4 Critical Tips for Sheltering During Winter Storms

With every flip of the calendar, cold weather and potential blizzards inch closer. Have you started preparing your winter storms emergency kit?

Unlike other natural disasters, winter storms don’t often strike without warning. Particularly if you live in an area prone to winter storms that produce excessive snow or ice accumulations, contingency planning is important for keeping warm, nourished, hydrated and off the roads while public services and utilities maintain power and clear roads.

Since winter makes an appearance roughly the same time every year, winter storms don’t have to catch your community off guard. With solid planning, preparation and proactive steps, residents can be prepared for what a winter storm can bring. Share the tips below so they can sit back with a cup of hot chocolate while the weather forecaster talks about snow drifts, high winds and extreme wind chills.

#1 Gather Supplies

The first thing everyone does when a winter storm warning is issued is head to the store. Suddenly, every shovel, generator and bottle of water has flown off the shelves and won’t be seen again until April. Don’t let this happen to you.

Your winter storms emergency kit should include enough food and water for everyone in your household, including pets, as well as emergency equipment should you lose power.

When gathering supplies, include what the experts recommend:

  • Water, one gallon per person per day for up to two weeks
  • Non-perishable food items, such as canned goods, with enough for everyone up to two weeks
  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Any medications you or your family members might need for up to two weeks
  • Cellphones with chargers
  • Important documents
#2 Prepare Your Home

Taking the time to do a few simple tasks could save you in the future from a big expense and a major headache. Frozen pipes can burst, and the surprise of a broken heater are not conditions easily addressed during a winter storm.

  • Have your heating systems checked before the winter storms season begins to ensure everything is in good working order
  • Add insulation to attics, basements and crawl spaces to reduce heat loss and protect plumbing and heating equipment
  • Keep exposed water pipes from freezing by installing pipe sleeves or other UL-approved insulation and by opening up cabinet doors to allow warm air to circulate, such as under kitchen sinks
  • During a storm or extremely low temperatures, leave faucets connected to exposed water pipes on cold with a slow drip to help prevent freezing

If a water pipe freezes, follow advice from Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey about thawing it safely.

#3 Prepare for Evacuation Order

Far less often than other natural disasters, occasionally those in the path of a particularly destructive winter blizzard or storm will be urged to evacuate, due to the likelihood of long-term power outages, flooding or transportation disruptions. If evacuation orders are issued, here’s how to prepared:

Know where you will go. You can get the name and address of the closest shelter to your location by texting “shelter + zip code” to 43362. For example, if you are in Dallas, Texas, you would text “shelter 75098.”

Gather items for eating, sleeping and bathing. It could be awhile before you will make it back to your house. If possible, you should bring your entire emergency kit, including food, water and medications for each person evacuating. Shelters will often only provide safety from the storm, so you should be prepared to furnish sleeping bags, food, water and personal items.

Listen to local news outlets. If an evacuation order is given, your local media outlets will have the most up-to-date information available as to where and how people should leave their home. City websites will often also post advisories and updates on social media channels.

#4 Keep Warm

In extreme cold temperatures that accompany blizzards and winter storms, maintaining warmth is crucial, particularly if you shelter in place during a power outage.

Consider gathering dry wood. Before storms, be sure to keep piles in a dry, easily accessible place during heavy ice or snowfall for use in wood-burning fireplaces.

Using portable space heaters in draftier parts of homes should be approached with caution. Always plug your space heater directly into the wall, not by way of an extension cord, and periodically check them during use. Place portable space heaters on nonflammable surfaces, and away from bedding and drapes. Turn them off when leaving the room or going to sleep, and keep children and pets away from them.

Procure and learn how to use a power generator. If using a generator for power outage, make sure it’s operating in an open space, use a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) and plug any critical appliances in with three-pronged extension cords rated for the load.

Bring outdoor animals inside. Even the hardiest animals should be kept out of the harsher elements, like disorienting whiteout blizzard conditions, subzero temperatures and areas subject to dangerous tidal flooding.

Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.