Safety Tips for a Winter Weather Emergency: How to Prepare
No matter where you live, it's likely that you'll face severe winter weather at some point in your life. Blizzards and ice storms can create the most extreme and dangerous driving conditions, while heavy snowstorms, accompanied by wind, can knock down power lines, leaving you without heat or means of communication. Preparing for winter storms ahead of time gives you and your family peace of mind when a harsh winter hits. Here are some helpful tips to get you ready for winter's wrath so that you can be prepared before, during and after a storm.
What to Do Before a Snow Storm
Prepare Your Family
- Prepare your emergency kit. Be sure to replenish it each winter with winter specific gear. Your home should be equipped with appropriate emergency supplies, including non-perishable food, flashlights with extra batteries, battery-operated radio, bottled water, extra blankets, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher that has been properly serviced, and medical supplies — including at least one week of prescription medications.
- Make a communication plan. Your family may not be together as a unit when a disaster hits, so it's important to discuss how you’ll communicate. All family members should have emergency telephone numbers stored in their phones, including their parents' work numbers. Parents should also have the numbers for their children's schools saved in their phones.
- Pick two regrouping locations. The first should be a location outside the home but still on the property where families can go in case of a fire or gas leak. The second location should be a place off your actual property. This location will be used when family members were not home to begin with, such as during the school or work day.
- Learn first aid. Family members should learn basic first aid and CPR in case of a medical emergency.
Prepare Your Home
- Winterize your home. This includes insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
- Clean chimneys and other heating equipment and make sure they are inspected each year.
- Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic. If a hard freeze is expected, be sure and allow faucets to drip a little to avoid solid freezing. Even a minimal trickle of water helps prevent pipes from freezing solid.
- Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working. If the power goes out and you need to use candles, a backup generator, or a gas or wood-burning fireplace, you will want to make sure your detectors can sense any odorless gas or smoke.
- Stock up on non-perishable foods and water as part of your emergency kit. Have enough food and water for each family member for at least 3 days.
- Keep extra water in case of an outage. If an outage is expected, fill up your tub and spare containers with water.
Prepare Your Car
- Fill up your gas tank to prevent freezing.
- Winterize your vehicle. This includes making sure your antifreeze levels are good, make sure your battery and ignition system are in top condition, and replace fuel and air filters. Check for the level and weight of your oil as heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and don't lubricate as well. Also, be sure your windshield wipers are working well and install good winter tires. Tires need adequate tread for winter weather, and in some extreme cases of icy and snowy terrain, you’ll need to use chains or snow tires with studs.
- Pack an emergency kit in the trunk. This kit should contain items like booster cables in case your battery dies, sand or cat litter to place in the snow for traction, energy bars for protein, warm clothes and blankets, extra batteries for your smartphone, a shovel to dig out snow around your tires, and a flashlight for when it gets dark.
- Have your car serviced by a certified mechanic before any cold weather trip. This mechanic will ensure all fluid levels are appropriate, the battery is strong, the tires have been rotated or replaced with all-season/all-terrain options, and the brakes defrost system work appropriately.
What to Do During a Snow Storm
In Case of a Winter Emergency at Home
- Stay connected to a radio or TV for alerts from the NOAA and for warnings from the National Weather Service for all hazardous conditions. Download free smart phone apps such as those available from FEMA or the American Red Cross. They provide information about finding shelters and how to receive first aid if you need it.
- Bring pets and other animals inside where they have access to fresh water instead of frozen water.
- Keep your phones fully charged and have a backup battery ready in case of an outage.
What if the power goes out?
- Report the outage to your utility company.
- Stay warm. Dress in your cold weather clothes and use blankets indoors. If you can do so safely, use alternate power sources or a backup generator to heat your home. Make sure that the area where you use a grill, backup generator or other source is well-ventilated.
- Avoid downed power lines and call your local utility to report any in your area.
- Monitor the radio for emergency information and updates.
In Case of a Winter Emergency on the Road
- Be a responsible driver. Travel at a speed appropriate for the road and weather conditions. Also, keep your gas tank at least half-full to prevent freezing.
- Try to stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts as these are less likely to be well-lit or plowed.
- Use sand or cat litter from your emergency kit to melt ice or gain more traction if you get stuck.
- Clear snow from the top of your car, headlights and windows. Do not pour water on windows to get rid of snow or ice. Even lukewarm water can present a risk as it can freeze to the windshield or flow to the base and freeze near wiper blades.
- Keep emergency contacts like your car insurance and emergency towing service handy.
What to Do After a Snow Storm
- Stay away from power lines and avoid driving on roads with fallen debris.
- Stay cautious of ice when walking outside or driving.
- Throw out any food that may have spoiled during a power outage.
- Check on friends and neighbors.
- Report any damage to your local utility and other services in your community.
- Restock your emergency kit so you’re prepared in the event of another weather emergency.