Preparing for Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

We all know that snow can be a pain, but what happens when the weather means something worse than just shovelling your driveway? Winter storms can cause frostbite, hypothermia, and heart attacks from overexertion to individuals caught in them.

Snowstorms have also been known to create higher risks of car accidents - heavy snow leads to decreased vision, and if you're without snow tires, you could find yourself in a bad spot fast.

Experience: 2-Days in Bitter Cold

A family of six was trapped in their car in late 2013 after their Jeep overturned and trapped them in a crevice. They survived for 48 hours while caring for four children between ages 3 and 10 by lighting a fire, heating up rocks, and placing them inside the car's tires to keep them all warm. When they were rescued, they were all safe and free of frostbite.

Plan and Prepare for Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

Thankfully, it's easy to prepare for the upcoming winter storms and extreme cold. You and your family should all have the same plan in mind for when the storm hits - the key to staying safe is making sure everyone is on the same page.

If the threat is immediate:

  • Limit your time outside
  • Stay inside, saving your energy and staying warm
  • Stay off of the roads - if you're trapped in your car, stay inside
  • Check on family and neighbors when possible
  • Wear layers of warm clothes

If the threat is impending:

  • Find shelter immediately
  • Get an emergency generator ready outside of your home
  • Stay off of the roads
  • Check on the people you care about
  • Keep an ear open for emergency updates and information

Experience: Preparing in Oregon

A young woman from Oregon shares her experience on getting ready for particularly rough storms. She said that the best way to get yourself and your family ready is to:

  • Get your home ready first. Use caulk and weather stripping to keep the cold out
  • Keep an eye on incoming storms by getting your information from a reliable weather source
  • Pay attention and heed warnings of freezing weather and winter storms
  • Learn the signs of, and how to treat, hypothermia and frostbite
  • Gather the right supplies before the storm hits
Emergency Preparedness for Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

About This Article

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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Plan and Prepare
  3. Medical Treatment
    1. Hypothermia
    2. Frostbite
  4. Power Outage
  5. Survival Gear List for Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

Wear Layers in the Outdoors

The goal to staying warm is to keep your core and extremity temperatures at a normal, healthy level. You don't want to get cold and you definitely don't want to sweat or get wet because getting cold is almost inevitable.

The key to staying warm in a cold weather survival situation is to wear layers. The layers can vary depending on where you live and how cold it might be. Here are the general concepts:

  1. You should begin with a comfortable, breathable base layer
  2. Add normal clothing like shirts, sweat shirts, etc.
  3. Finally, add waterproof outerwear to keep the elements out

Wearing layers allow you to shed outer layers as needed to avoid sweating, yet you can put them back on if you cool off. You can stay warm without sweating.

If you do remove layers outdoors make sure and keep track of them. You don't want to leave them behind and risk getting cold later. I left a jacket behind one time expecting to come back for it. However, we ended up going home another direction and I was very cold by the time we arrived because my jacket was still hanging on a tree. 

If you shed your layers, keep them handy - it will cool off again as day turns to night.

Base Layers

Base Layer Top and Bottom

A base layer is the layer that goes against your skin. Some people wear long underwear (long johns) and some wear breathable layers intended for activity. The goal is to wear a top and bottom to keep the elements off of the skin.

Wool Socks

Wool socks are a must in snowy conditions. Wool is a great insulator, even when wet. Keep your feet warm and try to keep them as dry as possible.

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Outerwear

Hats

You head is a major source of body heat escape. It has a large blood flow with little insulation. Wearing a stocking/beanie hat quickly traps much of that heat.

Gloves

Keep the fingers dry and warm. Fingers and toes usually get cold first and are at the highest risk of frostbite. Wear waterproof gloves to keep them dry and warm.

Jackets and Coats

Keep the elements off of your body. Wear a waterproof, windproof, breathable winter coat or jacket. 

Snow Pants

Wearing insulated, waterproof snow pants will keep your legs warm and dry. Make sure the pants can fit over your boots.

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Footwear

Waterproof Shoes

We recommend wearing waterproof shoes for every outdoor adventure (unless of course you're planning to get into the water). Keep your feet warm and dry.

Waterproof Snow Boots

For snow situations we recommend getting high end waterproof snow boots. Keep your feet warm because toes are a high risk for frostbite.

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Medical Treatment

It's always best to have someone with some sort of medical training or experience around, but in the case it's just you and your family, here are the signs of hypothermia and frostbite - both can be very serious if they are not caught in time.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia occurs when someone's body temperature is too low - a temperature below 95 degrees is considered an emergency. Other signs of hypothermia are shivering, confusion, fumbling hands, exhaustion, drowsiness, slurred speech, and memory loss.

The best thing to do to combat hypothermia is to take the affected person to a warm room, warming the center of their body first: that includes the head, neck, chest, and groin. Keep them dry and wrapped in warm blankets.

Frostbite

As for frostbite, you'll want to keep an eye open for loss of color and feeling in the affected person's fingers, face, and toes. Their skin will also be firm or waxy, and lacking color.

What you need to do when someone has frostbite is take them to a warm room and warm up the affected areas slowly with warm water and body heat. Don't massage or use a heating pad - warming up the affected areas too fast can cause more harm than good.

Once your family has been briefed on the signs and what to do for hypothermia and frostbite, all you have to do is bring them up to speed on your emergency plan. What will they do to get home? Do they know who to call when they need help? Knowledge is power - use it to its fullest.

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What to do if your power goes out

It's common to lose power during particularly bad snowstorms, and it's even more common to panic. Steps to keep in mind:

  1. Stay Calm - The key to staying safe in an emergency is to stay calm, and be comforting and empathetic to others who have trouble keeping their heads.
  2. Keep Warm - If your power goes out, one of the first things you'll want to do is either start up a fireplace or wood burning stove to keep yourself and your family warm. Make sure you are properly insulated with warm clothes and blankets - you want to keep the cold air out.
  3. Flashlights - You'll also want to make sure you know exactly where your flashlights and extra batteries are before the power goes out - and be sure you have a flashlight for everyone.
  4. Generators - Only use generators outside, and away from your windows to restore power - and dress appropriately when going outside.
  5. Unplug - You should also unplug all equipment that could have been damaged during the outage. This includes TVs, stereos, computers, microwaves, VCRs, garage door openers, and answering machines.

And remember: the aftermath of a power outage can be just as dangerous as the outage itself. Have caution and your wits about you when heading outside to assess damage after the storm - downed electrical wires can be hidden by snowdrifts and debris, and could be live.

*Never attempt to move wires or make repairs yourself - always call your utility company for help. It's better to be on the safe side.

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Emergency Gear for Surviving Winter Storms and Extreme Cold

When you're stuck inside during a winter storm, you'll unfortunately be without a way to gather supplies. Always stock up on everything you might need before the storm rolls in. Just remember to stock up on what you actually need - avoid panic buying. 

  1. 72-hour kit or go Bag - your individual kit should have clothing, gear and supplies for 3-10 days minium
  2. Food Storage - Take a long food from your long term food storage

As far as food and water goes - try not to panic, buy more than you need. Keep one gallon of water per person per day - that includes pets. Keep enough water around to last you and your family at least three days.

As far as food goes, keep non-perishables at the ready. Soup, cans of tuna, powdered milk, things like that. A good rule of thumb is if you can take the food camping, it's a good thing to keep around for hurricane prep.

You should have basic supplies at the ready, such as:

  • Enough water for each person - you'll want one gallon of water per person per day - and that includes pets
  • Non-perishable canned goods
  • Extra pet food
  • A crank or battery-powered radio
  • Fully charged power banks
  • Phone chargers
  • Extra batteries
  • Flashlights
  • Extra blankets
  • Extra firewood (if you have a fireplace)
  • Emergency items for babies, such as formula and diapers (optional)
  • Any medications (optional)
  • Extra pads or tampons
  • Extra gas
  • An emergency generator
  • Emergency wind and waterproof matches

Recommended Products

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3 Most reviews are based on personal experience from one of our content editors. Some are based on research and the opinions of other reviewers.

 

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