Here in Michigan we have an ice storm nearly every year. And every few years we get an ice storm that’s epic. We also have some impressive snow storms and periods of extremely cold weather. Mr. Comfortable and I were, we thought, well prepared for winter events until he was in the middle of his cancer treatments. The actual temperature was -15 degrees F and with the wind chill the cold was utterly bone chilling. Our furnace died on the first night of that cold snap. And that’s when I discovered that our winter storm preparedness plan needed some work!
We had plenty of firewood for the fireplace but moving Mr. C to the family room would have been very hard on him. We had a generator but it wasn’t a lack of electricity causing the problem. And, because I’d prepared by stocking firewood and gas for the generator but not for the possibility that the furnace would stop working while everything else was still functioning, we had a huge problem.
Luckily some friends and our son, Pete showed up with space heaters so we were able to make it through the night. But it was uncomfortable at best. The furnace repairman showed up but he was kind enough to tell me how I could save hundreds of dollars by purchasing the needed part and installing it myself. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the part until the next day and, due to some problems with getting the old part out and the new part in, it took Pete until 10 p.m. the second night to get the furnace working again.
That incident made me reconsider my entire winter storm preparedness! I’d only prepared for the things I thought would happen and not for all the things that could happen. My lack of foresight was very uncomfortable for the dogs and for me but it could have been life-threatening for Mr. C!
If you live in an area that experiences extreme winter weather it’s definitely not too early to take steps to ensure your safety and comfort if winter storms hit you.
Ready.gov suggests these steps before a winter storm or blizzard:
Winterize Your Home
- Winterize your home to extend the life of your fuel supply by insulating walls and attics, caulking and weather-stripping doors and windows, and installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic.
- Winterize your house, barn, shed or any other structure that may provide shelter for your family, neighbors, livestock or equipment. Clear rain gutters; repair roof leaks and cut away tree branches that could fall on a house or other structure during a storm.
- Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
- Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
- All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear.
- Keep fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk, as more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
- Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts).
- Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
- Hire a contractor to check the structural ability of the roof to sustain unusually heavy weight from the accumulation of snow – or water, if drains on flat roofs do not work.
My advice is to have several space heaters in your home. Be sure they are safe for use indoors and keep them away from flammable materials. Test them before you need them to ensure they don’t cause breakers to pop.
If you lose heat hang blankets, towels, or other heavy materials over the doorways and only concentrate on heating a single room.
You should always have these items ready for a winter storm:
- A working flashlight
- A charged cell phone
- A battery or hand crank radio
- Extra food, water, and any medications you must take
- A first aid kit
- If you have a propane furnace make sure you have enough fuel.
- If you have an electric or gas furnace, turn up the heat before the storm. Your home will stay warmer a bit longer.
- Firewood if you have a fireplace or wood burning stove or you can turn the heat up before the storm if you have electric or gas heat. Utilities may fail.
- Fire extinguishers that are charged and fully functional.
- Smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors
Take these precautions for your animals:
Bring all pets inside! A dog house probably won’t be warm enough in a severe storm and if there’s a blizzard (lightning and thunder) your dog could break loose and run off!
If you have any kind of livestock move all animals to the barn or other enclosed shelter. Store extra feed close the feeding areas and have an extra water supply that is easily accessed.
Carry an emergency storm kit in your car:
- A shovel
- Windshield scraper and a small broom
- Flashlight (one with a strobe is excellent if you become stranded to help rescuers find you)
- Battery or wind up radio
- Extra batteries
- Water and high calorie snack foods
- Extra hats, sock, and gloves (mittens are best) in case the ones you’re wearing become wet
- First aid kit with a pocketknife
- Medications you must take each day
- Blankets or sleeping bags
- Tow chain or rope
- Road salt or sand
- Battery cables
- Keep a fully charged cell phone with you at all times and let people know when you should arrive at your destination.
- Keep your gas tank full during winter months
Winterize your vehicle prior to the storm. www.ready.gov recommends that you check or have a mechanic check the following items:
- Antifreeze levels – ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
- Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
- Brakes – check for wear and fluid levels.
- Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.
- Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
- Heater and defroster – ensure they work properly.
- Lights and flashing hazard lights – check for serviceability.
- Oil – check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
- Thermostat – ensure it works properly.
- Windshield wiper equipment – repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.
- Install good winter tires – Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.
- Emergency flares
- Fluorescent distress flag
If you’re at home, work, or in another building follow these tips from www.accuweather.com
At Home or in a Building:
- Stay inside
- Close off unneeded rooms to save heat
- Stuff towels or rags in cracks underneath doors to conserve heat
- Cover the windows at night
- Eat and drink to prevent dehydration
- Wear layers of loose-fitting, light-weight and warm clothing
If Caught Outside:
- Find a dry shelter immediately
- Cover all exposed body parts
- If Caught Outdoors Without Shelter:
- Prepare a lean-to, wind break, or snow-cave for protection against the wind
- Build a fire for heat and attention purposes
- Place rocks around the fire to absorb and reflect the heat
- Do not eat snow straight off the ground, melt it first
If Stranded in a Vehicle:
- Stay inside your vehicle
- Run the motor for ten minutes each hour
- Crack the windows to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning
- Make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked
- Tie a colored cloth to your antenna or door
- Raise the hood after the snow stops falling
- Exercise to keep warm and keep your blood flowing
Follow these tips and your winter preparedness plan should see you through the worst the season can throw at you!