The Winter Storm: Preparing for and Surviving a Blizzard

The Winter Storm: Preparing for and Surviving a Blizzard

A blizzard is an extreme form of winter storm.  It is categorized by massive snowfall and sustained winds of at least 35 miles per hour.  In addition to these parameters, the National Weather Service (NWS) also adds that it is a snow storm lasting three or more hours.

As a blizzard is marked by extreme cold, high winds, and reduced visibility, they can present unique challenges and dangers.  Heavy snowfall can result in vehicle accidents, collapsed roofs, disrupted distribution systems, damaged power and communication systems, the death of pets and livestock, and serious injury or death to those caught outside.  The following guide will assist the reader in being prepared for blizzards and related winter weather.

Be Informed about Winter Storms

First and foremost, one must be aware that such a weather pattern is on the way.  Serious winter storm conditions are generally known days in advance, so one can prepare and adjust plans accordingly.  Governmental authorities, as well as members of the scientific community often provide guidance in the days before a blizzard occurs.  Be sure to tune in your radio or television for regular updates.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also broadcasts information on a continual basis.  These broadcasts may be listened to on the Internet or with a radio receiver.

Preparing for Blizzards

There are steps that can be taken today to reduce the risk of injury or loss of property due to severe winter weather.  These include:

  • Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.  The American Red Cross has information on these life threatening condition.
  • Consider installing or obtaining a generator for emergency electricity.  Note:  never run a generator indoors as the carbon monoxide can kill.
  • Winterizing one’s home, business, barn, etc., will help with extreme winter weather and makes good economic sense.
  • Supplies should be available before the storm arrives.  These include:
    • Plenty of food items.  Food that require little heating and water are best.
    • A first aid kit.
    • Warm clothing, blankets and other bedding should be on hand.
    • Have snow shovels on hand.  Rock salt or an alternative can aid in the melting of snow and ice.
    • Sand can improve the traction of vehicles.
    • Enough heating fuel (e.g., firewood, propane, etc.) should be on hand for many days of bad weather.  During particularly bad weather, one cannot rely upon delivery of fuel.
    • Emergency lighting (e.g., candles, oil lamps, etc.).
    • Prescription medications should be refilled before a storm.
    • A radio to receive updates is necessary.
    • A snow rake is helpful to have on hand to safely remove snow from your roof.
  • If one absolute must travel, the vehicle should be prepared beforehand.
    • All systems should be in good working order at the correct levels.
    • All fluids should be at the correct level.  The antifreeze levels are particularly important.
    • Good, all weather tires should be installed on the vehicle.
    • For icy conditions, studded tires or snow chains are a necessity.
    • Emergency-related items should be in the vehicle at all times.  These include:
      • Nonperishable, light, but calorie-dense food items.  These include protein bars, jerky, MRE entrées and the like.
      • Bottled water
      • A flashlight.
      • Road flares.
      • Jumper cables.
      • Ice scrapers or a canned deicing agent.
      • A shovel.
      • A basic first aid kit.
      • Emergency blankets or a sleeping bag.
      • Cat litter for traction.
      • A tool kit.
      • Cellular telephone.
      • Citizen Band radio.
      • A small pocket knife.
      • Small hygiene items.
      • Snow chains if studded tires are not installed.
      • Warm clothing and related articles (e.g., gloves, hat, etc.).
      • A road map or GPS system.

After a Winter Storm Strikes

Waiting Out the Winter Storm

Once a blizzard has struck in your area, it is important to have taken shelter.  If outside for any reason, adequate clothing should be worn at all times.  While waiting out the storm:

  • Conserve fuel as the duration of the storm may not be known.
  • Monitor the progress of the storm by listening to radio broadcasts, television news, and/or a NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Eat regularly and stay hydrated.
  • Watch for any signs of hypothermia or frostbite.
  • If power is lost and a backup generator is utilized, be sure the vapors are ventilated properly.
  • Take care when using oil lamps and candles as a backup lighting source.
  • If you have livestock be sure they are properly sheltered.
  • Travel only if it is absolutely necessary.
  • If traveling and you are trapped in your vehicle:
    • Remain in your vehicle.  Do not leave unless you are sure you can reach a warm building.
    • Activate your emergency/hazard lights to alert rescuers.  Turning on the interior lights may also alert rescue workers to your location.
    • If you have a Citizen Band radio installed, you can try to call for assistance on Channel 9.
    • If you are within range of a cellular tower, you can attempt to call for assistance by phone.
    • Drink water, juice, or other fluids to stay hydrated.
    • Stay warm in blankets, sleeping bags, and mylar blankets.  If with other people, huddle together to share warmth.

If you wish to discuss surviving during a blizzard or other disaster-related topics, consider joining the free Disaster.com forum.

Citations

  1. Sims, J. (2013). The No-Nonsense Guide To Blizzard Safety. Cork: BookBaby.
  2. Glossary – NOAA’s National Weather Service. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://w1.weather.gov/glossary/index.php?letter=b
  3. The American Civil Defense Association.  Cold Weather Survival. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.tacda.org/docs/TACDA_Academy_CDBasics_11ColdWeather.pdf
  4. Winter Storms & Extreme Cold. (2014, August 27). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather
  5. Allen, J. (2002). Blizzards (pp. 11-17). Mankato, Minn.: Capstone High-Interest Books.
  6. Oliver, J. (2005). Encyclopedia of World Climatology (p. 165). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
  7. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 80-85). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  8. Singh, D. (2014). Winter Survival Kit. In A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Survival – How to Survive Cold Weather (pp. 22-27).
  9. Winter Storm Preparedness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/winter-storm
  10. There’s No Business Like Snow Business This Winter. (2011, February 4). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2011/02/04/133477343/theres-no-business-like-snow-business-this-winter

Zachariah Amela

Zachariah is a writer with Disaster.com and is an Information Technology professional. He has worked with and contributed to disaster relief organizations and has a strong interest in emergency management, wireless communications, Civil Defense, and family preparedness. He lives in the Pacific Northwest and is married with children. When not working or writing, he enjoys time with the family, hiking, trap/skeet shooting, and reading.

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Discussion
  1. Good advice. Winter storms can be scary. If you're caught unprepared, things get hectic in a hurry.

    I hate getting out during a winter storm, but if I have to, I try to take care with that as well. I see so many people go out who aren't dressed for it. Living in the country, most things are not nearby. If their car breaks down or they get stuck, they will be in trouble.

    I get laughed at for dressing like an Eskimo for a 20 minute car trip, but I don't care. That 20 minute trip ends up being WAY longer (not to mention colder) if you end up on foot and you're in a hoodie instead of a coat, with no gloves. I'd rather be laughed at than be frozen. ;)
    Thankfully, I haven't had to deal with snow blizzards and winter storms for many years now. But in the past, when I worked in the Austrian Alps, I experienced some severe weather conditions where I got snowed in for many weeks without being able to escape the "white inferno" as I used to call it. Once, during a cross country skiing trip, I got trapped in a sudden storm and lost my orientation. I was pelted by snow and ice for hours .At that time I thought my life was coming to an end, but luckily I was rescued by a local man who happened to see me disappear down the river bank.

    In my experience, the best way to stay safe during a snow storm is to stay indoors or seek shelter as soon as the weather changes. And if you are somewhere out in the country, far away from town, as I was, then don't hesitate to call for help immediately!
    That was a really good article but I would add a section for entertainment. You never know how long you might be cooped up and you may or may not have power for the duration. Board games, books, cards, and puzzle books can be some great ways to combat boredom that you don't have to have power to do.
    I agree - an article on what to have on hand to keep yourself entertained in the days/weeks after a disaster..

    I was looking at survival kits on Amazon and one of them contained several decks of cards and soccer balls.
    I would actually be happy to write an article like that for you guys. :) I try to make it a point to keep things on hand to keep my kids entertained no matter what kind of situation we might have from winter storm to a simple power outage. There are so many inexpensive ways that you can keep the family entertained no matter what ages you have and most people forget that aspect of survival and disasters.
    I live in Oregon where winter storms usually consist of heavy rain. This wide range of snow falling in the east sounds just awful on everyone effected by it. Here in Oregon if it snows just .25 - .5 inches, the schools and roads pretty much shut down. This is mainly due to the fact that not many people can safely drive in snow or know how to. If it's icy out, that's another factor to consider, not to mention most of our work is put on hold if we can't get in.

    I live about 20 miles from where I work but fortunately have the option to work at home, assuming internet access isn't effected by the storm. It would be nice to have said items on hand and available at all times of the year. I know getting to the store right before a storm hits can be hectic in itself.
    I find that when people hear about a huge winter storm coming they panic a lot more than they should. Living up north, I've been through a lot of huge storms. We've had an ice storm one year that left us without power for several days and we weren't necessarily 'prepared' for it but we were completely fine. People tend to freak out and go stock up on a bunch of stuff and it all ends up being for nothing. As long as you have candles, a flashlight, blankets, food that doesn't require microwaves and whatnot you'll be fine!
    I always keep emergency supplies in my underground garage. Most of the garage is sunken into the ground, so the foundations are on top of it. It seems very unlikely that my house would fall apart, but my garage has emergency heating and supplies. I could probably survive for a week there if I had to.
    I'm from Florida, so we don't have too many winter storms. It's kind of like preparing for a Hurricane as you already have a plan before the storms hit. Food, water, batteries, and flash lights are a must in all weather related issues.
    I have never had to experience a blizzard thankfully, but it sounds like a very scary kind of winter storm. I wish more people would take it seriously if they live in areas that are at risk of such storms. With all the crazy insane winter weather on the East Coast the last couple of years, maybe people will finally get serious about preparing ahead of time for these things so they won't get caught in the rush and scramble right before a serious storm hits.
    Being from Indiana, we do not have too many major winter storms, but here lately we seem to really be in the line of fire. Stocking up on bottled water, non perishable foods and batteries is how we get ready. I live in the country on an 10 acre farm, and its not uncommon to not see a snow plow for a week after the snow. So getting out to restock for food may not happen for awhile here. We also have two kerosene heaters we keep for backup in case the electric goes out.
    I don't live in a country where winter storms happen. My husband lived in Boston for a while and he was quite surprised by the winter there. He said it was depressing and sad to experience winter, more so because he was away from us, his family. I also remember him having wounds on his eyes because of the cold. I told him to wear gloves to protect his hands and put some lotion on it but he didn't listen. It was also quite interesting that for him that winter was unbearable but he said that some of the people he saw walking in the street don't even wear jackets or heavy clothing. I guess he really just wasn't built and prepared for winter.

    This article is quite helpful especially for people like my husband. They would need this information to prepare themselves in case a winter storm happens. I'd say buy more canned goods and pouched foods, those don't require heating at all. Stock up on mineral or purified water as well. It is important that you have the necessities if ever a winter storm happens.
    The article points out two things that are important: to be prepared of power outage and to stock up emergency rations and drinks.

    I think we are not well prepared for the case of power outage during winter. I am living in an apartment with two of my roommates and I have experienced a temporary power outage in the winter where we could not use the heater. That time we realized that we need to be prepared for a situation where we could not electrical devices because we practically did not have thick blankets and we are living in North California. I cannot the imagine how though it would be if it was an actual winter storm.

    I also started to stock rations and clean water just in case a disaster occurs. I think it is a good practice and it is always better to be prepared. Mainly, I stock up on canned food and bottled waters and we do our grocery runs biweekly so that we have a lot of supply of food in our apartment.
    While I have never experienced a blizzard, I live in hope! We don't really get much in the way of extreme weather be it hot or cold. A few years ago, however, we did experience a couple of weeks of extremely heavy snow and sub-zero temperatures, during which the entire country ground to a shuddering halt. I couldn't move my car because the compacted, frozen snow was up to the wheel arches. My place of work had to actually close for three days because the facilities department could not get the grounds clear enough to guarantee peoples' safety! I was snug as a bug in a rug at home, with plenty of food in, and not fighting my way through the crowds at the local supermarket over bread and milk!
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