In the latest installment in our series “How to Prepare For a Disaster”, we’re talking snowstorms, blizzards, and winter storms. Any and all winter weather can cause problems for travelers, power companies, and anyone tasked with shoveling snow out of the driveway.
Even if you’ve grown up in an area with four seasons, our expert-recommended advice is valuable as you get older and need to learn to care for vehicles, apartments, homes, and loved ones. Read on for potentially life-saving information during winter storms.
- How to Prepare Your Home for a Blizzard or Extreme Cold
- Create a Communication Plan
- How to Clear Snow During a Blizzard
- Vehicle Safety for Winter Weather
- How to Prepare For a Snowstorm
- Keep An Eye Out For Winter Weather Warnings
- Keeping Pets Safe During Winter Weather
- Learn More About Emergency Preparedness
How to Prepare Your Home for a Blizzard or Extreme Cold
When it’s time to prepare your home for winter weather, preparation is a major component. One of the single best ways that you can stay warm when there’s cold air outside is by ensuring your home is well-insulated.
Even if you live in an older building, there are relatively inexpensive measures you can take to improve the insulation factor of your living space and keep out the cold air. These include:
- Repair broke or cracked windows
- Repair roof leaks
- Redo the caulking around windows and doors
- Replace the weather stripping on old exterior doors
- Add cellophane or bubble wrap to your single-pane windows
- Have your furnace and ducting cleaned/serviced
- Fill your propane tanks ahead of cold weather during the winter season
If you have the means, there are government incentives and tax credits for improving the insulation and overall efficiency of your home. You’ll need to look into the specifics for your area, but general improvements in many regions include:
- Replacing single-pane windows to double or triple-pane options
- Replacing old exterior doors
- Add insulation to your attic and in your home’s basement or crawl space
- Replacing your water heater for a more efficient model
- Replacing your old furnace with a newer, better model
- Add pipe warmers or have exposed pipes buried to prevent freezing pipes
These are much more labor-intensive and thus expensive, options. But if you are planning on staying in your home for a while, they can make a huge difference in your level during extremely cold weather.
Create a Communication Plan
Whether you live by yourself or with a large collection of people, you can benefit from a communication plan. We have several printouts related to disaster planning, so we recommend starting by filling those out. This will help you and your housemates know what the game plan is if there are any problems during a winter storm or if the weather gets too cold.
As you develop your communication plan, answer these questions:
- Who am I/are we calling when the power goes out?
- Where is the list of emergency contacts? Police, fire department, veterinarian, medical contacts, etc.
- Where is the family contact sheet with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of important contacts? Include an out-of-town contact for family members to get in touch with when they are unable to contact other family members. Often, during disasters, it’s easier to make long-distance calls than local calls.
- Is everyone subscribed to local alert services?
- Does everyone know how to make an emergency call? This is important if there are older or younger members in your household.
Work on these communications and disaster plans long before poor winter weather sets in. Then you won’t have to worry about “what if?” when the snow and temperatures start falling.
How to Clear Snow During a Blizzard
If the thought of shoveling snow puts you in a sour mood, now you have statistical evidence to avoid the activity. Depending on your general level of health, shoveling snow by hand or with an automatic snow blower could elevate your risk of a heart attack.
“The impact of snow removal is especially concerning for people who already have cardiovascular risks like a sedentary lifestyle or obesity, being a current or former smoker, having diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, as well as people who have had a heart attack or stroke,” he said. “People with these characteristics and those who have had bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty simply should not be shoveling snow.” (source)
Hundreds of people die each year from heart problems brought on by the sudden increase in cardiovascular activity, created by shoveling heavy snow. Even pushing a snow blower can be enough to dangerous elevate an at-risk person’s heart rate.
While you could pay the kid down the street to shovel the snow from your driveway, you can also keep these tips in mind and safely clear your front porch and walkways:
- Take your time: Trying to clear the snow as quickly as possible is what will elevate your heart rate too much too quickly.
- Treat it like exercise: Bundle up, drink plenty of water, and watch your heart rate.
- Divvy up the task: If you have a long driveway, break up your shoveling chore into manageable chunks instead of trying to do it all at once.
- Know the signs: Be aware of the signs of a heart attack. Any significant onset of chest pain, trouble breathing, or pain that radiates down the arm or into the neck are hallmark signs of a potential heart attack.
Vehicle Safety for Winter Weather
The safest way to drive in a severe winter storm is to avoid it entirely. Make plans for school, work, and family if there is snow impacting the roadways.
However, sometimes you don’t have a choice or you may get caught in a winter storm. If that’s the case, preparations for your vehicle can help minimize your risks on the road.
- Put a car emergency supply kit in your vehicle. If it isn’t new, ensure that it isn’t missing any items.
- During the colder months, keep a blanket, jacket, and warm clothing in your car. If you get stuck on the side of the road or you run out of gas, you’ll want the extra layers to keep warm.
- Be aware of winter storm warnings. Subscribe to phone alerts so that you’ll know when to begin your winter storm preparation.
- Add snow tires to your car. If necessary, keep chains in your car as well. This is usually only necessary on poor-condition dirt roads but they are better to have in case of bad conditions.
- If you don’t have a GPS on your phone, invest in a portable GPS for your car. This will help in emergencies where you get lost or visibility is poor.
The safest way to drive during the snow is to wait until roads have been cleared, salted, and sanded (depending on your area). Driving during a winter storm or arctic blast is unsafe and could do damage to your vehicle as well. It’s much better to wait it out when possible.
How to Prepare For a Snowstorm
Once you’ve seen a winter storm on your forecast, it’s time to prepare your home. The earlier you are able to prepare, the better. Many people wait until the last moment, causing shortages at grocery and home improvement stores.
Before you go shopping, review your pantry and emergency supply kit to see what emergency supplies you are missing.
- Battery powered radio
- Extra blankets
- Generator (only use outdoors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning)
- Generator fuel if it is gas or propane powered
- At least a 3-day supply of non-perishable foods (canned goods)
- 3-day supply of potable water
- Waterproof Matches
- Manual can opener
- Extra pet food
- A shovel
- Full tank of gas in your vehicle
Each family is unique and will have its own specific needs for surviving without power during a snowstorm for several days (and that is what you should be preparing for). If you haven’t invested in a source of backup power yet, we highly recommend doing so. Even big cities can lose power during a major winter storm. And a blanket fort isn’t fun to build when you’ve run out of power to run the furnace.
Keep An Eye Out For Winter Weather Warnings
Stay alert and up-to-date on possible severe winter weather by signing up for text or email alerts for your area. You’ll also want to educate yourself on what the different winter weather warnings mean.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a full list of all the weather warnings on its website, but here are three that should remain top of mind throughout the winter:
A Winter Storm Watch is issued when there is the potential for significant and hazardous winter weather within 48 hours. It does not mean that significant and hazardous winter weather will occur…it only means it is possible.
A Winter Storm Warning is issued when a significant combination of hazardous winter weather is occurring or imminent.
A Winter Weather Advisory will be issued for any amount of freezing rain, or when 2 to 4 inches of snow (alone or in combination with sleet and freezing rain), is expected to cause a significant inconvenience, but not serious enough to warrant a warning.
Knowing when and what kind of winter conditions to expect in advance can help you adequately prepare and make plans, if necessary.
Keeping Pets Safe During Winter Weather
Helping our furry friends stay warm during cold and snowy weather is an important part of being a good pet parent. Depending on the breed, fur length, and size of your dog, for example, they may need sweaters to feel comfortable even while indoors. A Great Pyrenees won’t mind freezing temperatures outside but a Chihuahua will notice the temperature dip under 50 degrees. Do the necessary research towards the end of summer so you know when your pet, dog or cat, will need a warmer pet bed, blankets, insulating layers, or even more food to stay warm during colder months.
When it comes to keeping your pet safe during winter storms and cold temperatures, follow these rules of advice to comfortably ride out when a winter storm hits:
- Limit exposure to cold, sleet, freezing rain, and snow
- Keep the temperature indoors comfortable for your pet
- Provide a warm bed, warm clothes, and additional blankets for short-haired pets
- Keep walks to a minimum for small and/or short-haired dogs
- Ensure pets have access to fresh, clean water even when it’s cold outside
Once you’ve done the initial preparations, your pet should enjoy their snow day just as much as the kids do. As long as you give your pet enough attention to see any warning signs of discomfort from extreme cold or severe winter conditions, they should be just fine.
Learn More About Emergency Preparedness
Being prepared when you get that winter storm warning is just the first step in a full year’s worth of disaster preparation advice. If you’d like to learn more about preparedness for extreme weather or other unexpected events, we recommend these articles: