by Jessica Toomer
A light dusting of snow can be a holiday treat, but cooler weather also increases the risk of dangerous winter storms. Whether you call them blizzards or polar vortexes, these storms bring below-freezing temperatures, mountains of snow, power outages, road accidents and more. They often wreak havoc and can bring life to a halt, putting at-risk groups like children, the elderly and the sick in danger.
A little preparation can go a long way to keeping your loved ones safe this winter. Here are a few essentials to stock up on this blizzard season:
While it’s not advisable to drive during a snowstorm, if an emergency forces you to get behind the wheel, having a kit prepared in case the worst happens will save you some stress. You can purchase pre-made kits online or craft your own. Include warm clothing—hats, mittens, scarves—two chains or a rope, tire chains, jumper cables with a fully charged battery, hazards or other reflectors, road maps and coarse sand or road salt to help tires gain traction in case you get stuck. You’ll also want to make sure your vehicle is in good working order, so get those brakes checked, change the oil, fill up the tires and leave the gas tank ¾ full in order to avoid icing your fuel lines.
It’s common for the power to go out during a winter storm and if that happens, you’ll need a battery-powered source of light. Candles work well, but if you expect to be without power for days or weeks, or if you’re worried they might become a fire hazard, then a handheld flashlight is a must. It’s also wise to think about buying a hand-cranked flashlight. They last longer and don’t rely on batteries.
Speaking of power, batteries are essential to surviving a nasty blizzard but they’re often the first item to sell out in stores, so make sure you stock up on yours as soon as you hear a storm may hit. Most electronics—radios, fans, flashlights, etc.—run off AA and AAA batteries, but larger equipment might require specialty sizes.
A good rule of thumb for surviving any kind of storm is to have more water than you think you’ll need. The human body can go much longer without food than water, and there are a variety of other daily needs that require H2O. From flushing your toilet without electricity to bathing, drinking and cooking food, you’ll need water to make it through. The Department of Homeland Security recommends having a gallon of water per day, per person for at least three days. It’s also a good idea to fill up bathtubs and sinks with water too.
The three-day rule applies to food as well. It’s best to be prepared with food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated in case of a power outage. Think non-perishable items, like canned soup, vegetables and fruit. Boxed snacks like trail mix and chips also work, as does boxed shelf milk. For the food currently sitting in your fridge, if you hope to save it, prepare a cooler filled with ice so you can transfer items as needed, and avoid opening refrigerator doors, as that will bring down the temperature inside your home.
Unlike other storms when power-outages are mere annoyances, losing power during a winter storm can be a real health hazard. You’ll want to prepare for temperature changes in your home before they drop too low. Stock up on blankets, layer your clothing, and consider investing in a space heater or a generator before the blizzard hits. If the electricity goes out, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use your stove—even if it’s gas-powered—to generate enough heat to warm your home. If you have a working chimney, make sure you have wood and you’ve had the vents cleaned.
Hopefully you already have a first-aid kit in your home, but it’s always good to double check it’s stocked with items like bandages, gauze, antiseptic, ibuprofen and anything else you might need should a medical emergency take place. It’s also a good idea to get any prescriptions you’re counting on filled before the storm hits. Most pharmacies will work with patients to give them emergency supplies or a “bridge” until their next refill is due.
If a winter storm hits, you’ll want to make sure your furrier friends are taken care of too. If you can, bring your pets inside to ride out the storm. Make sure they have plenty of food and water, and you may need to purchase pads or mats for them to use the bathroom if you’re forced to remain indoors. If you can’t bring them in the house, make sure they’re enclosed in a sturdy structure—like a barn, a garage or a shed—and that they have plenty of blankets, hay or insulated beds to keep them comfortable and warm.
It’s a good idea to keep all phones, laptops, iPads and other electronic devices charged during the storm so you can keep up with weather updates and alerts. Invest in portable batteries for your devices—these can hold a charge for days and can be used to power up your electronics once the batteries run out. Keep in mind that if the storm is particularly rough, it could knock out cell tower reception, which means you won’t be able to place calls or log onto the internet. For this reason, it’s probably a good idea to buy a hand-cranked radio, or a shower radio that runs off batteries, so you can tune into local stations to stay in the know.
When a blizzard hits and the snow mounts, you need to make sure your home is prepared. That’s why it’s a good idea to stock up on tools that will winterize your home—think shovels, to help dig out driveways, sidewalks and front doors. Buy a couple of bags of road salt or coarse sand to sprinkle on your driveway and walkways before the snow falls. Clean out your gutters so that they don’t freeze and cause flooding. Get your roof checked to make sure your home is properly insulated.
Preparing for a winter storm can be stressful, but if you check these items off your list ahead of time, you'll be in the safest position possible to brave Mother Nature.
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