Here in the upper Midwest, winters can be absolutely brutal. We’re talking frigid temperatures, freezing rain, feet of snow, and just a whole lot of no fun when you’re trying to go about your daily life. Sure, if you enjoy snowmobiling, ice fishing, and skiing, the winter months are like paradise. For those who are just trying to get to and from work each day, though, things can get dicey.
Fortunately, winter weather rarely hits without some advance warning. While we all like to poke fun at the weather forecasters, when it comes to blizzards and such, they get it right far more often than they miss the boat. So, the first line of defense is to pay attention to your favorite weather forecast.
It is exceedingly rare that a winter storm pops up out of nowhere. There is almost always several hours, if not a day or two, of warning.
If at all possible, limit any planned travel during a predicted winter storm. I know, that’s often easier said than done. Bosses tend to get a little irritated when employees don’t show up. If you have a vacation or sick day you can afford to burn, use it on a day when the roads are going to be sketchy at best. If you can work from home, do so.
Always have emergency supplies and gear in your vehicle. These include jumper cables, a blanket (wool is the best), extra hat and gloves, flashlight with extra batteries, food, water, and a first aid kit. Bonus points for chemical hand warmers, glow sticks, and a cell phone charger you can plug into the cigarette lighter in your vehicle.
If you get stranded for some reason, stay put unless you absolutely have to leave your vehicle due to safety reasons. A car or truck is much easier to spot than a person. Tie a brightly colored piece of fabric, such as a flag or bandanna (from your emergency kit), to the vehicle’s antenna. This is a universally recognized symbol indicating you need help.
Should you decide to trek out on foot, do everyone a favor and leave a note on your dash with your name, the date and time you’re leaving, and where you are heading, even if only a rough compass direction. This will help people find you, should they need to conduct a search.
At home, as a prepper, hopefully you’ll already have a full pantry. If that’s not the case, hit the grocery store a day or two ahead of the predicted storm and stock up. No need to go crazy and lay in enough food to last a month, but get enough of what you’ll need to last at least a couple of days. I cannot stress enough that you should not wait until the last minute for this grocery store trip. If you do, you’ll either find empty shelves or you’ll be fighting the pre-storm crowd.
A key element to surviving brutal winters is having a way to keep warm if the furnace isn’t working. If you have multiple people in the home, double up and pile on the blankets. Try and keep everyone in one room, ideally a small one. Body heat multiplied by a few people and kept in a single room will benefit everyone. Hang a blanket over the window and any open doorways to help reduce heat from escaping and eliminate cold drafts coming in. Obviously, if you have a fireplace or a wood stove, make judicious use of it, provided you thought ahead and have a good supply of dry, seasoned fuel set aside.
Wind chill is something most residents here understand, yet it sometimes baffles new folks. Basically, in the winter it gets cold, obviously. However, wind chill makes it “feel” colder, just as a breeze makes it “feel” cooler when its hot outside. A lot colder, actually.
In my neck of the woods, it isn’t uncommon for the high temperature to reach, say, 10’F, and with the wind chill factored in, it feels like -20F or lower. At temps that low, any exposed skin can suffer frostbite in just a matter of minutes. This means you need to protect yourself with not only hats, coats, and gloves but scarves and earmuffs as well.
When it comes to injuries and fatalities as a result of winter weather, while I’ve not seen any hard stats on this, I’d estimate more people die of heart attacks while shoveling snow than for just about any other weather-related reason. If you don’t have a teenager in the area who you could give a few bucks for shoveling your driveway and thus have to tackle it yourself, take it slow. There’s no need to try and do it all at once. Far better to take frequent breaks as needed. Even running a snowblower can be physically taxing.
Finally, severe winter storms often result in power outages. Ice can build on power lines, which adds a great deal of weight and causes the lines to come down. Often, it is just a matter of a few hours, maybe a day, before power is restored. But, plan ahead and have plenty of flashlights, batteries, and a portable radio so you can keep abreast of the weather-related news.
Severe winter weather isn’t something to be trifled with but with just a bit of planning, you’ll come through just fine.