Here in the upper Midwest, winter weather can be absolutely brutal. We’re talking frigid temperatures, freezing rain, feet of snow, and just a whole lot of no fun when you’re trying to go about your daily life.
Sure, if you enjoy snowmobiling, ice fishing, and skiing, the winter months are like paradise, but for those who are just trying to get to and from work each day, though, things can get dicey.
Fortunately, winter weather rarely hits without some advance warning. While we all like to poke fun at the weather forecasters, when it comes to blizzards and such, they get it right far more often than they miss the boat. So, the first line of defense is to pay attention to your favorite weather forecast.
It is exceedingly rare that a winter storm pops up out of nowhere. There is almost always several hours, if not a day or two, of warning.
Make sure you have back-ups to your back-ups
Cold kills, and it’s dangerous to rely on only one source of warmth. How could you and your family stay warm if your usual source of power was gone?
- Do you have enough blankets to add to beds and hang up on windows?
- Is there a way you could protect your outside walls from high winds and extreme cold?
- Can you add extra insulation in your exterior walls?
- In extreme circumstances, would you be able to shut off all unnecessary rooms and contain your living and sleeping quarters in just one area?
- Does everyone in the family have the right clothing for spending time outdoors in cold temperatures?
- Do you know the warning signs of hypothermia?
- Is your vehicle equipped with methods of staying warm in case of a breakdown?
What other options could you add to your home in order to stay warm? Watch for deep discounts on winter gear and clothing. If money is tight, maybe a really good snowsuit or heavy jacket would make a fine Christmas gift in place of a new electronic gadget.
Traveling in severe winter weather
If at all possible, limit any planned travel during a predicted winter storm. I know, that’s often easier said than done. Bosses tend to get a little irritated when employees don’t show up. If you have a vacation or sick day you can afford to burn, use it on a day when the roads are going to be sketchy at best. If you can work from home, do so.
Always have emergency supplies and gear in your vehicle. These include jumper cables, a blanket (wool is the best), extra cap, socks, and gloves (again, wool), flashlight with extra batteries, food, water, and a first aid kit. Bonus points for chemical hand warmers, glow sticks, and a cell phone charger you can plug into the cigarette lighter in your vehicle. You’ll find a complete list of what should be in your vehicle emergency kit here.
If you get stranded for some reason, stay put unless you absolutely have to leave your vehicle due to safety reasons. A car or truck is much easier to spot than a person. Tie a brightly colored piece of fabric, such as a flag or bandanna (from your emergency kit), to the vehicle’s antenna. This is a universally recognized symbol indicating you need help.
NOTE: Read this article about surviving in your vehicle during severe winter weather, if you are ever stranded. Each vehicle should be equipped for survival, just in case.
You might want to pack supplies to make this small, alcohol-fueled DIY heater for a true emergency.
Should you decide to trek out on foot, do everyone a favor and leave a note on your dash with your name, the date and time you’re leaving, and where you are heading, even if only a rough compass direction. This will help people find you, should they need to conduct a search.
Surviving severe winter weather at home
At home, I hope you already have a full pantry. If that’s not the case, hit the grocery store a day or two ahead of the predicted storm and stock up. No need to go crazy and lay in enough food to last a month, but get enough of what you’ll need to last at least a week or so. I cannot stress enough that you should not wait until the last minute for this grocery store trip. If you do, you’ll either find empty shelves or you’ll be fighting the pre-storm crowd. Empty store shelves aren’t just a fantasy in a survival writer’s imagination. They are all too common when an impending severe weather or natural disaster is in the news.
There’s a good chance of a power outage, so plan on buying food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, as listed in this printable. Take that list to the store with you so you’ll have plenty of ideas for foods that your family will eat.
A key element to surviving brutal winters is having multiple way to keep warm if the furnace isn’t working. If you have multiple people in the home, double up and pile on the blankets. Try and keep everyone in one room, ideally a small one as described in this article. Body heat multiplied by a few people and kept in a single room will benefit everyone. Add a dog or two, and you may become too warm! As a last resort, put up a tent in one of the smaller rooms and everyone can sleep in the tent.
Hang a blanket over the window and any open doorways to help reduce heat from escaping and eliminate cold drafts coming in. Obviously, if you have a fireplace or a wood stove, make judicious use of it, provided you thought ahead and have a good supply of dry, seasoned fuel set aside.
Wind chill is something most residents here in my neck of the woods understand, yet it sometimes baffles new folks. Basically, in the winter it gets cold, obviously. However, wind chill makes it “feel” colder, just as a breeze makes it “feel” cooler when its hot outside. A lot colder, actually.
Around here, it isn’t uncommon for the high temperature to reach, say, 10’F, and with the wind chill factored in, it feels like -20F or lower. At temps that low, any exposed skin can suffer frostbite in just a matter of minutes. This means you need to protect yourself with not only hats, coats, and gloves but scarves and earmuffs as well. Recently, we discovered fleece-lined tights and that discovery rocked my world!
When it comes to injuries and fatalities as a result of winter weather, while I’ve not seen any hard stats on this, I’d estimate more people die of heart attacks while shoveling snow than for just about any other weather-related reason. If you don’t have a teenager in the area who you could give a few bucks for shoveling your driveway and thus have to tackle it yourself, take it slow. There’s no need to try and do it all at once. Far better to take frequent breaks as needed. Even running a snowblower can be physically taxing.
Finally, severe winter storms often result in power outages. Ice can build on power lines, which adds a great deal of weight and causes the lines to come down. Often, it is just a matter of a few hours, maybe a day, before power is restored. But, plan ahead and have plenty of flashlights, batteries, and a portable radio so you can keep abreast of the weather-related news. Another very important step is to immediately charge all cell phones and electronic devices the minute you hear of a major Nor’easter or blizzard headed your way. It’s also a good idea to do a few loads of laundry in case the power is out for more than a couple of days. You might as well have a clean stock of underwear, socks, and clothes for every member of the family!
Boredom can also set in if the power goes out because that means most of your family’s entertainment sources will be powerless. This article about sheltering in place is a great resource for planning now to keep the kids and/or grandkids busy if you’re stuck in the house for hours or days.
Winter weather clothing tip
One piece of winter clothing that has held up for more than 25 years now is a peach-colored set of silk long underwear. Many winters they just sat in the bottom dresser drawer, seeing as how Phoenix rarely experiences long-underwear-worthy winters. However, when I’ve needed them, I’ve always been more than impressed with their comfort and the warmth they provide with the thinnest possible layer. Winter clothing is bulky enough without adding thick long underwear.
Silkies, as I call them, are more expensive, as you might suspect, but they can last just about forever. Here’s a tip for easily including them in any survival pack or the trunk of your car.
Tightly roll up both the silk top and leggings and insert them in a Food Saver vacuum bag. When vacuum-packed, they will weigh just a few ounces and take up only a tiny bit of space in any bug out bag or kit. Just make sure that you also have a pair of scissors or a pocketknife handy.
Over and over and over parts of the country have been hit hard by vicious winter storms, and in millions of cases, people just weren’t ready. If you keep a pair of silkies in your vehicle, along with a pair of warm waterproof boots and wool socks, you really could walk your way out of just about any winter disaster.
Shop around and you’ll find a pair in the price range that suits you as well as end of the season sales at stores like REI and Cabela’s. Don’t forget about kid sizes for the little ones!
What Will You Do When Winter Weather Hits You?
Severe winter weather isn’t something to be trifled with but with just a bit of planning, you’ll come through just fine. How will you prepare?