By Jean Levasseur for Reviewed©
© Getty Images / PavelRodimov
Winter storms happen every year, and yet the first one can still catch us by surprise. With the cold weather and snow comes power outages, car accidents, and other problems.
By taking a few simple steps ahead of the first winter storm, you can stay warm and safe while enjoying all the fun things that snowy weather has to offer.
Winter-proof your house
Your house is your number one protection against the cold weather, so you’ve got to make sure that it’s sealed up tight. There are a few steps you should take every year before winter comes.
First, make sure that your heating system is up and running. Don’t wait for the first 10-degree day to turn it on. Run your furnace early in the fall for a few hours, and, if needed, have it tuned up, its filters changed, and its chimneys cleaned. If you use oil heat, fill your tank before the heating system starts.
Go around your house and make sure all of your insulation is intact, particularly around windows and doors.
Also check your water lines. Make sure that they are all insulated properly, and that you shut off the water leading to your hose and drain those pipes. If you have a sprinkler or irrigation system, drain the lines and shut that water off as well. A burst pipe is a terrible thing anytime of year, but can be particularly damaging if it freezes.
Bring in your outdoor furniture. Most of it isn’t going to be designed to stand up to the rigors of winter. The weight of the snow can make the fabric and springs sage, and the cold can be damaging as well.
Lastly, prune away any dead branches and have dead trees removed from your property. The weight of the ice and snow, accompanied by the wind from winter storms, can rip down even healthy limbs and trees. By clearing out the dead ones, you’re reducing the chances of them falling on power lines, your house, or even worse, a person.
Ready your equipment for snow
The morning after a 16-inch snowfall is not the time to discover that your snowblower won’t start, or that you don’t know where your snow shovels or ice melt are. Proper prep for a snowstorm in advance can make your snow clearing easier, faster, and less backbreaking.
Well before the first snowstorm headlines a weather forecast, dust off your snow blower, start it up, and then run it for a while. Have it tuned up in the fall so that you know it is ready to go.
If you have a generator, the same rules apply. Make sure it runs, that the wiring hooks up properly, and that you have plenty of gas on hand—enough to run the generator (and your snowblower) for at least several days in the event of a power outage. More than likely, a five gallon container won’t be enough.
The night before it snows, bring all of your tools to where they’re needed. It’s frustrating to have to trudge through thigh-high snow to the shed to get a shovel, so leave it by the door so that it’s right there when you go out to clear. Same goes for ice melt.
Move your snowblower to a place where you can just drive it out, rather than having to muscle and drag it around. And, if your house is prone to ice dams, don’t forget to get your roof rake out—clearing the snow from the bottom few feet of your roof is the best way to stop ice dams from ever forming.
Prep your car for winter roads
Let’s face it—at some point this winter, you’ll have to drive somewhere on a snowy day. While snow and cars can increase the dangers of driving, some basic preparations in advance can keep you safe, even when you have to be on the roads.
It’s a good idea to take care of any lingering maintenance issues before winter starts. Get your fluids changed if needed, swap out your windshield washer fluid for one that de-ices, and make sure that your wipers are in good shape. Double check that your heater works, and that your battery holds a charge.
Make sure your tires are up to snuff. Just because they passed inspection doesn’t mean they’re great for the winter. If you use snow tires, change them over well before the first snowfall.
If you don’t own snow tires, check the tire treads on your regular wheels. If they’re balding or wearing unevenly, it may be time to get new ones. Any tire can slip on snow or ice, but tires with enough tread will slip less and regain traction faster.
Also make sure to check your tires’ air pressure—improperly inflated tires are more likely to slip as well.
Transfer your snow-removal equipment into the car before it snows. You don’t want to come out of a store or work and discover that you don’t have your snow brush in the car when there’s already six inches of snow on your windshield.
A snow brush may not be enough. Always have a shovel in your car as well, just in case you need to dig out. A bag of kitty litter or sand provides traction under your wheels in case you get stuck.
An important and easy task is to fill your gas tank before every storm. You sure don’t want to run out of gas in the middle of a blizzard.
Lastly, keep an emergency kit in your car. This should include everything you’d need if you got stranded and had to stay with your car for hours. This kit should include:
- Flashlight and batteries
- Cell phone chargers
- Food and water
- Maps and a compass
- Sand or kitty litter for traction
- A first aid kit
- Jumper cables and tire-changing equipment
Expect a power outage
Unfortunately, power outages are a part of winter for many of us. While most tend to be short, you need to prepare for the chance that one may last days or weeks
If you have a generator, make sure that it works and that you have plenty of gas. Also have some way of securing it in place to prevent theft. Most importantly, practice generator safety and place it away from your house—generators give off toxic carbon monoxide, and you don’t want it seeping into your home.
Know where your flashlights are, and make sure that they all have fully-charged batteries. You want to have several flashlights available, and at least one in each bedroom.
Prepare like you would for any emergency situation. Keep a supply of non-perishable food and water on hand. The food in your refrigerator can keep for a short time in a power outage, but only if you don’t keep opening the door. If you have a chock-full fridge, but aren’t sure if it’s safe to eat after the power comes back on, try this trick—but prepare for it ahead of time.
Keep a spare propane tank for your grill. This way, if you lose power for several days, you’ll still have a way to cook food and boil water, if necessary.
While you want your food to be cold, you yourself want to be warm during a storm—obviously. If you have a working fireplace and/or wood stove in your home, stock enough wood inside or by your door to last through the duration of the storm, and then some. A fire can be the difference between a comfortable night’s sleep and a frigid one. That said, if you do not have a working fireplace or wood stove you should never light a fire for warmth inside your home. That is an easy way to either get carbon monoxide poisoning or light your house on fire.
Know where your extra blankets and warm clothes are. If an outage goes on for days, it’s going to get chilly, and you want to make sure that you can stay warm without having to rummage through a few dozen attic boxes to find the sleeping bags.
Finally, have a backup plan. While you probably shouldn’t try to travel in the middle of the storm, know where you can go if the power is going to be out for an extended period of time.
Don’t forget that winter can be fun
Winter and snow aren’t all bad, and many of us live in colder climates because we enjoy the beauty and activities that winter has to offer.
By prepping for fun activities early in the season, you can make the most of the cold, snowy weather. Pull out the sleds before the storm comes. Get your skis or snowboards edged and waxed in advance. Dig out your ice fishing equipment or snowshoes.
And, if you’re one of those who really doesn’t like the cold or snow, then at the very least make sure you have a few good books to read while you wait for spring.