March 21, 2023

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Here in the upper Midwest, winter weather can be ferocious. 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, winter conditions are like paradise, but for those who are just trying to get to and from work each day, things can get dicey.

So let’s talk about strategies for surviving winter weather.

Stay Informed About Winter Weather

Fortunately, winter weather rarely hits without some 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. Instead, there are almost always several hours of warning, if not a day or two.

Also, I mention this later in the article but having a battery-operated, hand-crank radio with NOAA channels helps keep you informed even if you lose power.

Make Sure You Have Back-ups To Your Back-ups

Cold kills, and relying on only one source of warmth is dangerous. So how would you and your family stay warm if your usual power source is gone?

What other options could you add to your home to stay warm? Read this post for more tips about staying warm without power.

Traveling in Severe Winter Conditions

If 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 will be sketchy at best. However, if you can work from home, do so.

If You’re Stranded at Work

If you must go to work, as many will, assemble a workplace emergency kit in case you are stuck there. This relieves your anxiety and the anxiety of anyone who would be worried sick waiting for you to traverse dangerous roads to travel home.

If You’re Stranded in Your Car

Always have emergency supplies and gear in your vehicle for severe winter conditions. These include jumper cables, a blanket (wool is the best), an extra cap, socks, and gloves (again, wool), a 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. You’ll find a complete list of what should be in your vehicle emergency kit here.

If you get stranded for some reason, stay put unless you absolutely must leave your vehicle for 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 going, and where you are heading, even if only a rough compass direction. This will help people find you should they need to search.

Surviving Severe Winter Weather at Home

At home, I hope you 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 week or so.

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 fight the pre-storm crowd. Unfortunately, empty store shelves aren’t just a fantasy in a survival writer’s imagination. They are all too common when an impending severe weather or natural disaster is in the news.

There’s a good chance of a power outage, so plan on buying food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Prepare a list using these suggestions for a winter survival food kit. Then, take that list to the store with you so you’ll have plenty of ideas for foods your family will eat.

Better yet, lay in food preps BEFORE there is a hint of a storm. Learn how to stock up on three months’ worth of meals fast here.

A key element to surviving brutal winter conditions is having multiple ways 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 benefits everyone. Add a dog or two, and you may become too warm! As a last resort, put a tent in one of the smaller rooms, and everyone can sleep in the tent.

Hang a blanket over the window and any open doorways to help reduce heat from escaping. This also eliminates cold drafts. Obviously, if you have a fireplace or a wood stove, make judicious use of it. Hopefully, you thought ahead and have a good supply of dry, seasoned fuel set aside.

Wind Chill

One of the more misunderstood winter conditions is wind chill. Most residents here in my neck of the woods understand it, 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 it’s hot outside. A lot colder, actually.

Around here, it isn’t uncommon for the high temperature to reach 10°F, and with the wind chill factored in, it feels like -20°F or lower. At temps that low, any exposed skin can suffer frostbite in just a matter of minutes. This means you must protect yourself with not only hats, coats, gloves, scarves, and earmuffs. Recently, we discovered fleece-lined tights, and that discovery rocked my world!

Shoveling Snow

When it comes to injuries and fatalities due to winter conditions, I’d estimate more people die of heart attacks while shoveling snow than for just about any other weather-related reason. However, I’ve not seen any hard stats on this.

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.

Power Outages

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 utility companies restore power. But plan ahead and have plenty of flashlights, batteries, and a portable radio to keep abreast of weather-related news.

Another important step is immediately charging all cell phones and electronic devices the minute you hear of a major Nor’easter or blizzard headed your way. It’s also a good idea to do a few loads of laundry in case the power is out for more than a few days. You might as well have a clean stock of underwear, socks, and clothes for every family member!

Boredom can also set in if the power goes out because that means most of your family’s entertainment sources will be powerless. This article about sheltering in place is a great resource for planning now to keep the kids and/or grandkids busy if nasty winter conditions keep you stuck in the house for hours or days.

Winter weather clothing tip

One piece of winter clothing that has held up for more than 25 years now is a peach-colored set of silk long underwear. Many winters, they just sat in the bottom dresser drawer, seeing as how Phoenix rarely experiences long-underwear-worthy winters. However, when I’ve needed them, I’ve always been more than impressed with their comfort and the warmth they provide with the thinnest possible layer. Winter clothing is bulky enough without adding thick long underwear.

Silkies, as I call them, are more expensive, as you might suspect, but they can last just about forever. So here’s a tip for easily including them in any survival pack or the trunk of your car:

  • Tightly roll up the silk top and leggings and insert them in a Food Saver vacuum bag. When vacuum-packed, they weigh only a few ounces and take up only a bit of space in any bug out bag or kit. Just make sure to have a pair of scissors or a pocket knife handy to extract them from the packaging.

Over and over and over, parts of the country are hit hard by harsh winter conditions, and in millions of cases, people just aren’t ready. However, if you keep a pair of silkies in your vehicle and waterproof boots and wool socks, you could walk your way out of just about any winter disaster.

Shop around, and you’ll find a pair in the price range that suits you. Watch for deep discounts on winter gear and clothing. If money is tight, maybe a really good snowsuit or heavy jacket would make a fine Christmas gift instead of a new electronic gadget. Remember, kid sizes for the little ones!

What Will You Do When Winter Weather Hits You?

Severe winter weather isn’t something to trifle with, but with just a bit of planning, you’ll come through just fine.

How will you prepare for this winter’s weather?

Originally published October 24, 1017; updated by The Survival Mom editors.


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Jim Cobb is a disaster preparedness consultant and author. His books include Prepper’s Home Defense, The Prepper’s Complete Book of Disaster Readiness, and Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide.