How to Prepare for a Winter Storm

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Icicles on a Car. Photo © Erin Huffstetler

Winter storms can cause power outages, flooding, fallen trees, frozen pipes, roof damage and all sorts of other expensive problems, but, if you just take a bit of time to prepare now, you can avoid most of these headaches. Here’s what you need to do to prepare for the next winter storm.

Well Ahead of the Storm …

  • Decide how you’ll cook during a power outage, and buy the necessary supplies. You could use a hot plate plugged into a generator, a camp stove, an outdoor grill or a gas stove, if you have one. Most of these options require cooking outdoors, so decide where you’ll set up your temporary kitchen
  • Make sure you have at least one corded phone, so you’ll have a way to make calls if the power goes out
  • Invest in a generator, and learn how to set it up. Make sure you have enough extension cords to power everything you want to plug in, and that you have a way to secure it while it’s in use. A chain and a pad lock should do the trick. If you plan to use your generator to run your HVAC system, talk to an electrician. You’ll need to have a transfer switch installed. Buy a couple large gas cans, and keep them full at all times. A generator won’t do you any good, if you don’t have any fuel for it.
  • Have an automatic garage door? Learn how to open it manually, so you’ll be able to get your car out during a power outage. Make sure all adults in your home are trained on the procedure
  • Write down all of the emergency contact numbers that you might need during a winter storm – the electric company, a tree company, a plumber, your insurance company, an HVAC repair man, your city’s road department
  • Make sure all adults in your home know where the water shutoff valve is located and how to shut it off
  • Install a whole-house surge protector in your breaker box to protect your HVAC system and other electronics from a power surge
  • Invest in at least one fire extinguisher for each level of your home. Make sure everyone in your household knows where they are located and how to use them
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector on every level of your home. If you use natural gas in your home, get one that detects gas, too
  • Trim your trees regularly; don’t allow ivy or other invasive plants to grow on them; and have dead trees removed promptly to minimize the risk of a tree falling on your home or vehicles. Buy a chainsaw, and keep it well maintained, so you'll be ready to deal with fallen trees
  • Stock up on flashlights, lanterns, candles and batteries
  • Invest in a portable heater. Opt for something that’s approved for indoor use. If you have kids or pets, choose a heater that is cool to the touch, and designed to shut off if it gets knocked over
  • Purchase a weather radio, so you can keep up with storm updates – even when the power is out
  • Stock your vehicles with emergency supplies, snow chains, a bag of kitty litter or sand, an ice scraper and deicer
  • Have a sump pump? Install a water-powered back up, if you don’t already have one. This will allow your pump to run even during a power outage, so your basement doesn’t flood
  • Load up on buckets and old towels, so you’ll be ready to deal with any water issues resulting from melting snow
  • Invest in the supplies that you’ll need to clear snow from your walkways and driveway. Good to have on hand: a snow shovel, a snow blower ro snow thrower and salt

    Just Before the Storm …

    • Stock up on food for you and your pets. Make sure you have plenty of bottled water on hand, in case your water supply is interrupted
    • Charge your cell phone
    • Make sure your fire extinguishers are fully charged, and that the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are still good
    • Restock your first aid kit
    • Refill any prescriptions you’re running low on
    • Move your vehicles to the end of your driveway, so they’ll be easier to get out. Be sure they aren’t parked under any trees
    • Bring pets indoors
    • Set up your generator; pull out lanterns, candles, matches, flashlights and other emergency supplies, so they’ll be easy to access during the storm
    • Place your snow blower, snow shovel and salt where they’ll be easy to get to. They won’t do you any good is they’re snowed into your shed
    • Make sure you have a fresh supply of batteries
    • Fill up your car, and top off the gas cans for your generator
    • Pull extra blankets out of the linen closet
    • If you have a fireplace, give it a good cleaning. Then, move firewood close to your door (under cover is best)

    During the Storm

    • If you’re on well water, fill your bathtubs with water, so you’ll have a way to flush and refill toilets when there’s no power to run your well pump
    • Unplug expensive electronics – your TV, computer, etc. – to protect them from surges when the power goes out/is restored. A whole house surge protector is good, but it’s not as good as unplugging stuff
    • Let your faucets drip and open the cabinets under your sinks to keep pipes from freezing
    • If the power goes out, try to limit the number of times you open the refrigerator and freezer. For prolonged power outages, food can be moved outdoors, as long as the temperature is below freezing. Just be sure to store food in sealed containers, so animals aren’t able to get to them. How to Keep Food Safe During a Power Outage