Reminder: Prepare for Winter Weather Now

Avatar Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
Reminder: Prepare for Winter Weather Now

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For most of us, winter means uncertain weather, including bone-chilling temperatures, severe winds, freezing rain and significant snowfall.  Not much fun under the best of circumstances especially if you lose power and are unprepared with inadequate food, power and first aid supplies.

Being prepared for winter weather conditions is not rocket science and there is much you can do to insure the safety of your home and family during the winter storm season.  But first, what exactly is a “Winter Storm”?

According to NOAA, most people think of a winter storm as a snowstorm. While this can be true, there are other types of weather associated with winter storms that can be extremely hazardous.

Storms with Strong Winds:  Sometimes winter storms are accompanied by strong winds creating blizzard conditions with blinding wind-driven snow, severe drifting, and dangerous wind chill. Strong winds with these intense storms and cold fronts can knock down trees, utility poles, and power lines. Storms near the coast can cause coastal flooding and beach erosion as well as sink ships at sea.

Extreme Cold:  Extreme cold often accompanies a winter storm or is left in its wake. Prolonged exposure to the cold can cause frostbite or hypothermia and become life-threatening. Infants and elderly people are most susceptible. What constitutes extreme cold and its effect varies across different areas of the United States.

In areas unaccustomed to winter weather, near freezing temperatures are considered “extreme cold.” Freezing temperatures can cause pipes to burst in homes that are poorly insulated or without heat.

In the north, below zero temperatures may be considered as “extreme cold.” Long cold spells can cause rivers to freeze, disrupting shipping. Ice jams may form and lead to flooding.

Ice Storms:  Heavy accumulations of ice can bring down trees, electrical wires, telephone poles and lines, and communication towers. Communications and power can be disrupted for days while utility companies work to repair the extensive damage. Even small accumulations of ice may cause extreme hazards to motorists and pedestrians.

Heavy Snow Storms:  Heavy snow can immobilize a region and paralyze a city, stranding commuters, stopping the flow of supplies, and disrupting emergency and medical services. Accumulations of snow can collapse buildings and knock down trees and power lines. In rural areas, homes and farms may be isolated for days, and unprotected livestock may be lost. In the mountains, heavy snow can lead to avalanches.

Steps to Take Now

No one can predict exactly when a winter storm will hit.  While preparing for a power outage is obvious, there are other steps you can take to make your home more confortable during the winter storm season.

  • Conserve heat and energy by adding insulation to walls, attics and basement areas
  • Weather strip doors and windows to protect against drafts
  • Install storm windows or use plastic sheeting to cover windows
  • Caulk to seal around window frames, doorframes and other openings on the exterior of your home
  • Stock up on firewood or other alternate fuel sources
  • Insulate pipes, especially those near the exterior walls of your home
  • Winterize your vehicle, which includes snow tires or chains, if necessary
  • Have plenty of extra blankets available
  • Ensure that every member of your family has a hat, scarf, gloves or mittens, warm coat and water-resistant boots
  • Create a supply of water (at least one gallon a day per person for three days) for use in the event pipes freeze
  • Assemble a disaster kit that includes but is not limited to a first aid kit, battery powered radio and lamps, a supply of fresh batteries, drinking water, canned food and non-electric can opener, extra blankets, and other items
  • If you live in an area that experiences frequent power outages due to severe winter weather, consider purchasing a generator
  • Stow away items to keep your family entertained such as board games, Sudoku or crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles. paperback books and non-electric toys

When the Winter Storm Hits

  • For goodness sake, when the storm arrives, stay indoors and only leave your home for emergencies!
  • When using alternate heat sources (fireplace, wood stove, space heater), make sure you do not leave the heat source unattended for long periods.  Have a fire extinguisher at the ready just in case you need it.
  • Close off areas of your home that are not used or needed and only heat occupied rooms.
  • Stay tuned to weather broadcasts to keep abreast of storm details and emergency instructions from authorities
  • Keep your cellular phone charged (if power is available)
  • Do not use a blow torch to thaw frozen pipes; slow thawing works best to prevent pipes from bursting.  If pipes freeze, remove insulation and wrap rags around the pipes to absorb moisture during the thawing process.
  • Never ever sit in your car in an enclosed garage with the engine running.  The carbon monoxide will kill you.

If You Must Go Outside or Leave Your Home

  • If you must go outside, walk carefully on snowy and icy ground, and wear layers of warm clothing and cover your mouth to protect your lungs.
  • Equip your car with blankets, a shovel, battery-operated radio and flashlight. Inform others of your planned route and take a fully-charged cell phone with you. Take a bottle or two of water plus some high calorie energy bars for use if you are stuck or delayed for an extended period.
  • Stay clear of downed power lines.
  • Continue to monitor weather forecasts and conditions – do not be lulled by the serenity of the “winter wonderland” outside your home.

The Final Word

Unless you live in sunny Florida or Southern California,  chances are you will experience some sort of extreme weather during the winter months.  The preparations you have made – and the knowledge you have accumulated – during the rest of the year will get you through.  Storms, snow and freezing rain are nothing to fear so long as you are prepared.

Need more information?  Check out this Winter Storm Safety Checklist from the American Red Cross.

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!


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6 Responses to “Reminder: Prepare for Winter Weather Now”

  1. If the forecast calls for freezing weather you should always fill your bathtub with water and keep a bucket close by. Why? When your pipes freeze and the water stops flowing you will have no way to flush your toilet and I know from experience that your living quarters will soon become uninhabitable after a couple of days if you can’t dispose of waste. I learned the hard way about 4 years ago…..If you don’t have a bathtub, invest in a couple of large plastic tubs and fill them before the cold weather arrives.

  2. Great article!!!! I feel I’m prepared, but, after reading the article, I intend to double check my preparations and correct any “weak spots.” Thanks for the reminder! P.S I experienced an ice storm when I was 13: no heat, no water, no electricity, no way to go out of the house safely, no way to heat or prepare food. It was a memorable experience, one that makes this article especially meaningful.

  3. Gaye, great article. My wife and I have identified a huge problem with our state of preparedness. Our get-away-house is entirely electric, including of course, the AC/Heater. Yikes! And I thought I had everything thought through! Problem is, our house is in the Texas Hill Country, o.k.? I mean winter for us is usually only about 3 or 4 months long. Everyone’s concern in our area is staying cool the other 9 months of the year, not staying warm. Problem is, when it does get cold, it may get as low as (don’t laugh), 20 degrees with a wind chill, (and its always windy) of 10 degrees or less and that miserable condition can last for a week or more. And then of course, because everything is geared for the 110 degree heat, guess what fails if there’s hail or ice? You betcha, the power fails. Short of installing a propane system………….I’m outa ideas. As a kid we actually used to use kerosene space heaters. I imagine the gov’t has long ago banned those. I’m really at a loss! Do you have any ideas?


    • Check out the Big or Little Buddy heaters by Mr. Heater. Real good reviews on them. You can run them off a 20 lb. propane tank and on the 4000 BTU setting, the tank will last about 4 to 5 days. They can be used indoors. They will not heat the whole house, but will do a large room quite well. Amazon has real good prices on them. No sales tax and shipping is included. Good luck!!!

    • Indoor/outdoor kerosene heaters are still available. Try Northern Tool (.com), think they have a link thru Amazon too. If wood or coal wasn’t an option, I might go with kerosene over propane. Kerosene stores well, and besides the heater it works in hurricane lamps and as diesel fuel.

  4. You have some great suggestions. I actually feel rather ashamed because I never get prepared for winter like I should. It seems even though I completely agree with survival preparedness, I am a slacker when it comes to actually doing it.

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