm Freezing rain happens when rain falls through warm air until just before the Earth’s surface where it runs into freezing temperatures and freezing surfaces and freezes as it lands on the surface. It may also be accompanied by strong winds that blow snow into large drifts.
Ice storms can be some of the most damaging winter storms. When freezing rain or sleet accumulate on trees, power lines, roofs, and other surfaces, they tend to get heavy and break.. When this happens, electricity may be disrupted, causing problems with heating and more
Staying Safe Indoors
Preparing For Getting Snowed In
If you are planning on being stuck inside during a blizzard or heavy snowfall, your first priority is to make sure you have enough food and water stored up. Since roads may be closed and supply chains disrupted, your aim should be to have a one week supply ready for any snowstorm.
Once you have enough food and water stored up, your next priority should be to have plenty of warm clothes, blankets, and a secondary heat source in case you lose power.
Having a generator and space heaters can keep pipes from freezing and keep the temperatures tolerable, but usually only for a short period of time.
If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace in your home, make sure to keep an emergency supply of firewood on hand if you end up having to use the fireplace to heat your home.
If you end up without a secondary heat source, then having plenty of blankets and warm clothes may be the difference between staying safe and ending up freezing.
You should also be prepared with an emergency kit that includes a flashlight, extra batteries, blankets, matches, candles, a radio, and a first aid kit.
Preparing For Losing Power
The main concern when loosing power in a snow storm is loosing the heat source in your home. Food won’t spoil since you can store refrigderator and freezer items in your garage.
Having a generator is always a good idea and helps you be prepared for power outages all year, not just during winter storms.
If you don’t have a generator or a fireplace in your home, then your emergency kit should contain an indoor safe heater like the Mr. Heater Big Buddy.
The Mr. Heater Big Buddy space heater produces 18,000 btus of heat which can sufficiently heat up a 400 square foot space. The heater can be hooked up to 1 lb or 20 lb propane tanks (a 20 lb is your safest bet).
What makes these heaters perfect is that they have a low oxygen sensor that will cause them to automatically shut off if your oxygen supply gets too low. They also will automatically shut off if they tip over. These features make them a safe backup heat source in case of a power outage during a winter storm.
Pick a Room For A Warm Space
With a space heater, fireplace, or even a generator, you likely won’t be able to keep your entire home warm during a power outage. You need to pick one room that you have the best changes of keeping warm in. If you have a fireplace, then the room with your fireplace is obviously your warm room.
If you don’t have a fireplace, find a small room that is well insulated and with few windows. This will be the easiest room to keep warm until your power is restored.
If the room has windows and/doors, drape blankets over the windows to give them an extra layer of insulation from the cold. Next, go around the room and use towels to seal up any gaps under doors or anywhere else that you may be loosing heat.
Lastly, if you lose power, you need to make sure that you have a sufficient supply of warm clothes and blankets.
Power outages in ice storms and blizzards can last for days. You need to make sure that you have the ability to stay warm until power comes back on.
Backup Food Supplies
Having at least a 7 day supply of food and water is a must in order to be prepared for winter storms. Often when big storms are coming, people panic and quickly over stock their homes. So don’t count on being able to stock up at the last minute either.
I personally like to keep a 2-week water supply for my entire family on hand at all times, enough “normal” food for at least 1 week, and an emergency food supply that would last us 30 days if we found ourselves in a tough situation.
Weatherproofing Your Home
Making sure that your home is thoroughly weatherproofed is a great start to being prepared for winter storms. Here are a few simple tips in case you find yourself in a winter storm emergency:
- Insulate any water lines that run along exterior walls in your home. These are the most susceptible to freezing. Simply insulating them can prevent burst pipes in a winter storm.
- Make sure that any gaps around windows and doors are caulked and weatherstripped.
- Cut away any tree branches that could fall on your home during an ice storm or blizzard.
- Make sure that all of your insulation is up to par. A well insulated home can stay warm for hours and above zero for days.
- Protect your pipes from freezing by letting them slow drip until the power comes back on. A slow steady drip will keep the water in your lines moving and help prevent your water lines from feezing if you don’t get your heat back on soon.
- Locate your main water shut off valve in case of a burst pipe. If you do end up with frozen pipes, make sure to turn off your main water supply as quickly as possible to limit the amount of damage.
Staying Safe In Your Car
Winter storms don’t always just trap you in your home, sometimes they can trap you in your car as well.
Getting stuck in a vehicle in a winter storm is one of the last places you want to be when a big winter storm hits. You never know how long you may be stranded in your car during a snowstorm. Emergency vehicles may have a hard time getting to you and they may have a lot of stranded people to help, so you may have to wait many hours for help to arrive.
First Things First
Never leave the vehicle. If you are stranded, the vehicle offers a form of protection from overexposure to the cold. A single person walking through the snow is also harder to find than a stranded car or truck.
It is okay to run the car for short periods to provide some heat. Remember to crack the windows a small amount to allow for the circulation of fresh air. Dangerous exhaust fumes, including carbon monoxide, can build up very quickly. This is especially true if the tailpipe is buried in the snow.
Keep yourself moving. A car offers little room for you to keep your blood flowing, but exercise is a must. Clap your hands, stomp your feet, and move around as much as possible at least once an hour. In addition to keeping your body moving, keep your mind and spirit from wandering too far into gloom. While potentially dangerous situations are not a time of joy, keeping yourself from added stress will allow you to make smarter decisions when necessitated.
Make the car visible for a rescue. Hang bits of bright colored cloth or plastic from the windows. If the snow has stopped falling, open the hood of the car as a signal of distress.
Being Prepared In Your Car
You need to make sure to always bring your phone in your car during the winter, even without the threat of a snowstorm. Second, make sure to have an external charging source for your phone so that you don’t have to rely on your battery if you find yourself stuck, in a ditch, out of gas, or in any other emergency.
Next, you need to make sure that you can stay warm. Any vehicle winter kit needs to be stocked with at least one warm blanket.
Lastly, a winter car emergency kit should be equiped with jumper cables or a portable jump starter pack, water, and a flashlight.
Getting Stuck In the Outdoors During a Snow Storm
Seek some form of shelter immediately. Blowing winds can cause the wind chill to reduce your core body temperature to dangerous levels. The risk of frostbite and hypothermia increase every minute you are exposed to the cold weather.
If you are wet, try to get dry. Lighting a small fire will not only provide warmth, but will enable your clothing to dry out.
Deep snow can actually act as an insulation from the wind and cold temperatures. Digging a snow cave can actually save your life.
Stay hydrated, but do not eat snow. You need to melt snow before eating it. Your body must still heat the ice and melt it. Instead, gather snow in some sort of vesicle and attach it to your body for a slow melting process. A canteen inside your coat, but not directly next to the skin will speed the melting process.
If you want to know more about staying warm in your car during a winter storm, check out our post on Winter Survival Kits here and winter survival gear here.