From October to April (and even May in some states), a large portion of the country is at risk for severe winter storms. These storms can happen at any time and can threaten everyday life. If you live in one of these areas, it is vital to be prepared.
In 2017, winter storms were responsible for 24 fatalities and caused $1 billion in insured losses in 2016. You do not want yourself or your family to become a statistic. So, the best way to survive a winter storm is to prepare for its arrival. This means finding shelter, weatherproofing your home, utilizing safe heating sources, and having food and essential resources on hand.
While these are the main issues you should address, there are quite a few more measures you should take. Avoid costly damage to your home and ensure your family remains safe with these detailed tips for preparing yourself and your home for severe winter storms.
Stay Tuned to the News
If you are days or even hours away from a winter storm, it is imperative to keep an eye on news alerts. Winter storms can quickly change in intensity and direction. As a result, it is crucial to find weather and news channels that will keep you up-to-date on the storm’s progression.
It is also very likely that you will lose power during the storm. So, you will be unable to check your smartphone or laptop for consistent updates.
A battery-powered radio will allow you to listen for news updates. So, if you do lose power, you will never have to worry about missing out on important instructions and weather news.
In addition to purchasing a radio, take some time to identify stations that will offer accurate weather updates. A great example is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather radio station.
You can count on them to operate during storms and provide details about what to expect. You can also check out your local Emergency Advisory Radio station. This source will also provide up-to-date knowledge regarding weather patterns and emergency instructions.
Prepare Your Home
Before it becomes too hazardous outside, it is a good idea to check your home for things that could pose a problem during the storm. For example, you should cut down any branches or trees that could fall on your home. You can also check for any holes or leaks that need to be repaired ahead of time.
One of your most significant tasks will be to weatherproof your home. This act can include adding additional insulation to your attic, caulking your doorways to prevent cold air from coming in, seeing if your pipes are in danger of freezing, inspecting your chimney and furnace system, and installing thermal-pane windows.
A great way to tackle this is to create a weatherproofing checklist for each room in your house. You can then quickly go through your home and see where you need to make a repair or add insulation.
While your home will be your priority, it is crucial that you do not forget to take care of the area around it. As temperatures continue to drop, ice will become more prevalent. So, add salt to any icy walkways, driveways, outdoor steps, and adjacent small roads.
The last thing you want is for you or anyone in your family to sustain a serious injury due to falling on ice. You want your home, and the area around it, to be the safest place possible.
In short, weatherproofing your home allows you to address any hazards that may arise before the storm makes it impossible to do so.
Gather the Supplies You Will Need
You need enough food, water, and lighting to lasts you until the storm (and aftermath) have passed. If the forecasts after the winter storm do not call for much sunlight or a rise in temperatures, you could be stranded inside your home for a while.
This is why it is essential to ensure you and your family have everything you will need. Prepare to not leave your home for at least five days after the storm. So, gather enough supplies to last for this amount of time.
You and your family can work together to create an emergency kit. This kit should include the following:
- Extra batteries
- Non-perishable food items
- Heavy blankets
- First-aid kits
- Essential medication for all family members
- A hand-cranked radio
- Food and medicine for pets
- A gallon of water per family member per day
- Packs of sand
- Portable USB charger
- A manual thermometer
- Fire extinguishers
- Heat packs
- Books, games, and puzzles
Working with your family to create this kit not only eases the workload, but it also helps to train them on the materials required to survive in a winter storm. This information will empower them to also be aware of emergency preparedness and to know what they should do if you are not around.
Also, this is not an exhaustive list. You may have required items that are unique to your family. Sit down with everyone and discuss what you may still need.
Prepare Your Vehicle
Unless there is a true emergency, you and your family should prepare to stay in one place. However, it is still important to prepare your vehicle for two reasons:
- You may need to drive in an emergency situation (taking someone to the hospital, or running out of a crucial resource).
- You could be on your way (or coming home) from work and are now stranded in your car.
Take time to ensure that your vehicle is ready to withstand the elements. It may be your only source of shelter, so it is crucial to make sure it is a good one. You can do this by staying up-to-date on all maintenance and repairs, always driving with a full tank of fuel, purchasing snow tires, adding chains to your tires, and ensuring your heating and cooling systems are functioning.
These are steps you will want to take way before a winter storm is set to hit. However, if you are less than 48 hours away, your main focus should be to create a car emergency kit. It should include the following:
- Non-perishable food items
- A battery-operated radio
- A change of warm clothes and shoes.
- Windshield scraper
- Jumper cables
- Hazard reflectors
- Emergency flares and distress flags
- Tire chains
- Tow ropes
- Cat litter (for car traction)
- Local paper maps
- Required medications
Many of the items you included in your home emergency kit should also be in the one you create for your car.
Also, the goal is to stay as warm as possible. Do not make the mistake of relying on the car’s heating system as you may not have enough fuel, or the car could fail to run. So, include as many blankets, warm clothes, and heat packs as possible.
Know How You Will Heat and Light Your Home
Much like seeking shelter in your car, your primary priority is to keep everyone (including yourself) as warm as possible. While you should have blankets, heavy clothes, and jackets on hand, you will need some additional help in keeping everyone warm. There are a few ways you can do this.
It is advisable to use a fireplace (if you have one), and even utilize a coal-burning stove, or space and kerosene heaters. While the latter is effective it is crucial to remember two things:
- Consult local codes to see if kerosene heaters are acceptable to use in your home.
- Keep space and kerosene heaters three feet away from all fabric and potentially flammable items.
- Keep the extension cords to a minimum. Someone can easily trip over them, and it is safer to plug heaters directly into the wall.
- Always refuel kerosene heaters outside of the home.
In preparation of the storm —and depending on the method you use to heat your home—be sure to collect and store firewood, coal, and heating fuel.
As far as lighting is concerned, it is best to use battery-operated sources like flashlights or LED lights. Lighting sources such as candles and anything with an open flame are a fire hazard.
If you are planning to use a generator to power lighting or heating sources always remember to locate it 20 feet from all doors and windows. This will prevent the spread of carbon monoxide poison into your home.
Learn the Signs of Hypothermia and Frostbite
Even with blankets and heat sources, hypothermia and frostbite can still become a problem. It is essential for you—and members of your family—to be aware of the symptoms that accompany these dangerous cold-related illnesses.
For hypothermia, watch out for shivering, confusion, memory loss, and low energy. Regarding frostbite, keep an eye on gray and yellow skin, and numbness. Knowing these symptoms can help you start treatment as soon as possible.
Here are the best ways to treat both illnesses:
- For hypothermia – Remove the individual away from cold areas, and take off any wet clothing. You should then check to make sure they are breathing normally. Then, apply a heated compress to the individual’s neck, chest, or groin area. Doing this will restore heat to their body, and increase their internal temperature.
- For frostbite – Take the affected area and soak it in warm water until the red color is restored and it feels warm. Then cover the area in sterile wrappings. Once the conditions are safe enough to travel through, take the individual to the hospital.
You Can Get Through This
The thought of a severe winter storm can feel daunting and overwhelming. The actual conditions during this weather scenario can prove unpredictable. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure you and your family survive.
The best way to keep yourself and your family safe are to have a preparation plan. Much of the work occurs on the frontend with deliberate strategy.
Preparing ahead of time will make it easy to stay calm and collected during the storm as you will already have everything you need.
Do not wait until the last minute to plan for a winter storm. Use the steps above to start thinking about how you can create a preparation strategy that works for you and your family.