Severe Winter Storm Preparation

Severe winter storms are one of the most common types of natural disasters that occur in the United States.  While we often think about hurricanes or fires when planning for potential emergencies, winter storms can be just as destructive and deadly.  Severe winter storms can create a variety of hazards, such as extremely cold temperatures, strong winds, heavy snow, freezing rain, and sleet.  Even after the storm has passed, there can still be risks associated with what the storm left behind.  Doing what you can to be adequately prepared for winter storms will help your family remain safe during this relatively common type of natural event.

At Home:

Keeping warm is probably the biggest concern when a winter storm strikes.  Be prepared with ways to keep warm if you lose electrical power in your home.  Do what you can to make sure your home is properly insulated before winter.  Projects like installing storm windows or weather-stripping windowsills and doors can also help keep heat from escaping.  Many states are now offering rebates for adding additional insulation and newer double pane windows to older homes.  Be sure to look into programs in your area before you start working.

If you have a functional, well-ventilated fireplace, keep a supply of firewood handy that you can burn for warmth.  Gas powered fireplaces have become popular in recent years.  While it is likely that you’ll have gas to burn ever if the power is out, be aware that your blower fan will not function.  This reduces the heating capabilities of your fireplace substantially.

Other alternative heat sources such as a portable space heater or kerosene heater can also be useful.  Be sure to keep heaters away from potentially flammable objects and make sure you learn how to properly ventilate your heater.  The last thing you want is to inadvertently fill your home with carbon-monoxide with can be lethal.

Storing extra blankets, sleeping bags, and heavy winter clothing for each family members can be useful as well.  While it may not be possible to keep your home as warm as you would with the electricity.  Warm clothing and bedding can even make a cool home comfortable.

In The Car:

While it is best to not drive during a winter storm, you should still have your vehicle prepared to deal with winter hazards.  Keep your gas tank full to prevent the running out of gas and being stranded.  This may require filling up more frequently, or budgeting more for gas each month.  Store items such as a windshield scraper and a small shovel to dig out snow, as well as other possible emergency necessities such as blankets, sleeping bags, food, jumper cables, and flashlights.  Keep a cell phone charger in car as well, to ensure you won’t get stuck with a dead battery.

If driving is necessary, remember to drive slowly during a winter storm, especially since snow and sleet can create dangerously slick roadways and greatly reduce visibility.  Individuals with four-wheel drive SUV’s and trucks tend to have a false sense of security.  While these types of vehicles offer more control in slick situations, they don’t stop any better on ice than a two-wheel drive.  A recent study of Mountain West states indicated that highway patrolmen help more stuck four-wheel drive vehicles than they do two-wheel drive.  Don’t let your over confidence get you stuck.

If you get stuck during a snowstorm, it is best stay with your vehicle instead of looking for help.  Depending on the severity of the storm, you may want to stay in your vehicle and huddle together with other occupants for warmth until things clear up.  If stuck for an extended period of time, taking turns sleeping to avoid the risk of freezing to death.

Caught Outdoors:

Clearly, it is best to remain indoors while the storm is going on.  The inside of your home or office is going to be the safest place during a winter storm.  Due to the reduced visibility from storms, those who are caught outdoors can easily get lost.  Add freezing temperatures and both frostbite or hypothermia can set in.

Before participating in outdoor activities in the winter, make yourself aware of factors such as wind chill that make the air feel significantly colder and can increase the health risks to those caught outside in the storm.  Always wear multiple layers of clothing to remain warm.  This is a great precaution in the event that you are caught by an unexpected storm.

When going on outdoor activities in the winter, make sure to bring along extra food, hand warmers, and jackets or blankets if possible.  If hiking or camping, stick to well traveled trails to prevent the chance of getting lost in a storm.  Most importantly, don’t be caught with a dead battery.  In many cases, the best thing to do is sit tight and call for help on your phone or walkie-talkie.  If this isn’t possible, in white-out conditions your smart phone’s GPS or a handheld GPS unit can be very handy in keeping you on the right track.  Of course, these tools only work if they have batteries.

A winter storm can last for several days, and you could very easily remain without power for days afterwards.  Make sure you are already prepared with a supply of clean drinking water and food storage so that dealing with basic needs won’t become an issue.


Leave a Reply