Winter has a special way of arriving early every year, catching many of us unprepared — and major winter storms can have catastrophic results. Winter storms and sub-zero temperatures increase the risk of fires, car accidents, frostbite, hypothermia, and heart attacks. Power outages caused by heavy snow and driving winds can last days, even weeks. While unplowed roads and poor visibility make for treacherous travel conditions.

Taking the time to properly prepare, though, can make weathering a winter blizzard safer and easier. Here’s what you can do to prepare and the essential items you need to have on hand.

Basic Preparations to Make Before a Winter Storm

  • Seal drafty windows and doors to keep out the cold.
  • Have both your furnace and chimney inspected prior to winter.
  • Keep your car’s gas tank filled at all times.
  • Install winter tires, check anti-freeze, and get a tune-up prior to the winter season.
  • Have plenty of rock salt on-hand.
  • Keep kindling and wood for burning.
  • Make sure smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly and that you have easy access to a working fire extinguisher.
  • Make sure you generator is fueled and ready to go.
  • Keep your mobile phone charged at all times.
  • Make a family storm plan that everyone agrees to follow.
  • Print out a list of important contacts including local fire, police, and hospital.
  • Stay informed about local shelters in the event power is out for an extended period of time.
  • Watch or listen to local news and weather. The last thing you want is to be caught unaware of an approaching weather event.

What to Have in Your Car All Winter Long

  • De-icer to thaw frozen locks and remove ice from windows and headlights
  • Ice scraper and brush for clearing windshield and other windows
  • A broom or long-handled brush if you have a big truck or SUV
  • Additionally: jumper cables, shovel, flashlight, flares, cellphone charger, bottled water, protein bars, first-aid kit, extra windshield fluid, and extra warm clothes, boots, and a blanket in the event you’re forced to remain in your vehicle until help arrives

Winter Storm Shopping List

  • Have flashlights, candles, and matches easily available. (Candles should be a last resort and should be placed where they can’t be easily knocked over.)
  • Extra batteries for flashlights and radio
  • Better yet, get an emergency radio that you can crank to recharge. Many are also equipped to recharge cellphones and other portable electronic devices.
  • A gas-powered generator to keep your furnace, stove, and refrigerator running (at a minimum)
  • Bottled water and non-perishable food, like instant soup and oatmeal, granola bars, cereal, boxed juices, instant coffee, tea, cocoa, fresh fruit, dried fruits, applesauce, and pudding cups to last a minimum of three days
  • Additionally: extra wood for wood stove or fireplace, first-aid kit, and blankets

What to Do During the Winter Storm

  • Stay off the roads
  • Dress warmly and in layers
  • Stay tuned to local radio for weather updates, road conditions, and shelter accommodations
  • Keep heat consistent day and night to keep your house warm
  • Close off unused rooms
  • Let faucets drip and open kitchen and bathroom cabinets to expose pipes that could freeze
  • If you’re using a gas generator it should be kept outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

If the power goes out:

  • Keep electrical equipment unplugged to prevent damage from a surge when the power comes back on.
  • Put on extra gloves, mittens (they’re warmer), scarves, long underwear, and other warm winter clothes.
  • Put all frozen and refrigerated food outside or in the garage where they’ll keep better until the power comes back.
  • Be sure to check on your neighbors

Additional Resources:

Winter Weather Safety Social Media Toolkit
FEMA Winter Storm Information Sheet
The National Weather Service