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How to Prepare for a Snowstorm at Home

Home surrounded by trees in the snow

While your kids might love a snow day, snowstorms do cause a lot of damage. Winter storms and blizzards can even turn dangerous. Before a storm hits, you should be prepared for the worst. Find out how to safely bunker down, prepare, or evacuate your home before a winter storm or blizzard.

Before the Storm

Take these steps to protect your home and your family before a storm hits.

Get Your Car Ready

Make sure your car is in working order. Have your vehicle regularly checked for any issues. Test your antifreeze levels and check your heater and radiator. Make sure your tires have adequate tread to help keep you on the road. Keep your gas tank full to help prevent freezing, and in case you need to evacuate. Finally, keep emergency supplies in your car, including:

  • Extra phone charger
  • Jumper cables
  • Windshield scraper
  • Warm clothes (e.g., jacket, extra gloves, winter hat)
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Emergency signals or flares
  • Emergency blanket
  • Road maps
  • Cash
  • Personal ID
  • Extra water and food
  • Tire chains
  • Emergency contact information

For tips on how to drive in the snow, read this. 

Protect Your Home

Snowstorms cost homeowners $2.1 billion in 2019. Heavy snowfall and low temperatures can wreak havoc on the house, from frozen pipes to collapsed roofs. Here are some tips to keep your home and your family safe this winter:

  • Trim your trees: Ice storms or weight from heavy snow can damage the trees on your property, breaking off limbs and endangering your home. Take time to remove old, damaged limbs, mostly if they hang over your house. Before winter hits, consider calling a tree surgeon to look over or trim your trees.
  • Keep an eye on your roof: Not only can snow damage branches, but it can also damage your roof. The extra weight from heavy snow puts a strain on old roofs and can even cause a collapse. If you see any sagging, notice leaks, or hear cracking sounds coming from your roof, contact a roofing contractor to address the issue.

    It’s essential to fix the roof before a storm hits since weakened, older roofs have a higher chance of collapsing. If you only notice the damage during a storm and a contractor can’t get out to you, try to remove the snow using a long-handled snow rake. Use a snow rake throughout the winter to clear off snow and prevent damage to your roof.
  • Insulate and seal your home: If your heat goes out at all, you’ll want to make sure your home is as insulated as possible. Try caulking your around doors and windows. If it’s in your budget, have a contractor reinsulate your house. A well-insulated home can save you during a storm and save you money all year round.
  • Invest in emergency heating: If you live in a snowy state, you might want to invest in an emergency generator, fireplace, or woodstove. Space heaters also help keep you warm if your heating goes out. If you have a wood stove or fireplace, make sure to have your chimney inspected each year. Animal nests or cracked flues can cause house fires, and a blockage can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Insulate pipes: When the water inside your pipes freeze, it expands and damages the pipe. Frozen pipes make up a good chunk of insurance claims each year, so it’s crucial to find ways to prevent freezing. If you leave your home during the winter, be sure to keep the heat on and open up cabinets where pipes are located.

    You should also leave open any interior doors; that way, heat can flow through your house. Find ways to insulate your pipes, especially places where they run through non-insulated parts of your home like a basement or attic. You can have professional install insulation, or you can do it DIY. Allowing your faucets to drip slightly also helps prevent freezing.
  • Check your fire and CO2 alarms: As the temperatures drop, your chance of a home fire increases. Home heaters, candles, fireplaces, wood stoves, and space heaters all increase your risk of fire and carbon-dioxide poisoning. To keep your family safe, make sure your fire alarms and CO2 alarms are working. Replace the batteries twice a year and test the alarm every month.

Emergency Food and Supplies

Before a storm hits, it’s essential to have supplies in case of emergency. During the storm season, get stocked up on the following:

  • Easy-to-prep food with a long shelf life (enough to last 72 hours)
  • Extra water, enough to last at least 72 hours (1 gallon per person, per day)
  • Family medications
  • First aid kit
  • Battery-powered radio, flashlights, and extra batteries
  • Personal hygiene items
  • Warm blankets and clothes

When a Storm Hits

During the winter season, track weather reports through local news or online. Be sure you take steps to either leave or stay home once a winter storm or blizzard warning is issued.

Staying Home vs. Evacuating

Once a winter storm warning is issued, severe conditions will appear within 24 hours. If you choose to leave, make sure you have enough time to get to your destination safely. Check weather reports to make sure the roads are still cleared. If weather conditions worsen, consider staying inside your home. It will probably be safer than facing strong winds and heavy snowfall on the road. If you have any animals or pets, make sure they stay inside and are protected from the cold.

If the Power Goes Out

Every year, ice, wind, and snow shut down power to hundreds of homes. When the electricity goes out, it might take days to fix. If you have a chimney or wood stove, make sure there’s plenty of dry fuel and that the chimney is clear. If you have an emergency generator, only run it in an open space, outside and away from windows. Have gas, propane, or fuel on hand to keep it running. If you don’t have a chimney or generator, there are still ways to stay warm.

Keeping Warm

  • When your power goes out, do everything you can to prevent losing heat. Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible and close any inner doors. Roll or stuff a towel against the still to keep out drafts. Close your blinds and curtains. Taping thick plastic sheets over your windows can also prevent heat loss.
  • Wear warm gloves, hats, scarves, socks, and shoes, even if you’re indoors. Change out of any wet clothes immediately to prevent frostbite or hypothermia. Try to wear clothes made out of wool or synthetic fibers, and avoid cotton fabrics, which soak up moisture.
  • Layer your clothes correctly. To keep warm, wear your clothes in three different layers: the inner, middle, and outer shell. Your base (inner) layer should be made of wool or polyester fabric. Avoid cotton since it can get wet with sweat.

    If your clothing is wet and temperatures drop, it can lead to hypothermia. The insulating (middle) layer is meant to trap air and shouldn’t be too tight or too loose. Wear fabrics that are medium weight and are made of fleece, wool, or synthetic materials. The shell (outer) layer should also be made of synthetic materials. If you end up needing to go outside, make sure the material is waterproof as well.
  • Get out your camping supplies. Check for chemical hand warmers. Use a camping stove to warm up food or water. Sleeping bags will help keep you warm at night. You can even set up a tent inside your home to conserve heat.
  • Know how to recognize frostbite or hypothermia. Frostbite symptoms include loss of color or feeling in the ears, nose, fingers, or toes. Hypothermia causes uncontrollable shivering, disorientation, memory loss, slurred speech, and drowsiness. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact 911 if you can, and follow first aid treatment.

Before a blizzard hits, make sure you and your family are prepared for the storm. Prepare an emergency plan and go over it with your family. Ensure everyone knows what to do during a snowstorm and how to stay warm if the power goes out—review first-aid treatment for hypothermia and frostbite. Do not go outside until news reports say it’s safe. Once a storm is over, you’ll be able to call for emergency services. If a blizzard damages your home, contact your insurance about coverage and repairs.

Key Takeaways

  • Prepare your car through regular repairment checks and consistent oil changes, etc.
  • Homeowners spent over $2.1 billion on snowstorms alone in 2019; keep an eye on your home throughout winter.
  • Learn when to stay home or evacuate; when evacuating, be sure to plan for a safe road trip.

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