With all the many destructive and spectacular disasters that can occur you might find it difficult to believe that cold weather and accompanying snow storms are capable of inflicting widespread and long listing damage, and are statistically one of these single most dangerous weather events that you can be expected to face in your lifetime.
Very low or even subzero temperatures, extreme snowfall and sustained winds all play a part in contributing to an environment that is absolutely inimical to human life.
But the fun doesn’t have to end there. Aside from the ever-present risk of exposure, snowstorms also create secondary hazards by making travel extraordinarily hazardous, or even completely impossible, restricting your own movement and ability to respond to emergencies, as well as severely stalling or even completely halting commerce and first responders in an affected area.
Snow storms might be common but they should never be taken for granted, as failing to prepare for them might prove to be fatal. Common in your area or not there is much to learn and much to do if you want to be ready for serious cold weather survival.
Below we have provided you with a guide that will tell you everything you need to know about beating winter’s frozen chill.
Can You Withstand the Cold?
Winter weather and in particular heavy snow storms are particularly difficult to deal with because there is no facet of life that is untouched by their passage.
Trying to stay home? It’s going to be difficult, even dangerous. Going to travel on foot? Extremely difficult, perhaps fatal. How about going by car? Impossible or extremely dangerous. Flights will be delayed, shipments will go missing.
Utilities like power and water will be intermittent if they work at all. Even essential communications can go completely offline under the sustained assault of the cold.
It is an easy thing to roll your eyes at, especially if you live in a place that is known for perpetually cold weather or just for ferocious winters but the fact of the matter is that exposure is the single most common killer in nature, and is capable of ending your life in as little as a couple of hours if conditions bad enough and you have nothing in the way of proper shelter.
Just across the North American and European continents alone, thousands of people perish every year due to exposure from cold weather. For example…
To say you must take this seriously is an understatement. Basic survival plans must be adapted and improved if they are going to be worthwhile against sustained freezing temperatures and all of the attendant hazards and problems endemic to snowstorms.
Everything you do, from keeping warm to getting drinkable water will be made exponentially more difficult and the clutching cold will always be looking for a way in.
In the remainder of this guide we’ll be sharing with you skills, procedures, considerations and cautionary measures that you will need to understand if you want to stand a chance of surviving severe winter weather. Ready? Grab your mittens and let’s get started!
Risk Factors Breakdown
Snow storms present a spectrum of hazards, both directly and indirectly. The hazards present or categorized into primary and secondary hazards:
- Primary Hazards: Dangers resulting directly from weather and climate conditions.
- Secondary Hazards: Dangers or risk factors that are incidental to changing conditions or complications arising from weather.
Primary hazards from snow storms and cold weather include an extreme risk of exposure potentially resulting in hypothermia or frostbite, and among the secondary hazards are:
- drastically increased risks of car accidents and slips,
- trips and falls due to slick conditions, carbon monoxide poisoning as a direct result of people desperately trying to warm their shelters,
- and complications arising from medical emergencies or ongoing medical conditions due to an inability to access medicine or medical care.
Other risk factors include dehydration due to loss of ready access to clean drinking water and starvation should have someone become snowbound.
We will break down the risk factors below:
Hypothermia is the chief killer resulting from exposure to cold temperatures and is especially dangerous for people who are already sick or infirm, children and the elderly.
When the body’s core temperature starts to drop confusion and loss of coordination will begin to set in, along with uncontrollable shivering, memory errors, slurring speech or sleepiness. Should the body’s core temperature drop below 95°F, the victim will be in real trouble.
Response: Move victim to warm place. Dry victim if wet and wrap in warm blankets or clothing, taking care to warm head, neck, chest and groin as soon as possible.
Frostbite is a condition where exposed skin and tissue, particularly the extremities, freezes or is exposed to severe cold for a long period of time.
Often the affected area will be completely numb and take on a white or gray yellow color and waxy texture. Tissue death and loss of the affected area often follow. Frostbite is a particular risk whenever clothing and gear are inadequate for the conditions.
Response: Victim should be moved to a warm area, and the affected part of the body should be soaked in warm water or gently heated through the use of body heat.
Do not apply intense, concentrated sources of heat, heating pads or massage the affected area as additional tissue damage can result.
The attendant snow and ice generated by snowstorms makes travel by vehicle positively treacherous as the vast majority of vehicles are not capable of traversing slippery asphalt safely no matter what they are equipped with.
It never fails that automotive travel during the worst snow storms results in massive pile-ups and countless smaller crashes and collisions.
Response: Assuming it is possible at all travel by automobile should only be undertaken during a severe snowstorm in a time of uttermost need. Especially equipping your vehicle for travel on slick or icy roads is always a good idea.
Slips, Trips, Falls
Travel on foot is oftentimes just as hazardous as travel by car during a snowstorm. Driveways, sidewalks and staircases can become pitfalls or death traps and it is easy to get a concussion, fracture or sprain due to a fall on slippery ice.
Moving through deeper snow is exhausting and also hazardous since you cannot make out the lay of the land beneath the layer of snow.
Response: On-foot movement across snowy or icy terrain should be done with considerable caution and an understanding that it will be strenuous. Cross-country treks through the snow can be made easier using snowshoes or skis.
Major snowstorms and long-lasting cold weather always bring with it instances of carbon monoxide poisoning. This results from people attempting to warm their homes or shelters via burning some form of combustible material to generate heat.
Propane grills and improperly vented fireplaces or fire pits that are brought inside are the chief offenders.
Response: Any fireplace, heat source or other combustive material must be adequately vented no matter how dire the situation is or else CO poisoning is a possibility.
Battery powered carbon monoxide detectors should be utilized in a home setting at all times. Never, ever bring in your propane grill or run your gas cooktop for heat during a snowstorm.
Snowstorms often result in various other injuries and deaths due to the many other problems they cause concerning transportation, reliable communications and emergency services.
Patients who depend on regular medical care or drug prescriptions for managing their conditions may be unable to obtain access. A loss of communications means that other everyday ailments and emergencies result in no one showing up to save the day.
Response: If you or a family member suffers from a condition that requires regular treatment or medication contingency planning must be put in place to assure continued access. Make it a point to check on high-risk individuals that you can reach in your area, neighbors, etc.
That is just an overview of the various hazards that you’ll have to endure and surmount when dealing with a severe snowstorm or long-term cold weather. In the remainder of this guide we will dig in two more detailed and esoteric considerations. Zip up your parka, and keep reading!
Protecting Yourself From Frostbite
Protecting yourself from blistering cold is a necessity whenever harsh winter weather strikes. When temperatures are already very low, winds are blowing stiff and constantly wind chill factors might exist, they can result in exposed areas of skin being frostbitten in minutes.
Frostbite is especially treacherous because most people won’t even know they are affected until it is too late. Though there will be pain, at first, the cold is often thought to be merciful because your extremities will be numbed before frostbite properly starts to set in.
It is essential you learn to recognize initial and onset symptoms of frostbite so you can take action to remediate it before you are forced to amputate blackened, frozen flesh:
- Understand that your extremities and any exposed skin are going to be most vulnerable to frostbite. These areas might look red and blotchy, experience a stinging or burning sensation, a prickly skin crawling sensation or they might throb with dull pain. This might be your first and sometimes only tactile warning that frostbite is closing in.
- Inspect any areas of the body that have been exposed or are experiencing the above symptoms. Skin that appears waxy, feels firm or hard or has a white or yellow gray pallor to it is already becoming frostbitten.
- A complete lack of sensation in parts of the body that have been exposed to profound cold is a sure warning of frostbite.
- If you can, keep moving. Keeping the blood pumping with help keep your flesh warmed, in particular your vulnerable extremities. Do take care that you don’t work up a sweat. See below.
Your best bet for avoiding frostbite is simply to not go out and very cold conditions or to sharply limit your time spent outdoors.
But if this isn’t an option or you are hell-bent on going anyway there are procedures you can follow that will greatly extend the time that it takes for frostbite to set in and the critical factors are the way you dress.
Layers are always the answer, but you must smartly choose which fabrics you will rely on and then don them in the proper order. Check out these tips below:
- Proper cold weather dress consists of three layers beginning with a light, thin moisture wicking layer against the body, an intermediate layer that is large, tufted and puffy to trap a considerable volume of warm air against you and a final outer layer that consists of an impermeable shell designed to block wind and precipitation.
- Getting wet is disastrous when outside in temperatures this cold. Wet, slushy snow should be avoided and you want to moderate your activity so you do not sweat.
- The extremities are particularly vulnerable to frostbite, namely your fingers, toes, ears and nose. Appropriate head and facial gear should be worn to ward off cold and wind.
- Wearing mittens is a better choice than wearing gloves since it allows the fingers to share warmth between them. If necessary a thin, moisture-wicking liner glove may be worn beneath them.
- You should wear two pairs of socks at the minimum, again with the inner sock layer preferably being a thinner, moisture wicking material.
- Don’t forget to wear proper footwear in the form of snow-rated boots which will prevent moisture from getting to your feet and also goggles or a face mask if necessary. Your eyes are particularly vulnerable to extreme cold and a face mask can warm air prior to inhaling it.
Keeping a handle on frostbite is difficult when you are by yourself because it can sneak up on you. If you are out in the cold as part of a group at least one person should be assigned to remind others to perform intermittent self- and buddy-checks for frostbite.
Responding to Cold Weather “on the Trail”
Dealing with cold weather on the trail is especially challenging because you will not have reliable access to sturdy shelters, and can only rely on what you have carried with you and what you can craft from found materials.
When hypothermia starts to set in, you can really find yourself backed into a corner because improving your situation will grow geometrically more difficult as your condition worsens.
Traveling as part of a group is beneficial because team members can look out for one another, but if you are traveling solo you will have to remain keenly attuned to what your body is telling you, and take action before things get too bad, else you might find the situation unrecoverable.
Consider the following advice for dealing with cold weather hazards while hiking or camping:
- Your priorities for warming up when out on the trail should be blocking wind, removing wet clothing and then warming up the affected person. Your efforts should not cease until their condition is improved and stabilized.
- Considering windbreaks, they could be something as simple as a dense wall of vegetation, a cliff face, steep depression or something man-made like a tarp, tent or even piled backpacks in an emergency.
- People suffering from hypothermia will often feel an urge to stop moving and just sit down. You want to make them comfortable but you must keep them off the ground at all costs since it acts as a giant heat sink. They can sit on a camp stool, on a dry log, a backpack or even on mounds of dry debris like leaves and pine needles.
- If a fire can be reliably created it should be done so at best possible speed. Utilize an emergency blanket to create a reflector and improve the amount of heat being moved towards the affected person.
- Wet clothing should be removed prior to getting the person into dryer clothes a sleeping bag, blankets, or anything else that can generate warmth.
- All attempts should be made to boost the amount of heat they can be transferred to the affected person. An unaffected warm member of the party might unzip their jacket and hug the affected person to transfer heat, warm water bottles can be placed under the arms, sleeping bags can be preheated by another person and rocks can be carefully and gently warmed and strategically placed.
No matter what happens you must not give up, even if a person suffering from hypothermia becomes unresponsive. Keep trying to warm them, and keep improving the situation and you are likely to save their life. No matter how dire the situation looks there is always something you can do!
Understanding Local and Seasonal “Normals”
Though the threat posed by harsh snowstorms and bone-chilling cold weather is the same no matter where it occurs, what is considered a true emergency varies depending on where you live and the season.
In the US some states, brace for seasonal weather that the rest of us would consider positively apocalyptic year in and year out about the same times of the year. In other parts of the country the notion that a severe snowstorm or even a proper blizzard could strike is so laughable that should one occur even in a modest capacity it might result in calamity.
For confirmation of this one need not look any farther than the cities of Chicago and New York to the north and Houston in the southwest.
The two northern cities regularly endure snow storms and full-on blizzards that would make the rest of us quake in our boots. Weather of this nature is very much normal for their climate in winter.
The cities are prepared accordingly with entire fleets of salt and plow trucks, buildings that are suitably insulated and hardened against prolonged, deep cold and a population that knows what to expect and how to deal with it, even if they resent it.
Contrast this weather with Houston, Texas. Houston might have to endure cooler, rainy weather in the winter and even very occasional bouts of snow flurries but snowstorms of the type that regularly plague Chicago and New York are rare, bordering on unheard of for most long-time residents.
We just saw in February of 2021 a twice-a-century snow event that resulted from arctic air plunging deeply into the American south and southwest, inundating areas that never would have expected such things with deep snow, biting cold and all the attendant problems that go with it.
Houston was left in a massive state of emergency, and quite literally in shambles. Single and multifamily residential buildings were not built or insulated to withstand such cold. Pipes froze then burst all over the city and elsewhere in the state, causing untold damage and preventing easy access to water.
The spike in demand for electricity and damage due to the weather led to rolling and “rotating” blackouts occurring or being implemented by power companies, further stressing and endangering already beleaguered citizens.
Many of the homes in Texas did not have alternative methods of producing heat such as fireplaces.
Travel was virtually impossible and as such accessing goods and services in such a sprawling, large place became literally a matter of life and death as citizens brave the cold on foot in a desperate attempt to find what they need.
Houston obviously lacks the fleets of salt trucks and plow-equipped vehicles necessary for restoring roads to service.
How Local Norms Affect Your Plans
Elsewhere in the nation and the world other places exist in a state of more or less permanent cold and might properly endure a winter season that lasts half a year and produces far, far more snow and drastically worse conditions than even what has been described in this section.
In these places, automobiles are virtually worthless and specialized snow-going vehicles like snow mobiles and heavier, tracked “snow cats” are absolutely vital.
The point of all this is to impress upon you two things:
- First, unless you live very near the equator or right on top of it, snowstorm conditions and prolonged cold are never completely out of the question.
- Second, if you live in any area where intense cold weather and blizzard conditions are possible or even routine, you must prepare for those conditions with fervor.
But also keep in mind that living in a place that regularly experiences intense snowstorms and prolonged, deep cold means that very likely local governments and communities will be better prepared for such events, and you can generally depend on a reliable effort to clear roads, keep power online and other infrastructure functioning.
That being said, do not rest on your haunches as nature’s fury has a way of completely confounding the best efforts of men.
The same snow event that completely crippled many parts of Texas and the Deep South was scarcely worth a mention much farther north; it was just another day in the life for the denizens of Chicago, New York and elsewhere. You should know what to expect but be prepared for the unexpected and the unusual.
Basic Snowstorm Preparation
Preparing for a snow storm is mostly a matter of ensuring you have adequate shelter, a reliable way to stay warm and plenty of supplies to sustain you and family members since you will not be able to travel anywhere without considerable risk.
Most of the time truly dangerous snow storms will only last several days at most, so having even a week’s worth of supplies is usually enough to get you out of trouble.
As always, more is better, but if you are just getting started on your preparations, aim for a week as your first benchmark.
Generally, you can break down your preparations into a few distinct sectors:
You’ll need plenty of basic survival necessities to last out the snowstorm and the accompanying loss of resupply and commerce. Food, water, fuel, and any and all necessary medicines at the minimum will be required.
You should also have on hand tools and various other things that can help you deal with damage and manage snow.
Adequate shelter is absolutely required for surviving a serious snowstorm. If you are forced to try and survive out of doors your chances are going to plummet as you likely will not be able to stay warm enough no matter what you do.
If you have a residence, or some other modern structure, you will be in pretty good shape but most modern dwellings only stay warm due to constant running of central heat.
You should take steps to further insulate your home against draft, and also create spaces that are easier to warm and will stay warm longer. Cold weather specific clothing including footwear, gloves, head gear and so forth is absolutely mandatory.
Effectively warming anything but the smallest space is going to require a proper heat source, whatever this is. You must plan on your usual source of heating in your home going down for one reason or another.
Snow storms typically result in a loss of power, so plan on going without any electrical source of heat. Gas powered furnaces fare better, but a grid independent source of heat is a good idea.
Reasonable options include fireplaces, wood burning stoves, portable liquid fuel heaters and similar gadgets. Small aerobic-reaction or liquid-fueled pocket warmers are also a good idea if you have to go outside.
***Note that any combustion heat source must be properly vented to prevent the buildup of lethal carbon monoxide gas, a perennial killer during snowstorms and other prolonged cold weather events!***
More on that in a little while.
Snowstorms are going to make every form of travel less reliable and far more difficult. You have to plan ahead of time to account for this.
If you or family members require regular medical treatment or even just prescription drugs for ongoing conditions you will not be able to count on getting where you need to go in order to obtain them, and even if you can there’s a better than average chance the facility or services might be shut down due to the weather.
If it is not possible to “plus up” on the goods or services required, what will you do and how will you provide for them?
Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to travel during a snowstorm. Other times you might be overtaken by the weather while traveling.
You must be prepared for either eventuality, and that means ensuring your chosen mode of transportation is adequate to the task and challenges, or at least made as ready as it can be. In certain climates and areas a dedicated snow capable vehicle is a good idea.
All vehicles should include a substantial survival kit containing provisions, spare parts, signaling equipment and more. Snow chains or cleats for tires are essential for all road-going vehicles
Your general mindset should be that any supplies, equipment or other items you do not have by the time the snow storm arrives and begins to set in properly will not be obtainable at all for the duration.
Also, keep in mind that people in your immediate vicinity might need help, neighbors, relatives and so forth. If at all possible you would be wise to gather more than you think you will need so that you have a surplus you can share without stressing out.
Readying Your Home, Vehicle or Shelter for a Snowstorm
Even if your home is warm, toasty, and cozy during cold weather that is only the case because you can rely on central heating. Modern homes, especially those built in America, are absolutely terrible when it comes to defeating the outside weather.
When it is hot they are difficult to cool and when it is cold they are difficult to heat. Even with the best modern insulation, they typically leak heat like a sieve and without meticulous care are usually very drafty.
If you are not staying inside a proper structure but are instead forced to shelter inside a tent, outdoors, or inside a vehicle because you’ve been overtaken by the weather you’ll still have a little bit to do.
You need to prepare your shelter for the onslaught of a heavy snow storm both by busting drafts and by having a plan ready for removing heavy snow from your roof and other structural vulnerabilities. Consider the following guidelines based on what you are taking shelter in:
- Add Insulation: If you live in a region that experiences particularly cold winters and is prone to snow storms there is no excuse for not beefing up the existing insulation in the house. This will help keep warm air in for a longer period of time, providing a better return on your investment for any fuel expended on heating and helping to keep you alive and comfortable. Install whatever insulation is recommended according to the configuration of your house and the typical conditions.
- Caulk, Strip and Seal: Reducing or eliminating drafts is just as important if not more important than adding insulation. Even a barely leaking window or drafty door can dramatically drop the temperature in your house, especially when the wind is blowing hard outside. You can make use of caulk, sealing material, and weather strips to cut down on these drafts. Make sure you check all the usual suspects, including around window closures and casings, all doors, connections for air conditioners, pet doors and so forth. No draft is too small to be worth eliminating, and you’ll notice an immediate difference if you have done a good job.
- Insulate Pipes: Unfortunately, one of the most common and most devastating effects of prolonged cold weather on houses is the freezing and subsequent bursting of plumbing. Not only can this deprive you of easy access to water but it can also ruin or even destroy your house and possessions. While it is true that allowing faucets and other outlets to slowly drip or run can help when they are on the verge of freezing, prolonged deep cold will overcome this trick. There is no replacement for heavy-duty pipe insulation, and those living in the coldest environments are well-advised to consider electric pipe heating mesh or blankets with a dedicated battery backup.
- Prune Trees: You are not just pruning your trees to be a good neighbor or keep up with a fussy HOA. Large, long branches can easily break and fall under the accumulated weight of ice and snow causing damage to anything beneath them. If these branches happen to be over your house when they fall, they might damage your roof, break a window or cause other problems that you can ill afford under the circumstances. Get ahead of the game by keeping these branches pruned back well before cold weather is even on your mind.
- Make Preparations to Clear Roof: Every single year, thousands of homes and other buildings are damaged by the accumulation of snow on roofs. Snow only feels impossibly delicate and undetectably light when a single flake or two lands on the tip of your nose or your arm. In reality, snow is frozen, water and water is always extremely heavy. If you have an average or shallow pitched roof or, even worse, a flat one the combined weight of the snow building up on it can result in structural damage or even total collapse. You’ll need to be prepared to get the snow off by any means necessary. It is possible to use a ladder and a long tool, but you might also try gasoline-powered blowers, and other techniques. If you must climb onto your roof be extremely careful and don’t fall!
- Beware Rodents: Rodents and other small, pesky mammals will start looking for warm places to stay when the weather outside grows nasty, especially places that have an abundance of food inside! If you have done a good job sealing up your home you shouldn’t have much to worry about, but at any rate it pays to be prepared for unexpected visitors. A cat can happily eliminate mice and small rats on the regular, but lacking one of these feline companions you should invest in a variety of traps, including glue traps, conventional snap traps and no kill container traps which stay armed even after a capture and are able to hold many mice comfortably, my personal favorites. Be sure to avoid utilizing any poisons, as these take time to affect a kill and you don’t want the little critter getting behind a wall or under the floor before it croaks.
- Analyze Living Space: When the weather starts to get chilly, but before winter sets in properly take the time to analyze your living space. Rooms on the exterior wall are always going to be colder than interior rooms. It is entirely worthwhile to abandon and close off any chilly rooms from human habitation to prevent the ingress of colder air. You should plan on staying near the primary heat source in the home, be it a fireplace or anything else, and it might just be the room that catches the most sun. This is the room or you should invest all of your efforts into keeping it warm and thereby keeping yourselves warm.
- Compartment for Efficiency: It does not take a physics genius to understand that it is far easier to heat a smaller volume of air than a larger one. If you are dealing with bitter cold, a puny heat source, or just an extremely drafty house consider creating a microclimate, or smaller compartment inside the warmest room. You can hang up blankets, plastic sheeting, or even pitch a tent right in the living room so you only have to heat a tiny volume of air around your body. Sure, it is bound to get a little claustrophobic but it beats shivering from cold or dying.
- Install Generator: If you can afford it, nothing beats having a generator close at hand for on-demand power supply. Depending upon the type and rating of your generator it could be enough to power a couple of appliances, a few rooms or even your entire house. At least, it can provide power as long as the fuel supply lasts. Utilizing anything larger than a portable generator will require significant preparation, and a little bit of know-how to install it so don’t wait until the last minute if you can afford one of these invaluable preps.
- Service Chimneys and Flues: If you are fortunate enough to have a wood burning stove or fireplace in your home that is properly vented, you’ll be in good shape when it comes to keeping warm no matter the conditions so long as you have plenty of firewood. Unfortunately using either of these appliances drastically increases your risk of a house fire, and that goes double if the chimney or flue has not been serviced, as the build-up of resinous creosote in either compose a substantial fire hazard. Make sure you have your system professionally serviced before winter closes in.
- Service: It is imperative that any vehicle you might have to rely upon for service and harsh winter conditions be meticulously serviced and maintained. The last thing you can afford when the snow is piling up and the temperature is plummeting is to be stranded somewhere for any reason.
- Acquire Emergency Kit: When snow storms abound you must have emergency survival supplies on or about your person at all times and this includes inside your vehicle. You should have a supply of food, blankets, additional clothing, signaling devices such as flares, a first-aid kit, maps and a power cell or other charging device that can work independently of the car on board. You should also have a couple of candles and a small, metal vessel that can allow you to melt snow. You can keep water in your vehicle for emergency drinking purposes, but you have to take care of that it will not freeze and burst.
- Acquire Tool Kit: If you have emergency supplies for your own care and feeding, you should get some that can take care of your vehicle in an emergency also. A full roadside emergency kit is a necessity, including high visibility marking triangles or other devices, jack, lug-nut wrenches, full-size spare tire and any other spare parts and tools that you know how to use. Also include a bag of sand or kitty litter and several large lengths of scrap carpet to provide grip when you get stuck.
- Consider Chains or Cleats: Not all vehicles can use them and they further are not legal for use in all places but assuming you are okay on both fronts you should definitely acquire a properly fitting set of chains or snow cleats that will work with your automobile. Though they make for a rough ride and increase tire wear these provide drastically more grip and control on slick roads than bare tires alone. They are typically only good for slow speeds over comparatively short distances, but that might be all you need. You must know how to install, fit and adjust these devices yourself.
- Keep Doors and Exhaust Clear of Snow: It is obvious to most people that should they become stuck in a snowstorm inside their vehicle they can simply run the engine to power the heater and stay nice and toasty inside the car while they wait for the storm to blow over or for help to arrive. That is reasonable, but you must diligently keep snow from building up around the doors of the vehicle and especially clear of the tailpipe. Anything that prevents exhaust gases from leaving the engine according to plan can result in a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide inside the passenger cabin which will be especially lethal because all windows are likely to be tightly closed.
- Stay Away from Trees and Ledges: If by accident or desire you are camping outdoors in the middle of a snowstorm you’ll want to make it a point to keep your tent out from under trees and ledges where snow can accumulate overhead. Just like the branches mentioned above regarding your house, a sudden breakage or falling drift of snow can flatten your tent and everything in it.
- Locate Shelter Out of the Wind if Possible: Sometimes difficult to achieve in tandem with the tip above you should make it a point to locate your shelter in a lee or out of the wind if at all possible. Cold temperatures and any amount of wind will quickly strip away heat from your body and out of your shelter unless it is completely sealed.
- Beware Accumulating Snow: If your tent or shelter is not designed to repel snow, it is likely that snow can accumulate on the roof or upper surfaces. The stuff seems so light and airy when it is falling it is easy to forget it is still water, and water is very heavy. It will not take much accumulation to damage or collapse your shelter, so pains must be taken to keep it clear of snow.
Heat Source Procedure and Safety
Every year countless homes burn down and countless more people are injured or even killed by carbon monoxide poisoning as a direct result of desperately trying to keep warm during snowstorms and prolonged periods of cold weather.
For this reason it is imperative that you know how to safely heat your home when the power is out and to react to emergencies that might result from your efforts.
The first thing you need to understand is that anything combustible, any material that is burned in order to generate heat, releases waste gases and other byproducts of combustion, including carbon monoxide, or CO, gas.
Carbon monoxide is odorless, colorless and tasteless and claims many lives while the victims are asleep and unable to react in time. Symptoms often feel flu-like in nature prior to loss of coordination and consciousness.
Typical instances of carbon monoxide poisoning that result due to the onset of winter weather occur when desperate people drag inside propane grills, improperly burn wood inside their home, or run gas cooktop stoves in an effort to heat up the house.
Follow these simple procedures to lower your risk of CO poisoning when heating your home:
- Never Bring Your Grill Inside!: By far the worst thing you can do when it comes to desperate measures for heating your home is bringing your outdoor grill inside. Charcoal or propane does not matter- a grill emits far too many combustion byproducts and is impossible to vent properly from inside your home. Do not give in to this urge no matter how desperate things seem!
- Install and Test CO/Smoke Alarms: Considering the likelihood that you’ll need to rely on alternative heat sources for the duration of a snowstorm event, especially wood burning stoves, fireplaces and the like, it is imperative that you install and test CO and smoke alarms that function on a battery backup independently of an established power grid. These early warning systems are your single best defense against accidental fires and the insidious buildup of carbon monoxide gas.
- Brush Up on Fire Response: Anything that generates high heat to say nothing of open flame means the possibility exists that your house could catch fire. Your best and in this case likely only defense against such an occurrence will be a fire extinguisher. Make sure you have several that are properly rated, of adequate size and conveniently placed to respond immediately to any fire no matter how small it gets. You can take no chances considering the weather outside is just as lethal, if slower. You must also drill fire response and evacuation plans with your family or anyone staying in your home.
Vehicular Travel Considerations
If you are forced to travel for any reason during a snowstorm, or are overtaken by a snowstorm while traveling, your priorities will have to change.
Over 6,500 people are killed every, single year on American roadways due to weather related collisions and crashes, and many hundreds of thousands more are injured. To ignore the stakes is to court calamity.
Your single, best option when it comes to going by auto during a snowstorm is “don’t” but if that is not acceptable or you are overtaken by a snowstorm consider the following.
First, if it is possible to reach your destination or a waypoint, and then get off the road you should do so before the storm gets too bad.
However, if this is not possible, you must consider stopping in the best place you can reach before the roads become too treacherous. It is usually the onset of bad weather that results in the most accidents.
If you are able to reach anybody at your destination or along your route, let them know what the conditions are, what your estimated time of arrival is, and agree on a time that they will consider you overdue.
Plans must be put in place for this eventuality since it is also likely the communications will begin to break down or even fail entirely as the storm drags on.
You should also consider the capabilities of your vehicle and the likelihood that you will become stuck, and need to rely on your vehicle for heat and shelter.
How much fuel do you have? How long will it last? These are the questions you will need to answer before you can embark on any travel in a snowstorm with even a modicum of safety.
Here is more advice for traveling by car in a snowstorm:
- Even before the arrival of a snow storm one must be on the lookout for black ice. Black ice is an insidious hazard on all paved surfaces is extremely difficult to detect even at low speeds and is effectively invisible when traveling at highway speed. You won’t know you have hit black ice until you begin to skid, often resulting in a crash. As temperatures approach freezing, you must use extra caution on blacktop and particularly when traveling across bridges, ramps, and overpasses which are typically the first surfaces that ice forms on.
- You must have a plan in place for effectively and safely waiting out a storm should you become stranded, or just decide to pull over out of an abundance of caution. Consider conserving fuel by only running the engine intermittently, enough to warm up the cabin and keep you reasonably comfortable. 20 minutes or 10 minutes out of every hour is usually sufficient.
- Making yourself and your vehicle visible when stop near any roadway is of prime importance, as snow storms often drastically limit visibility. Even on less traveled roads, a passing snow plow or salt truck could strike your stopped vehicle with lethal force. Consider tying a brightly colored piece of cloth or even a reflective vest to your vehicle’s antenna or draping it out of the window. Using road flares is also a great way to maximize visibility in the worst conditions especially near heavily traveled roads.
- As mentioned above carbon monoxide is an insidious killer, especially in the close confines of a vehicle. You will not necessarily smell any exhaust gases that are making their way inside the vehicle, and carbon monoxide itself is odorless colorless and tasteless. You must take pains to keep the exhaust pipes of your vehicle clear of snow buildup which can cause a backup of dangerous gases. Consider barely cracking a couple of windows when running the engine in order to let fresh air in, or even opening a door to vent the cabin prior to running the engine intermittently.
Emergency Response Planning
Sometimes, to be an effective and responsible prepper you have to make plans within plans, alternate and contingency plans that nest within your primary plan like those strange little Russian dolls.
This is especially necessary when dealing with an event that is liable to see you entirely reliant on staying cooped up in your home, such as a snowstorm for instance.
Ask yourself what you would do if you were forced to deal with another emergency, and had to do so in spite of all the complications brought about by the weather and climate. How would the total loss or drastic slowdown of emergency services affect your plans? How might your plans change under the circumstances?
Consider the following entirely likely scenarios:
- You or a family member is facing a significant medical emergency. You don’t know that there is any way to transport them to the emergency room by vehicle and ETA is unknown for paramedics. What can you do and how good are your medical skills?
- Late at night you hear a loud crash near your kitchen and then the distinctive clumping of heavy boots. Your spouse starts screaming, and you hear your child crying. Are you dealing with a home invader or something else? How do you respond, and if you must respond with force how do you handle the aftermath?
- Despite all of your caution and best preparations your house has caught fire. It looks like a total loss and you cannot even hear sirens responding. The freezing temperatures outside did nothing to abate the flames, but will certainly kill you and your now-homeless family. You cannot keep warm off the wreckage; where will you go and how will you get there?
- You have made it a point to keep in touch with neighbors, family and other important people in your life as best you can despite the circumstances. You are particularly worried about your elderly parents who live about a half hour away by car. It has been a couple of days and you are unable to raise them, but you know communications have been suffering lately. How long do you give it before you take action and when you take action how will you reach them?
- There is nothing for it, you’re out of propane, firewood, everything. The temperature is nothing less than blisteringly cold and your house is rapidly assuming outside air temperature. How can you keep your body temperature and those of your family members above 98.6° with what you have on hand and do it safely?
While it is true that there are some circumstances you simply will not be able to properly prepare for ahead of time, even mentally rehearsing a viable response to contingencies like these will save valuable time, and reduce stress should they occur in the middle of a snowstorm.
Severe winter weather is one of the most common and also the most dangerous disasters that anyone can face, unless you live in a very specific region on the globe.
A surprise snowstorm or blizzard can see you trapped in your house with all utilities and public services down for the count for the duration. You will only be able to rely on your wits and what supplies and preparations you have put in place prior to.
Snowstorms make travel extremely dangerous, and the risk of exposure will never be far away. Use what you have learned in this guide to insulate yourself and your family against the dangers of extreme cold.