How to Prepare for a Winter Storm

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated November 29, 2021
A beautiful house and its garden all covered in snow
Photo: Jo Ann Snover / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Winterize your home during the fall whenever possible.

  • Check your fire and carbon monoxide detectors once a month and before a storm.

  • Protect your plumbing and windows from the cold.

  • Stock up on food, water, and emergency supplies.

  • Take extra care of your car, pets, and local loved ones.

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Snowman and sledding season may be your favorite time of year, but when a snowstorm appears in the forecast, it's time to kick into preparation mode. Not only can stocking your home with necessities give you peace of mind, but it can also keep you, your family, and your pets safer in the event you lose power. We'll walk you through ways to winterize your home months before the coldest season, as well as list last-minute must-dos before the snow drifts start to form.

1. Complete Your Pre-Winter Checklist

The saying "expect the best, prepare for the worst" always applies to weather. Long before the first frost of the season, there are a few ways to winterize your home for sudden storms or deep freezes. 

Check these items off your list at least several weeks before the snow season begins, erring on the side of caution in case the weather turns quickly.

If you're deep into the winter and the weather team is warning of a storm on the horizon, follow these additional CDC-recommended tips below to stay safe.

2. Check Your Alarms

The CDC recommends checking your fire and carbon monoxide detectors at least once a month. Press and hold the test or reset buttons to ensure it is properly powered. This step is particularly important before a snowstorm when we heavily depend on our heating systems, fireplaces, and woodburning stoves, all of which come with the threat of carbon monoxide hazards when not properly maintained.

If you or a local loved one is older, install a thermometer inside your home as well. The CDC notes that people over 65 are less likely to detect sudden temperature drops. Whenever possible, create a system to stay in touch with older neighbors during a storm.

3. Prepare Your Plumbing

Frozen pipes are one of the first things that come to mind when we think about snowstorms—especially those that knock out power. To protect your pipes from freezing and bursting:

  • Winterize your pipes with pipe insulation

  • Open your cabinet doors if temperatures in your home drop. This step circulates warm air to the pipes in the walls behind these cabinets.

  • Keep your thermostat to at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even if you intend to leave for the storm.

  • Let your pipes drip if the temperatures drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit and if your water comes from exposed pipes.

4. Winterize Your Windows and Doors

Close-up of a hand winterizing a window
Photo: very_ulissa / Adobe Stock

If you're prepping your home a few weeks before the snowy season, winterize windows and doors with caulk or weatherstripping. Low on time? Add a strip of foam insulation to the base of your doors and windows before the storm arrives to combat high winds. You can also purchase a plastic insulation kit for your windows for last-minute protection.

5. Make Sure You Have the Necessary Supplies

The moment the snowstorm becomes the talk of the town, it’s wise to head to the store before the crowds arrive. It's important to focus on both food staples and items that do not need refrigeration should you lose power. Be sure to prepare but pick up only what you’ll need so that everyone has a chance to buy staples before the storm.

The American Red Cross recommends storing at least three days of easy-to-prepare foods and 1 gallon of water per person per day. The CDC advises that food will stay safe in a refrigerator for four hours after the power goes out.

Your store list should also contain:

  • Pet food and pet supplies

  • Medications

  • Extra batteries

  • Personal and hygiene items

  • Extra cash

  • Snow shovels

  • Rock salt

6. Check Your Power-Outage Kit

Heading to the store is also a good time to restock your power-outage kit. Losing power means something different in each region, so make sure you're prepared with water and a heating source if your electrics affect this as well. For example, review your generator safety instructions if you have one ready.

Your power outage kit should also include:

  1. Flashlights

  2. Extra batteries

  3. Portable phone charger

  4. Hand-crank radio

  5. Snacks and water

  6. First aid kit

  7. Pocket knife

  8. Blankets and warm clothing

7. Prepare Your Car

Keep an ear out for instructions from your local government about evacuation orders ahead of a large storm. When there is no order, it is always best to stay indoors away from the extreme temperatures. Avoid driving in the snowstorm whenever possible, even if you have snow tires. Still, there are ways to prep your car for emergency use or for the first days after the storm when it's safe to head back onto the road.

Start by compiling a car emergency kit, including:

  • Car cell phone charger

  • Spare tire

  • Windshield scraper

  • Small shovel

  • Rock salt or kitty litter

  • Tire chains

  • Tow chain

  • Booster cables

  • Reflectors or emergency flares

  • First aid kit

  • Gloves, hats, scarves, and blankets

  • Water and snack

The National Weather Service also recommends filling your tank up before the storm and checking oil and window defroster levels.

8. Care for Your Animals

Make sure pets come indoors before the snow begins, especially if it's supposed to accumulate or get cold quickly. Outdoor farm animals should be given proper shelter, warmth, and access to food and water, especially in freezing temperatures.

9. Stay Informed

No matter the stage of your pre-storm prep, always keep an eye on the news for local updates. Weather reports can change quickly, so you may need to adjust with little warning. Whenever possible, ensure you and your family are safe and off the roads hours before the first flake falls.

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