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Weather Safety Tips: How To Prepare For Snow Storms, Winter Weather and Power Blackouts

Updated on November 21, 2015
Our driveway after the Blizzard of 2013
Our driveway after the Blizzard of 2013

Get Ready Before It Starts To Snow

You can't always predict the weather. But you can be prepared. Winter's snowfall is beautiful and offers many outdoor activities, but shoveling snow left by repeated winter storms is tiresome and can be very dangerous. Snow is heavy, and snow removal can be difficult and physically challenging - especially for those of us who are middle aged (and perhaps a little older).

Winter storms bring snow and ice, making driving difficult and often unsafe. Freezing rain and heavy winds can bring down power lines, causing power outages which can last for hours or even days. When the local weather channel predicts a winter storm, folks rush to the supermarkets to stock up on bread and milk.

For those of us who live in northern climates, dealing with winter storms is an annual ritual. Every year, many people are hurt in icy falls, injured by snow blowers and suffer sore backs and muscles from shoveling heavy snow. A little advanced preparation and tending to the basic essentials goes a long way when dealing with power failures and the other challenges of stormy weather. Here a are few tips to help you prepare for winter storms and bad weather

Blizzard of 2013 ~ Photos by the Author

Before It Starts To Snow...

Stock Up the Pantry

A snowy forecast usually means a frantic run to the grocery store for bread, milk and eggs. Before heading off to the store for those last minute essentials, check the cupboards to make sure that you have enough non-perishable food stock to last for a couple of days. Even if the roads are cleared quickly after the storm, it may take time before the grocery stock receives their deliveries to restock the shelves.

Keep a ready supply of canned soups and crackers. This basic comfort food is easy to prepare and has a long shelf time. A bowl of hot soup with crunchy crackers is a hearty and welcome meal after working outside in the cold to clear the sidewalk.

Stock up on Ready-to-Serve foods. If the electricity is out for an extended time and you cannot use your stove or microwave, you still need to feed your family. Keeping a few types of prepared and packaged food in the pantry that does not require any cooking can keep bellies full and satisfied until the commercial power is restored. Having a ready supply of peanut butter, crackers, granola bars, roasted nuts, canned tuna, applesauce and fruit cups are easy to serve while 'camping out' inside your home.

Think Safety First and do not bring gas grills or other outside cooking stoves into your home. Every winter, homes are burned down and lives lost from the fumes and flames when outdoor are brought inside for cooking and heat. These devices are not designed for indoor use, and using these types of equipment improperly can be fatal. Think!

Fill Up the Gas Tank

The fuel tank in most cars and trucks is positioned near the rear drive axle, and a full tank adds weight for additional traction on snow covered roads, driveways and parking lots. Store a bag of rock salt in the trunk and if a little extra traction is need, spread the rock salt liberally in front (or behind) the tires.

Your car is also your emergency vehicle. Even if you plan to hunker down and wait out the storm, an emergency situation might force you out on the road -- or at least, into the car for shelter and heat -- along with a place to recharge your cell phone.

If you have a generator, check to make sure that the tank is full of fresh fuel.

Think safety first. Unless it is absolutely necessary, stay home until the stormy weather is over and the highway crews have enough time to clear the snow from the roads. Use caution and good judgment when clearing snow away from doorways, driveways and parked cars, especially if your health is a concern. With a little advance planning and the right approach to shoveling, clearing away the snow is little more than a minor inconvenience. At least, for most snow storms.

Got Water?

Keep a ready supply of fresh drinking water. The average person needs to drink at least two quarts of water every day, plus more water for cooking, washing, brushing teeth and other sanitation needs. Plan on storing at least two gallons of water per person, per day -- and store at least a three day supply of fresh drinking water.

Store fresh drinking water in clean, tightly covered containers. Plastic and glass soda, juice, water and milk bottles or similar containers that held food or beverages work well for storing drinking water; just make sure that the containers are cleaned carefully before refilling with fresh tap water. Large thermoses and jugs capable of holding several gallons of water are available at many hardware and sporting goods stores. Store the containers in a cool, dry location and away from direct sunlight.

If your home relies on well water considering filling a bathtub with water for flushing toilets. Use a small bucket to refill the toilet tank with water after each flush.

If you run out of water try opening the valve at the bottom of your hot water heater. Most large hot water heaters hold up to 40 gallons of water.

Be prepared for large storms with deep snowfall
Be prepared for large storms with deep snowfall

Get A Good Snow Shovel

Purchase a quality, lightweight snow shovel before the first snow flakes fall. If the blade on last year's model is cracked or the edge has worn unevenly, replace it. A snow shovel with a clean edge makes scraping walkways and stairs easier, and leaves less snow behind to freeze and turn into slippery ice.

There are many brands and styles of snow shovels available, some with long handles and deeply curved blades designed for pushing snow away. Others have flat, wide blades made from plastic or aluminum for lifting and throwing snow. Newer designs sport ergonomically curved handles, which the manufacturers claim reduce back strain.

Select a model that feels good and is lightweight. An inexpensive model with a wide, light weight plastic blade is suitable for most snow shoveling jobs. Apply a light coating of vegetable spray or penetrating oil on the blade to help the snow slide off easily while shoveling.

Buy a bag or two of snow melting granules, often referred to as rock salt, to spread on icy walkways and stairs. Once it starts to snow, the local merchants quickly sell out of rock salt and snow shovels.

Start up the snow blower. If the snow blower hasn't run since last year, make sure it starts before it starts to snow. Buy fresh gas and oil, add Sta-bil or similar gas preservative to the tank, and check the spark plug. Charge the batteries of electric start models.

Snow and Ice Melter - Non-Toxic and Safe for Pets

Safe Paw Ice Melter – 8 lbs 3oz Jug
Safe Paw Ice Melter – 8 lbs 3oz Jug
This non-toxic ice melt is guaranteed safe for pets. Concentrated pellets cover twice the area of rock salt and will not irritate pets paws or skin, and work in temperatures as low as -2 degree Fahrenheit. Timed-release formulation helps prevent re-icing for up to three days.

When Heading Outside to Shovel Snow...

Dress appropriately for the weather. Wear layers of warm yet loose fitting clothing which allows for freedom of movement, especially in the shoulders and hips. A hat and water resistant gloves are a must to protect against heat loss in cold and windy weather.

Wear rubber soled boots and purchase a pair of ice creepers for added traction. Slip-on rubber ice creepers are inexpensive and fit easily over most boots. The short cleats dig into the ice and snow, adding stability while walking and helping to avoid slips and falls - especially on sloped driveways or sidewalks.

Before Beginning Any Strenuous Activity, Check With Your Doctor

Take Your Time. And Take Breaks.

Work in small sections and rest often. For many of us, shoveling snow uses muscles that are not conditioned to the stress and strain of repeated motions. The added weight of a snow-filled shovel increases the exertion levels, and even clearing the snow from a small area can be exhausting. Shovel in a slow and steady pace, stopping often to take short breaks before you begin to feel tired and sore.

Start shoveling as soon as the snowfall ends. The longer the snow sits, the more it will settle, condense and begin to freeze which makes the snow heavier and harder to shovel. If heavy snows are expected, it is often easier and safer to shovel the walkways and driveway a couple of times at intervals during the storm, clearing away the falling snow before it accumulates too deeply.

Shovel deep snow in layers
Shovel deep snow in layers

Shovel Deep Snow In Layers

If the snowfall is deep take two or three scoops to clear a spot before moving forward. Take the top couple of inches of snow off with the first scoop, take the next couple inches of snow with the second scoop, and then finally dig down to the pavement level with the next scoop.

Toss shovelfuls of snow forward or off to the side. Do not waste movement and effort by trying to lift the snow and then throwing it up and over your shoulder. Tossing the snow forward with a low, pitching motion conserves energy and reduces muscle fatigue.

Shoveling snow is a fact of winter in northern areas, and clearing snow and ice away from driveways, sidewalks and decks is a necessary winter ritual. Using good judgment and exercising caution will help reduce the risk of injury while shoveling snow.

Removing Snow from Your Roof

Consider purchasing a roof rake. As the winter progresses and snowfall totals mount, snow can build up on the roof of homes, sheds, porches and barns - especially on the roof lines that face toward the North and do not benefit from the warming and melting powers of the sun.

Snowfall can build up creating ice dams along the gutters that does not allow any melting snow to drain away. Instead, the water from thje melting snow is forced up against -- and under -- the roof shingles and can cause leaks in the ceiling and along the interior window frames. In extreme cases, the added weight from the accumulating snow can cause the roof to collapse.

A snow rake is a blade attached to a telescoping pole that enables you to stand on the ground and reach up to safely remove snow from the gutter line. Reach up and as far back as possible with the blade of the snow rake, and pull the snow back towards you, being careful to avoid the falling snow as you pull it off of the roof.

Plan Ahead for Power Failures & Electrical Outages

For some, losing electricity is just the minor annoyance of using flashlights and candles for lights. For others, all of the home's major systems including heat and running water depend upon electricity. Homes using well water need electricity to keep the tap water running, both at the faucet and for the toilet. Stock up on bottled water for drinking and washing up, and fill the bathtub with water for flushing.

Check the batteries in flashlights and position them around the house where they will be easy to find if needed in the dark. Give a working flashlight to each child, and show them how to turn the light on and off. Battery operated lanterns are affordable, and provide enough light to illuminate a tabletop for family board game.

Replace your old flashlights with LED lights and lanterns. LEDs lights are more efficient than traditional flashlights, meaning your batteries will last much longer during blackouts.

Get out the candles and matches ahead of time. Place the candles in areas where they will provide light, but do not pose a safety hazard to drapes, lampshades or other flammable objects. Protect the tabletop or counter from melting wax.

Stock up on split and dried firewood along with kindling or fire starting sticks. Along with light and warmth, a roaring fireplace fire provides a gathering place for the family.

Get Cash! Stores may be open during storms and extended blackouts, but they may not be able to process a credit card transaction and the ATM machines might be off-line. Always keep an emergency stash of cash on hand

Get a battery-powered radio Storms can disrupt cable and internet service, so even if you have a generator, you may not be able to get weather reports or important emergency news information. Battery-powered radios are very inexpensive, and might be your only source of news from the outside world.

In Case of Power Outages... - Deluxe Flashlight With Radio and Cellphone Charger

The ADVENTURER is a Digital AM/FM NOAA Weather Alert Radio with an integrated LED flashlight and smart phone charger contained in an-in-one portable package. The high quality digital tuner provides assured access to news, weather information and illumination --whenever and wherever you need it.

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The Complete Care First Aid Kit is highly organized kit provides comprehensive first aid treatment for a variety of needs, ease of use and will treat many emergency situations. This Complete Care First Aid Kit complies or exceeds all OSHA guidelines for small business and meets ANSI types I and II requirements.

The Beauty of Winter

Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass. It's about learning to dance when it snows!

How do you deal with power outages and storms? Please share your stories.

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    • Gypzeerose profile image

      Rose Jones 

      7 years ago

      I lived in Canada and the American Midwest. Don't miss the ice! Thanks for the great cold winter weather hints.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Good info for the transplants. They are always shocked at the first big storm we get.

    • Grandma-Marilyn profile image


      7 years ago

      Great information for preparing for a storm.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm usually quite excited by snow, and haven't experienced a very strong snowstorm yet. Having been in the middle of extreme earthquakes (Japan) and fires (Australia), I would say I'm most scared by fires and extreme dry windy weather.

    • profile image

      The Last Renais 

      7 years ago

      These are great tips. Now, if it ever snows again this year, I'll know where to look for advice. Thanks.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      An excellent presentation on how to be prepared for winter storms and I know you speak from experience and were using your skills yourself in the last few days. I love your common sense approach for every eventuality. Spraying the shovel can be such a load lightener when the snow you already picked up slides right off. We're just getting out own load of the pretty white stuff in Fargo, 4 inches so far and counting, guess we can expect a foot. But that's nothing compared to what you just dealt with. Thinking of you.....

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the useful information about How To Prepare For Snow Storms


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