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How to Survive Winter in the Northern Midwest

Updated on December 22, 2012
Snow covered cars on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, 2011.
Snow covered cars on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, 2011. | Source

Maybe you're new to the Midwest. Maybe you just haven't been through one of the bad winters yet. Maybe you have, and you still aren't sure how to handle them yet. Winter in the northern Midwest can be tough. Temperatures regularly stay below (and sometimes well below) freezing. An overnight snowfall of a few inches is considered a light snow. Hail, black ice, sleet, and of course snow are all par for the course, and you don't have to be the outdoorsy type to be affected by this nasty weather.

This is not an outdoor survival guide. This is a regular Midwest winter situation survival guide. Here are a few tips for staying safe, warm, and in one piece this winter.

Get Your Car Ready

Snowstorms, hail, and black ice can lead to some of the most treacherous driving conditions you'll ever have to face. You'll need to keep a level head and stay focused on the road, of course, but there are a few things you can do before you even get out on the roads.

Snow tires by Bridgestone.  Your regular tires are not made for winter storms and may not hold up so well on black ice.
Snow tires by Bridgestone. Your regular tires are not made for winter storms and may not hold up so well on black ice. | Source

First, get a good set of snow tires put on your car. They'll be more expensive than other tires, but worth it if you live somewhere with regular snowfall and below-freezing temperatures.

Snow tires are typically made with a special type of rubber designed specially for below-freezing temperatures. They also feature a tread better for dealing with ice and packed-in snow.

Whether your car is front-, rear-, or four-wheel drive, you should get four snow tires rather than two. Matching two snow tires with two other tires may cause your car to spin out, as the tires are not gaining the same traction.

You'll also need to make sure you keep those tires inflated properly; cold weather takes some of the pressure out of your tires, so you'll need to monitor them from time to time.

A good pair of windshield wiper blades can literally be the difference between an accident and a close call.
A good pair of windshield wiper blades can literally be the difference between an accident and a close call. | Source

Second, make sure you've got a good set of windshield wipers. They're never more important than they are during a snow/sleet/freezing rainstorm, when streaks left behind can keep you from seeing a patch of ice or even a set of brake lights.

And while you're at it, make sure you've got plenty of windshield washer fluid. You might even consider keeping some in your car in case you run out at the wrong time.

Throughout the winter, you should keep your gas tank at least half-full, or one-quarter full at the absolute emptiest. The biggest reason to do this is to assure that your fuel line doesn't freeze up. This usually happens when your car has been off and in the cold for a few hours, but if the weather is cold enough it can even happen while you're driving. It can cause serious damage to your car as well as your ability to get where you're going.

This also allows you a little flexibility. You won't have to fill up your tank in the most miserable of weather; you can wait until it clears up a little.

What To Keep In Your Car

Keeping a blanket and a first-aid kit in your car is something you should do no matter what climate you live in. Up in the northern Midwest, however, there are a few more things to add to that list

A snow scraper with a brush. You will, at some point, need to brush snow and scrape ice off of your car. Be thorough, even if it takes a while and you get cold; you don't want the left-over snow to fall down onto your windshield as you're driving or to melt and re-freeze on top of your car.

An extra pair of gloves. Steering wheels get cold in the winter. Plus, if your car breaks down or you get stuck in the snow, you'll need to stay warm.

A bag of kitty litter. This may seem silly, but hear us out. When it comes to ice, salt and kitty litter have just about the same effect, and kitty litter is cheaper and easier to come by. It will melt through the ice while absorbing some of the leftover water. If you ever veer off of the road or find yourself stuck in a ditch, you can use the litter to give yourself more traction under your tires to get yourself unstuck. As a bonus, it can also add some weight to the back of your car, which will help keep you from spinning out--especially if you drive a light-weight car.

A shovel. At some point, you'll probably need to dig your way out. A small shovel can be a big help.

A Midwest Winter Pro Tip

The weather people are sure of it: a blizzard is on the way. Schools and businesses will be shut down and getting to the store after the storm hits seems unlikely. What do you do?

Buy toilet paper. No kidding. You can manage a few days if you run out of milk or eggs or other perishable food items. You'll be much more uncomfortable without toilet paper.

Also, don't park on the street. The snowplows won't be able to do their jobs properly and they'll likely leave your car completely covered in snow--and possibly scraped up and damaged.

You can't build something like this with only one or two inches of snow.
You can't build something like this with only one or two inches of snow. | Source

Have Fun

Snowstorms can be a drag, but they can also lead to a lot of good times with your family. Snowball fights, forts, and sledding are all childhood highlights of growing up in the upper Midwest, and there's no reason that kind of thing can't be fun for adults, too.

Stock up on hot chocolate and go out and play in the snow!


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    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      5 years ago from New York

      Good old snow can take you by surprise. You've outlined some very helpful hints, right down to having fun! As you've pointed out, having your car ready for winter is not only a necessity but a safety issue.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • jacobkuttyta profile image

      Siny J 

      5 years ago from Delhi, India

      Thanks for the valuable information.


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