By Amy Aumick
Winter is coming. Winter can be beautiful, hushed and a way for the Earth to hibernate. Winter can also bring with it inclement weather at a moment’s (or no moment’s) notice. Therefore, it so important to be prepared! Remember that, depending on where you live, the threat of at least one blizzard or ice storm is 25% over a period of nine months.
According to The Weather Channel, a blizzard is a storm with “winds of at least 35 mph, and visibility reduced by falling and/or blowing snow to less than 1/4 mile.” These conditions must last for at least 3 hours. Snow forms when two air masses collide one with warm air and one with cold air they collide and make a front if there is more cold air it creates a snow if there is more warm air it will just rain. When this snow is combined with the wind, and decreased visibility, it forms a blizzard.
If you are a hunter you should absolutely invest in a dehydrator to make venison jerky, which can provide your family days of protein and nutrients without having to worry about electricity. More practically, for those who find themselves otherwise unprepared, there are plenty of ways to survive a surprise storm. It won’t matter at all if you have all the supplies in the world if you don’t have the means to keep warm.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t prepare in the fall, while the leaves are changing. This is the best time to take inventory of what you have and will need. Let’s start at home.
Heat sources; If you are fortunate enough to have a fireplace, good. Be sure to check that your flues are clear and stock up on enough surplus firewood to last at least one week. You may also want use your fireplace to cook over, so cast iron and grill grates are a great choice for this. Just be sure you have a working fire extinguisher on hand should anything go wrong.
If you do not have a fireplace, consider buying space heaters. Unfortunately, although solar powered heaters work well, you will not have enough sunlight during a blizzard to power that for long. No matter what happens, NEVER use a generator indoors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises using generators at least 20 feet away from homes, since there’s not enough ventilation within garages and basements or near open windows to prevent fatal poisoning. Battery-powered alarms are also necessary to warn residents before carbon monoxide reaches dangerous levels.
If absolutely necessary, you can build an outdoor fire out of the wind and warm stones in the fire to use in beds and to dry clothing. Just be sure not to use river stones, as the water contained in river stones are prone to explode when exposed to heat.
It is absolutely necessary to invest in a weather or ham radio. In the event of power outages, these are a great lifeline to the outside world should you be homebound too long. There are some worthy hand-cranked products on the market to explore and consider.
One other option, though potentially dangerous option to consider is to use a car battery to run an electricity strip for powering up small appliances such as phones, a small coffee maker, lamps and the like. Just be sure you know one hundred percent how to wire these beforehand!
Layer. Layer. Layer. Your clothing will be the most important part of keeping you dry. Try not to sweat. While small stretches are important to keep your circulation flowing, it is not advisable to sweat heavily during a storm, as it could lead to frostbite and fatigue.
Insulate your home as best as possible. Even if you are living paycheck-to-paycheck you should absolutely invest in plastic sheeting. You can insulate your windows ahead of time by taping the plastic over your windows and heat dry them flat with a blow dryer. This can also be used in case a tree falls on your home and you need to secure off that part. Also, use towels under doors to keep drafts out and consider using only one door in your home as an exit/entrance.
Hydration will be very important during a blizzard. It is advisable to keep one gallon of water per day on hand for each member of your family. If you absolutely must drink snow water, be sure it’s warmed a forehand or risk bringing your body temperature down to toxic levels.
Prep your car. This is extremely important. While you should not consider driving anywhere due to hazardous conditions, you should be prepared if need be. Do not warm your car up in the garage due to carbon monoxide. You should actually keep these things in your car all winter – a first aid kit, flashlight, warning flares, a tire kit, blankets, bottles of water, cans of food with a can opener, jumper cables, a snow shovel and ice scraper. A bag of kitty litter can get you out of a rut of snow, although car mats also work well in a pinch. Always be sure your exhaust is clear of snow before starting your vehicle! There are some special oils on the market for purchase for extreme cold conditions.
If you must drive during a blizzard, remember that your line of sight will be significantly diminished. Driving at night is particularly hazardous. It is helpful to drive slowly and keep an eye on the left line of the road, if visible. This can help you keep your vehicle in the proper lane. If you see a sheet of wet-looking ice on the road, be sure to let your foot off the gas and prepare to glide over it. Braking hard will cause your vehicle to skid even more. Do not brake or accelerate suddenly. Hydroplaning is a loss of traction to the front tires so sudden braking slows the front tires but locks the rear tires which can cause a spin out.
If you are in a front wheel drive with or without ABS and traction control or a rear wheel drive with ABS and traction control and you begin to hydroplane, you should look for open space and plan to travel in that direction. Stay lightly on the accelerator and steer gently toward the open space. If you are in a rear wheel drive without ABS and traction control, then look for open space and plan to travel in that direction. Ease off the accelerator and steer toward the open space you have identified.
Lanterns are great to have for light, but if you don’t have one, you can wrap a flashlight around a gallon of water to create an ambient glow.
Provide for your pets. Be sure to keep plenty of food and water on hand for them. Never, under any circumstances, should you leave your pets outdoors during a blizzard. If necessary, purchase training pads to place inside of their crates in case they are not able to relieve themselves outdoors.
Blizzards can be tiresome for the little ones. If you have children and are stranded at home for a few days, try to keep enough games and other ideas in mind to keep them occupied. You probably already have all you need, with a little imagination to create all types of fun activities for your kids to do indoors. Make a blanket fort, play games like hide-and-seek, card and board games. Sing with them. Pull out old family photos and talk with them about their ancestry. Read books. A favorite during a blizzard is hosting a beach day in the living room, complete with umbrellas, sunglasses and beach towels. This is not the time for sledding or snowman building!
If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy MREs (meals ready to eat), those are great to have. The meals only need a pot of boiling water in order to prepare. MREs are designed to give maximum nutrients with minimal supply. Trail mixes also pack a nutritional punch.
One of my favorite prep recipes is Russian Black Bread. This is a bread that has a long storage capacity with plenty of nutrition. There are plenty of websites that provide this recipe. You can live on this bread with nothing else to eat for months at a time. During the Nazi siege of Leningrad, residents ate this bread with hardly little else for almost three and a half years.
In the aftermath of a blizzard, floods can come when the snow begins to thaw. Be on alert for any parts of your home that water may enter, and take precautions to keep that from happening. Bags filled with sand can be placed at thresholds to keep running water out of the doorways.
If you find yourself stranded outdoors during a storm, seek some form of shelter immediately. Blowing winds can cause the wind chill to reduce your core body temperature to dangerous levels. The risk of frostbite and hypothermia increase every minute you are exposed to the cold weather.
If you are wet, try to get dry. Lighting a small fire will not only provide warmth, but will enable your clothing to dry out.
Deep snow can actually act as an insulation from the wind and cold temperatures. Digging a snow cave can actually save your life. When building a snow cave be sure you seek a flat area free of any chance of avalanche. Use a snowdrift of at least five feet deep for one person, and an additional five feet for each extra person. In fact, it is advisable to enlist at least one other person to help you dig out your cave in case of a collapse. Also, two people can work in shifts, thereby reducing the possibility of sweating, and therefore hypothermia due to wet clothing. Shovel extra snow over your cave and pack firmly by foot. Allow two hours to twenty-four hours for your cave to cool, if you can, before entering. The powdery the snow, the longer you need to wait for it to harden. Once it’s done, add some snow in the doorway with a tunnel for exiting. Use sticks to flag your dome, so you know where it is and to signal to others where you are, should you need to be rescued. Hollow the dome out by pushing snow to the sides with your feet, making the floor of the cave higher than the entrance. Unless the temperature is already above freezing, you can pour water over your dome for better reinforcement. Use a ski pole or stick to punch a few sideways ventilation holes. These can be covered when you want but uncover them if your feel dizzy. Layer the floor with pine needles or other firs for warmth and comfort.
Probably the best investment you can make during a blizzard is what are called, “Hot Hands.” These are energy-activated warmers for hands and feet that can last up to 200 hours. You can pick up a pack of ten for about $13.00 at most stores.
Above all, remember to keep your personal energy levels as low as you can during a blizzard. Try to think like a bear in hibernation. If you are with children, never forget the power of board games and music to keep them occupied.
Keep your smartphones charged, and invest in a hand-held radio or inexpensive prepaid tracfone to keep in touch with loved ones. It is also advisable to keep one pre-paid, charged up and powered down in your car with all of your contacts saved. These phones will usually call 911 even if you don’t have credits.
While I hope you never have to go through such a catastrophe, try to remember to keep your head, your faith and to help your fellow man when possible. Bad times eventually do thaw away, and rainbows are brightest after the storm.
Stay safe. Stay prepared. And above all, stay alive.
Amy Aumick has been a freelance writer for over 15 years. She has worked with the Red Cross in hurricane disaster efforts and volunteers at local shelters.