Preparing for Severe Winter Weather

By Stephanie Watson @WatsonWriter
December 29, 2015

You need more than a shovel and coat to be ready for the upcoming blast of ice and snow.

The sight of snowflakes gently falling from the sky and coating the ground makes for a picturesque scene, but winter weather can be treacherous if you’re out driving or walking in it. Each year, more than 800 people die in car accidents on snow- and ice-slick roads. Another 1,300 succumb to hypothermia from exposure to cold.

“Severe winter weather can be dangerous and even life-threatening for people who don’t take the proper precautions,” said FEMA administrator, Janet Odeshoo. “Preparedness begins with knowing your risks, making a communications plan with your family, and having an emergency supply kit with essentials such as water, food, flashlights, and medications.”

Putting a winter weather plan in place long before the first snowflake falls can keep you and your family warm and safe this year. Use these expert tips to help you get ready for the season.

Stockpile winter supplies

The day before a big winter storm, hardware stores and supermarkets are packed with shoppers making a last-minute effort to stock up. To avoid the rush, have your emergency kits assembled well ahead of the storm. Ideally, you need three sets of supplies: one for your home, another for your garage, and a third for your car.

In the home

  • Warm clothes, extra blankets, coats, sleeping bags 
  • Flashlights with batteries
  • Drinking water and nonperishable food (crackers, canned goods, dried fruit)
  • Prescription medicines
  • NOAA weather radio 
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Carbon monoxide and smoke detectors with working batteries
  • Extra batteries
  • Charged cell phone
  • Portable space heater

In the garage

  • Rock salt, cat litter, or sand to melt ice and improve traction on sidewalks and driveway
  • Snow shovels or blowers
  • Heating fuel or wood
  • Extra propane tank for your grill

In the car

  • Windshield scraper and small broom
  • Shovel
  • Cell phone with portable charger
  • First aid kit
  • Blankets
  • Extra hats, coats, and gloves
  • Battery-powered radio
  • Extra batteries
  • Flashlight
  • Sand or cat litter (for traction)
  • Water and snacks
  • Booster cables
  • Emergency flares

Winterize your home and car

Home is your safe haven during a winter storm. To protect you and your family, keep your house warm and well maintained. Check that all outside walls and windows are sealed from the cold with weather stripping and insulation. Fix any cracks or holes where winter air might seep in. Have your heaters, chimneys, and pipes professionally cleaned and maintained. Insulate pipes to prevent them from freezing. In your front- and backyard, trim back any trees that could fall on your house during a storm.

To avoid getting stuck on the road in subzero temperatures, give your car a check-up, or have a mechanic do it for you. Make sure all levels – oil, antifreeze, brake fluid, and windshield wiper fluid, are topped off. Keep your gas tank full. Check that your heater, windshield wipers, brakes, emergency flashers, batteries, and ignition system all work properly. If your tires are worn, replace them with a new set of all-weather or snow tires. In mountainous or heavy-snow regions, add chains to your tires for extra traction.

Have a family communication plan

Just as you’d create a family plan for a fire or other emergency, have a plan in place for winter weather. Discuss with each family member where you’ll go to find shelter, and how you’ll get in touch with each other if a storm separates you. Set a designated place where you’ll all reconnect once the storm has passed and the roads are safe to navigate again.

Check the forecast

Don’t let winter storms catch you off-guard. Stay alert to changing conditions by checking the local weather on the radio, TV, or the internet. When a winter storm threatens, stock up on food and other supplies several days in advance to avoid the mad supermarket rush for bread, milk, and water.


December 29, 2015

Reviewed By:

Janet O’Dell, RN

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