Advanced weather prediction technology is pretty good at helping us know when winter weather may turn severe. However, history shows that it’s not very good at predicting just how all that snow and ice will affect infrastructure. Residents in New England weren’t surprised to get a foot of snow last winter, but they were surprised when the storm knocked out power to thousands of households for more than a week. The time to prepare for winter storms is before they strike.
If you live in a region that has any possibility of snow or ice, read through our top tips and take action now. If you live in a region that rarely gets ice or snow, pay special attention: Warm climates simply don’t have the infrastructure to deal with rare winter storms and as a result you may be on your own much longer than you think should severe weather strike.
Have an alternative heat source
Hypothermia is the largest winter storm danger when the power goes out and the elderly are especially vulnerable to freezing temperatures over an extended period.
- Wood stoves are an excellent heating source, just be sure you’ve got plenty of dry wood stacked near the house and your stove and flue are regularly cleaned. Never leave a burning woodstove unattended that doesn’t have a door that seals tightly, not even if only embers are left.
- Portable generators that run on gasoline are a more expensive investment but can be used for heating and to power appliances such as cook stoves and refrigerators. Solar generators are a big investment, but if you get enough sunlight during the winter, a sun-powered generator is a cheap, clean, safe source of heat. Generators that run on gasoline should be kept outside and used with a power cord that runs inside. Never connect any generator to main service panels – you or utility workers can be seriously injured when power is restored.
- Kerosene heaters are an economical emergency solution, but should be used with caution. It’s critical that the room in which a kerosene heater is used is properly ventilated, and heaters should not be used near anything flammable or be left unattended. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has comprehensive safety information on kerosene heaters here.
Access to water
Having access to clean water is the next most critical thing to consider. Click to check out these Red Cross tips on preventing and thawing frozen pipes. Be sure to boil or filter any snow or ice you use for drinking or cooking.
Emergency Food & Medicine
Keep a minimum two-week supply of non-perishable emergency food for each person and pet in the household (of course, we know where you can find tasty, easy-to-store and use emergency food with a 25-year shelf life – at least for humans :-). If you require daily medication, ask your doctor for 90-day prescriptions that are refillable every 60 days so you always have a good supply on hand.
If outdoor pets can’t come in the house, make sure they are in a dry, draft-free outbuilding with access to a warm box raised off the floor and small enough to keep in their body heat. Insulate the box with old wool sweaters or blankets. Cover the door with a plastic or fabric flap. If you use salt or chemicals to melt snow, keep your pet’s paws away from it. Antifreeze should also be kept away from pets; they can find the taste appealing but is extremely poisonous. Be sure to clean up any spilled or leaked antifreeze outside to ensure pets and wildlife aren’t accidently exposed.
During a winter storm it’s best to only go out in an emergency. If you do have to venture out, the Ready.gov website recommends that you keep these items in your vehicle at all times during winter months:
- Windshield scraper and small broom
- Battery powered radio
- Extra batteries
- Snack food
- Extra hats, socks and mittens
- First aid kit with pocket knife
- Necessary medications
- Tow chain or rope
- Road salt and sand
- Booster cables
- Emergency flares
- Fluorescent distress flag
- And of course, don’t forget to bring your cell phone
Winter weather can turn deadly fast. Check your emergency supplies far in advance of bad weather to be sure you aren’t caught unprepared if storms prohibit driving or affect power infrastructure.