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Unprecedented snowstorms unexpectedly hit America in early 2021 and are still causing chaos in a number of states across the country. A rising number of people are dying and millions are severely affected. These snowstorms were totally unexpected, giving residents of the affected states an unpleasant surprise.
This goes to show that one can never take the weather for granted. More incidents worldwide have shown how weather patterns are changing on a large scale. These changes can strike suddenly and without much warning.
Places which never had any snow can now be hit by a crazy and prolonged snowstorm. That is why it is better to be ready and to expect the unexpected.
The winter storm preparation checklist in this article is a guide for everyone, whether you live in an area that gets snow frequently or not.
Blizzard vs snowstorm
Generally, a blizzard is more severe than a snowstorm. According to the National Weather Service in the USA, 3 criterias must be fulfilled for it to constitute a blizzard:
- a storm with considerable falling or blowing snow
- sustained winds of over 35 mph
- visibility of less than a quarter mile for at least 3 hours
A snowstorm is sometimes referred to as a winter storm. It has to fulfill only 2 out of the 3 criterias mentioned above.
Although a winter storm is less severe than a blizzard, it is equally dangerous. Snowstorms often come with near-freezing or below freezing temperatures which can include snow, ice, sleet or freezing rain.
If anyone is exposed to these situations, it could lead to accidents, frostbite, hypothermia, and possibly death. Other risks include heart attack from over exertion and even carbon monoxide poisoning.
How do you prepare for a snowstorm?
- Put together a survival kit for snowstorms.
- Have an evacuation plan which includes your pets.
- Stay up-to-date on your community’s response plans.
- Prepare your house for a snowstorm.
- Prepare your vehicle for a snowstorm.
Survival Kit for a Winter Storm
This kit should contain essential supplies that are useful during a snowstorm. It should be easy to carry in case you need to take it with you during an evacuation. Here is the list of items for the kit:
- Water: one gallon per person, per day (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
- Food: non-perishable, easy-to-prepare items (3-day supply for evacuation, 2-week supply for home)
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
- First aid kit with essential medications for the family (7-day supply)
- Multi-purpose tools (manual can opener, small hammer, plier, dagger, duct tape, scissors)
- Sanitation and personal hygiene items
- Waterproof folder of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
- Cell phone with chargers
- Family and emergency contact information
- Extra cash
- Lightweight emergency blanket/sleeping bag
- Map(s) of the area
- Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
- Extra set of car keys and house keys
- Games and activities for children
- Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
- Two-way radios
- N95 or surgical masks
- Matches and candles
- Rain gear
- Work gloves
- Warm clothing, hat and sturdy shoes
- Plastic sheeting
Evacuation plan for snowstorms
- Prepare all family members including young children for the possibility of an evacuation.
- Lay out steps to be taken to prepare for a snowstorm.
- Assign duties to every family member.
- Learn how to treat hypothermia and frostbite, as these are real threats when exposed to extreme cold.
Stay up-to-date on your community’s response plans
Understand the nature of snowstorms and blizzards as well as keywords to look out for in the local news or community updates. For instance, when a blizzard starts, it can last longer than 3 hours and affect visibility badly so being outside or driving should be avoided at all costs.
When you get a snowstorm warning, life-threatening and severe winter conditions would already have begun or will begin within 24 hours of that warning. Here are what some of these phrases mean:
- Wind chill temperature: it is not the actual temperature but rather how wind and cold will feel outside
- Winter storm outlook: possible conditions for a snowstorm conditions in the next 2 to 5 days
- Winter storm watch: possible conditions for a snowstorm within the next 36 to 48 hours
- Winter weather advisory: significant inconveniences will be caused, may be hazardous but not life-threatening if you are cautious
Prepare your home for a snowstorm
- When Texas was hit by a sudden snowstorm in early 2021, millions of homes were not ready for this type of weather. Most places lost their water source because their water pipes burst. Learn how to protect pipes from freezing.
- Make sure your electric wiring and electric outlets are insulated from freezing.
- Insulate your home properly even if you think it may never snow in your area. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windowsills to keep cold air out.
- Have a home heating source installed according to local codes and permit requirements. If your home doesn’t normally need heating, have one emergency heating equipment source in the house which is not dependent on gas and electricity, as these can be disrupted. A wood stove would be perfect.
- Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide an extra layer of insulation to keep cold air out.
- Store sufficient heating fuel since regular fuel sources such as electricity may be cut off.
- Allocate and create a protected place for larger pets, including access to a protected supply of food and non-frozen water. Put them in this space before the snowstorm even begins.
- Have a supply of non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery.
- Make sure your fire extinguishers work.
Prepare your vehicle for a snowstorm
- Have your vehicle winterized before any snowstorm strikes to decrease your chances of being stranded in cold weather. Keep a set of chains or snow tires with studs in the house.
- Get a qualified mechanic to check your battery, antifreeze, wipers and windshield washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, flashing hazard lights, exhaust system, heater, brakes, defroster, and oil.
- Keep your vehicle’s gas tank full to keep the fuel line from freezing.
- Keep in your boot: a windshield scraper, a small broom and spade for clearing snow on or around your car.
- Keep handy in a box: a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, water-resistant boots, and extra blankets and warm clothing for each member of the household.
Snowstorm food list
You never know how long you will be stuck in the house, so have a separate stock stowed away for emergencies such as this. Only dive into this food source when you have used up all the fresh food and perishable items in the kitchen.
- Canned goods – have a variety of food types (vegetables and protein) including warming foods like soups and stews
- Cereal and granola
- Anything jarred, from jellies to pickles to meats
- Peanut butter and other shelf-stable nut butter
- Dried pasta and jarred sauce
- Wax-sealed hard cheeses
- Salted butter, which lasts longer at room temperature than unsalted butter
- Dried fruit
- Energy bars
- Hot cocoa mix
- Snack foods like chips, crackers and cookies in sealed packages
How do you survive a winter storm?
- Stay indoors and avoid leaving the house unless it is a serious medical emergency.
- Stay warm with thick clothes or by layering any kind of clothing you have.
- Stay tuned to weather updates.
- Snack regularly to keep your body warm.
- Stay hydrated but avoid drinks which can further dehydrate the body such as caffeine and alcohol.
- Keep all the openings in your house closed. Use duct tape or towels to seal out the draft.
- When cooking, be mindful of fumes and carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Winter storms can last for several days, which places great demand on electric, gas and other fuel distribution systems. Conserve fuel as much as possible by restricting movement to just 1 or 2 rooms in the house.
- Lower the thermostat to 65°F (18°C) during the day and to 55°F (13°C) at night. Stay warm using clothes and blankets whenever possible.
- Unplug all other non-critical electrical appliances.
- Leave a faucet dripping into a clean bucket to help prevent the pipes from freezing. Don’t waste water.
- If there is a power outage, keep the refrigerator door closed to prevent food spoilage. If the blackout lasts longer than expected, put perishable food in a secure area in the house where there is no heating. Use flashlights whenever possible to avoid the risk of a fire.
A blizzard is worse than a snowstorm, but preparation for both is the same. Survival methods are similar too.
The key is being ready before either one hits your area.
If your home and vehicle are prepped for such an event, you may not even need to leave your home until the coast has cleared.
Every year hundreds of Americans are either killed or injured by exposure to the cold, or by road accidents caused by wintry roads. The best way to survive blizzards and snowstorms is by staying out of it, safely at home.