How to Prepare for a Winter Storm or Blizzard

Winter Storms, blizzards and other severe cold weather can dramatically interrupt your everyday life with power outages, impassable roads, property damage, and in some cases injury (or loss of life). Fortunately, there are many clever things you can do to prevent (or mitigate) the hazards associated with these storms.

To help you prepare for the next snow or ice storm, I have compiled this extensive list of tips, strategies and techniques of what you can do to prepare yourself, your car and your home.

Preparing Your Home for a Winter Storm:

Make Your Storm Preparation an Adventure: There’s no need to scare your kids when it comes to the arrival of a big winter storm! Make the situation an “adventure” by assigning your kids some of the various tasks below and make them a part of the “excitement” of the storm’s arrival.  Winter storms are not a game, but there’s something to be said for keeping a positive attitude in an emergency.

Have Plenty of Drinking Water Stored: If the electricity goes out in your area, there is a good chance you wont have any running water in your house (especially if your home has its own well). The American Red Cross recommends you have at least a three day supply of water for each person in your household (1 gallon per person per day). For example, for a family a five, it is recommended that you have at least 15 gallons of water stored). I’ve found that 1 gallon juice containers work the best.

Non-Perishable Food Items: Infants, kids and adults! Make sure you have a good supply of easy to prepare food AND you have a manual can opener. Energy bars are a good thing to have on hand as well.  Remember, even if you lose power you can still keep lunch meats, milk, cheese, and other perishable food items chilled by keeping them outside packed in snow (just make sure you check them every frequently so they don’t freeze). 

Gas Up the Grill:  Remember, gas grills can be very handy during power outages to cook meals so make sure you have an ample supply of gas on hand.  Just remember, NEVER bring the gas grill inside the house, they will fill your home up with deadly gasses!!! 

Pet Food and other Pet Care Items:  Make sure you have an adequate supply of pet food for your animals as well!

Warm Clothing:  Its also a good idea to get your warm winter clothes out and easily accessible if you haven’t already. 

Warm Blankets:  If you lose power in the middle of the night there is a good chance that your furnace will go out as well.  Having some extra blankets at the foot of your bed can be a very handy thing!

Turn Your Furnace Thermostat Up:  While it may be wise to lower your thermostat at night to save electricity, you should have no such concerns when you’re preparing for the arrival of a big winter storm!  If there is a large blizzard or winter storm heading towards my area I like to crank the heat somewhere between 76 and 80 degrees.  In the event the power does go out and we lose the furnace, the house temperature will remain comfortable for much longer.  If the power goes out in the middle of the night, you could potentially stay in bed until morning before “worrying” about starting your portable generator or waiting for the power to be restored.

Consider a Kerosene Space Heater:  Kerosene space heaters, such as the highly rated RAD KERO HEATER 10K BTU, are an excellent back-up heating source to have available in the event your home’s furnace depends on electricity (whether its gas, oil, or electric).  Modern design and engineering have greatly reduced the dangers and annoying smell associated with previous generations of these units.

NOAA Weather Radio: Even if you have a battery powered radio, you may not be able to get any local stations unless the stations have dedicated emergency power backups. With a NOAA weather radio (click here to order one through Amazon), you can be assured to get weather updates and local advisories.

Games/Activities: For many people, the thought of being isolated and without power for extended periods of time can be very challenging. Make sure you have plenty of games, books or activities on hand to keep everyone occupied during the storm. Like I said above, keep positive and make the storm and “adventure”.

Flashlights and LED Lanterns: Forget using candles! Candles are way too dangerous during power outages and anyone who’s ever used a candle to see will agree that they are not very effective anyway. The best lighting option I’ve found during power outages is an LED or Fluorescent Lantern. They are relatively inexpensive, last for days on a single set of batteries and, best of all, they are extremely effective at lighting your home when the regular lights are out (click here to order the led lantern I personally use through Amazon).

Extra Batteries:  Make sure you have extra batteries for all of your “essential” electronic devices (radios, flashlights, lanterns, smoke detectors, etc.).

First Aid Kit:  Make sure you have a first aid kit readily accessible, it may take longer than normal to make it to the hospital for emergency care.

Medications:  Make sure you have an adequate supply (7 days plus) for any prescriptions or over the counter medications you may need. 

Inform Family Members of Your Plans:  Prior to the arrival of a big winter storm, make sure someone knows what your plans are and keep in contact with them throughout the storm if possible.

Keep Cash on Hand:  Make sure you get your hands on some extra cash in the event the ATM/debit/credit card machines in your area are out of service.

Make Sure Your Cell Phone is Charged: If there is a severe winter storm in the forecast, there is a good chance that power and phone lines will go out. I recommend keeping your cell phone plugged into its charger during winter storms. In the event the power and phone lines do go out, you’ll have a full charge on your cell phone, iPad, tablet, or other communciation device. If you share a home with someone (roommate, spouse, girlfriend, boyfriend, etc.) consider turning one of your phones off to save battery life. The power may be out for days.

Put Your Hands on Your Snow Shovel: It goes without saying, but make sure you know where your snow shovel is BEFORE the storm arrives. There have been several instances where I thought I had a shovel only to remember it was broken during the last snowstorm.

Put Salt On Your Deck, Driveway, and Walkways: I’ve found that sprinkling a thin layer of melting salt on the walkways, driveway and decks prior to the snow storm arriving helps with the actual shoveling after the storm is over (it prevents that crusty ice from forming that is so difficult to shovel).

Leave Your Outside Lights On: If you hire someone to plow your driveway, leaving your outside lights on at night (assuming you have power), will help the snow plow driver see what he’s doing and identify any vehicles, fences or other obstructions.

Fill Your Bathtubs With Water: Yes it is important to have plenty of drinkable water on hand stored in sterile containers, but another thing you can do is fill your bathtubs with water to be used in the event your area loses power. You can use this water for flushing toilets, bathing, washing dishes and other uses while saving your supply of drinkable water.

Consider Buying a Portable Generator:  Although my home is heated with home heating oil, the furnace will not run if the power is out.  Instead of buying an elaborate “automatic” generator system that can easily cost $8,000 (or more), I opted for a basic portable generator that I can use to run my home’s critical systems (water pump, furnace, refrigerator, select lights and of course the entertainment system).  For less than $1,000 you can buy a decent generator and have your home’s electrical panel pre-wired (with a generator transfer switch) by a licensed electrician.  There are several “shady” ways you can connect your portable generator to run your home, but these methods can be extremely dangerous (causing death, serious injury or property damage).

Test Your Portable Generator:  If you have a portable generator for running your home’s appliances and lights during winter storms, make sure you run it BEFORE the storm comes.  The middle of a blizzard at 2am is not the time to realize the pull cord on your generator fell off or the unit has a clogged fuel line.

Fuel Up Your Generator (plus have an extra supply of gas):  Another important step is not only making sure there is fuel in your generator, but also that you have extra fuel stored in a proper storage container.  You may be without power for days and an average portable generator (4000-8000watts) can burn through a full tank in less than 12 hours of use.

Do Your Laundry:  If there is a chance you may lose power for a few days, you’ll feel a lot better if your laundry is done and you have clean clothes to wear and fresh sheets to sleep in.

Run the Dishwasher:  Another thing I like to do prior to the arrival of a big storm is make sure there are no dirty dishes lying around the house.  Running the dishwasher (or doing dishes by hand) prior to the storm coming will prevent you from having a bunch of dirty dishes lying around in the event you lose power for an extended period of time.

Clean Your House:  Like the above suggestions, if you’re a “neat freak” you also might save yourself some sanity if you make a pass through your home with a vacuum cleaner in the event you lose power for an extended period of time. 

Help Your Neighbors:  When preparing for a big winter storm or other similar emergency, make sure you talk with your neighbors (especially the elderly) to see if they need any help preparing for the storm as well (supplies,etc.).  Its will be a lot easier on everybody if you can help them now rather than 3am on a snowy morning when they realize they can’t get their generator going or they are running out of medication and can’t get to the store.

Preparing Your Car for a Winter Storm or Blizzard:

Gas Up Your Cars: Make sure your vehicles have a full tank of gas prior to the arrival of a storm.

Extra Blankets:  Make sure you have extra blankets and extra warm clothing stored in your car.

Shovel:  It is a good idea to have a decent shovel in the back of your car as well in case you need to dig yourself out of a snowbank.

Jumper Cables:  If you’ve ever experienced a dead battery on a cold winter morning or evening, you know how important a decent set of jumper cables can be.

Roadside Flares/Lantern:  If you do breakdown in the middle of a storm you are in an extremely dangerous situation.  Not only will you be exposed to the elements without any heat available from you car, but you also will be nearly invisible to plow trucks who may be coming along.  In addition to using your car’s hazard lights, it is a good idea to use any flares, LED Lanterns or anything else you may have that will help your car standout on the side of the road in the middle of a blizzard.

Secure Your Yard:  If this is one of the first major storms to affect your area this year, make sure you’ve put away all of the summer stuff you have outside.  In particular, last year I forgot to put away one of the two water hoses that are connected to our house.   Even worse, the facet was left on and when the line froze it busted the hose and water ran continuously for a few days forming a huge mountain of ice on the back side of our house that damaged our home’s siding and even partially flooded our basement.  What a mess!

Preparing Yourself for a Winter Storm or Blizzard:

Take a Shower or Warm Bath:  If you lose power, it may be a few days before you have hot water restored.  Before the storm may be the last chance you have to “freshen up”  for a few days, take advantage of it.

Cook a Big Hot Meal Prior to the Storms Arrival:  Another fun thing you can do with your family or roommates to ease the frustration of being isolated and/or without power is cook a “last supper” right before the storm hits.  This may be your last chance to eat a decent “nutritional” meal for a few days so make it count!  Plus, you’ll have lots of yummy leftovers to eat for the next few days!

Make Sure You Have Something to Do:  As mentioned above, make sure you have something to do in the event you lose power to help keep your sanity.  A few years back we lost power for 3 days.  I had some extra paint on hand and I was able to remain productive by knocking out a few painting projects around the house that had been put off because I didn’t have the time.  Sometimes snowstorms can be a blessing when it comes to getting odd jobs done around the house.

One Response

  1. CJ 5 years ago

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