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By February 12, 2014 Read More →

10 Things to Do if a Winter Storm Is Happening and You’re Not Prepared

Ice Storms. What to do if you are not prepared


Just weeks ago a winter storm hit the South East United States leaving traffic locked in grid lock for days, people were also stuck at the office and in school for days. Tonight ice and cold rains down on the same areas with massive grid lock and power outages looming.

For this second round of storms I am hoping that area residents know better than to expect local and federal services to be prepared and have begun to start prepping for emergencies themselves.  While it is always best to be prepared in advance of emergencies, sometimes they catch you off guard or maybe you are just now realizing the need to prepare.

Here are 10 things you can do right now to help keep your family warm and safe. These things may sound old fashioned common sense to some, but to others they could be incredibly helpful in dealing with the loss of services such as power and water in the middle of the winter.

1) Double check your carbon monoxide detector.

ice storm 4

Ice Storm, Colbert WA
Photos by Stephanie Dayle (c) 2014

Carbon monoxide kills and people die of carbon monoxide poisoning during ice storms who are just trying to stay warm. Make sure it is working, if you have only one battery in the house, and your carbon monoxide detector needs it – use it for the carbon monoxide detector. If you don’t have a carbon monoxide detector, this should be a must during your very next trip to the store. It could save your life during a power outage when using alternative sources of heat.

2) Keep faucets on a drip so your plumbing doesn’t freeze up.

If your home is on public water consider keeping water faucets on a drip to prevent them from freezing up and damaging the home’s plumbing. It’s the movement of the water that prevents freezing, hot water lines will usually freeze first.

If you live on a well and a power outage would mean losing the water to your house, consider filling your sinks and tubs up with water.  No matter where you live, if there is any chance that you could lose running water this tactic will give you an instantly accessible water supply for drinking, washing, flushing and cooking. Other sources of water in your home or apartment are in your hot water tank and of course in the back tank of each toilet. A purchase to consider in the future to be more prepared for such emergencies is a waterBOB, a waterBOB is basically a big plastic water liner for your tub (to see it click here). You fill it up in your tub so you don’t have to worry about the water accidentally draining , it also keeps dust, dirt and pet hair out of your water. It collapses down to nothing so you can store it away until it is needed for an emergency.

Fill up any empty containers (two-liter pop bottles, water bottles or milk jugs) with water. Leave a couple inches of head space in each container for ice expansion and stick them in your freezer if you have room. These may help keep everything cold just a little bit longer, and will give you some extra drinking water in a pinch.

3) Fill your vehicle up with gas, right now. 

snow storm

Winter Storm, Spokane WA
Photos by Stephanie Dayle (c) 2014

Not only for the drive home but incase you need the fuel at home or incase you need to leave home. As you have already seen traffic could be grid locked and it could take quite a long time to get anywhere. A gas tank is 15-25 gallons of fuel storage waiting to be used and if you wait too long it won’t be available either due to lack of power or due to increased demand.

4) Cover your windows with blankets and seal door drafts with heavy towels.

If you do lose power this will help stop heat loss through the windows and will trap existing heat in the house. Do not cover windows you may need to use  for ventilation (see below).

5) If the temperature has tanked, the power is out and your options are limited for warmth, try heating one room ONLY.

Don’t bother trying to keep the whole house warm if you don’t have a generator to keep your furnace or electric heat going. Close off the rest of the house. No matter what you use for heat you will need to ventilate the room you are in a little, preferably with a cracked window so keep that in mind when choosing the room. Ventilation is especially important when burning candles, a lantern or using a kerosene or propane heaterAlso consider the placement of this room within your house. Make sure it is not located where an ice covered tree could fall on it.

Mr. Heater – Propane Heater
Approved for indoor use.

Gather everyone plus your pets in that one room. Your combined body heat will help to warm the room. Rearrange extra furniture in that one room to keep everyone off the cold floor.

A local dog hoarder made the news in my area last year, when the dogs were removed from her property it was revealed that she had survived THREE northern winters without any heat at all solely from the heat of her dogs on the bed and in the house with her. If you want to snuggle up in a nice warm bed all night, cuddle up with your family and let your dog share a little body heat with you.

6) Move perishable food outside.

If power is lost, frozen food will last a day or two if you do NOT open the freezer. Food in the fridge will be okay for the day, maybe a little less – it should be the first food you move outside. Use a cooler if you have one. Place the coolers in a secure visible location. Thefts are COMMON during winter ice storms. 

Eat perishable foods first. Any left overs, veggies, thawed meat, milk, bread, basically eat whatever will go bad first. Have cereal for lunch or dinner to use up milk. Then think “non perishable foods” like canned food if you have some, there is also pasta, rice and beans. Get creative. If you have kids pretend that you’re camping and make it fun. If you need to cook – use an outdoor gas grill, or camp stove OUTDOORS. Do not under any circumstances use your gas or charcoal grill inside the house or garage as they both consume large amounts of oxygen and and expel carbon monoxide.

7) If you still have power, charge all of your phones and laptops immediately.

Even if you don’t have internet service, you can use your laptop as a power reservoir to charge other devices – like your phone. Turn your cellphone on only to make calls then turn it off again. If you can get through leave messages with friends and family to call you back at specific times, turn your phone back on during those times.

Turn off the ‘wi-fi’ on your phone so it stops looking for a wi-fi signal. If there is no cell service, but you still want to use your phone, kick your phone into “air plane mode” so it stops using power to look for cell service and turn the brightness down on the screen to conserve power.

TIP: Text messaging will use LESS power than a voice call so try that as well, another advantage to texting is that sometimes a text message will get through even when a voice call will not.

8) Gather all flashlights, glow sticks, lanterns, candles, and extra batteries in one central location.

This is recommended so there is no fumbling around in the dark to find them when the power goes out. If you have not made prepping a habit yet – think outside the box for lighting. Do you have children’s toys that light up? Freebies from concerts or giveaways from fairs that glow? They may also be used for light or raided for extra batteries. Maybe you have some solar yard lights? Those can be left out to charge during the day and then brought inside so you can see at night. Maybe there is a flash light in your car? Your phone may also be used as a flashlight in a pinch, but if at all possible battery power should be conserved for calls, using a phone as a flashlight will drain it quickly. If you have other sources of light, like LED lanterns or flashlights, it is recommend to use those over burning candles. You can even place a flashlight or a headlamp up against a clear plastic container of water and turn it into a make shift lantern (click here to see how).

9) Consider these alternatives for heat before you try to use candles. 

A single candle will consume all the oxygen in a small sealed room therefore rooms with candles need to be ventilated. They are also a fire hazard. Fires caused by people trying to stay warm are very common during winter storms and ice storms. Remember to a certain extent it’s ok to be a little cold. Your goal should be to keep your chosen living area at a temperature that is survivable first and somewhat comfortable second.

Smaller Propane Heater Approved for Indoor Use

Build a fire in the fireplace if you have one to generate heat. Many propane and gas fireplaces will still ignite and burn even if the power is out (via a manual switch in the service panel), the blower will not work but it will still give off heat – check the instruction manual for directions and safety protocol.

Propane and Kerosene heaters approved for indoor use are an acceptable alternative to candles for heat as they are manufactured with safety features like ‘low oxygen shut offs’ and ‘tip over shut offs’ but they have their own risks and they will only keep you warm until they’re out of fuel.  If you have a propane or kerosene heater, fireplace or wood-burning stove, be sure the room is ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning and make sure you have a working carbon monoxide detector (see number one above).

Keep the area around heaters candle, and fireplaces clear of paper and anything that could catch fire. Also make sure they are not in an area where they would be knocked over by children or pets. Keep these running or burning only long enough to warm the room then shut them off, do not forget about them and leave them burning or running. This is not only dangerous for the inexperienced, but it will also consume large amounts of fuel, if stores are closed or you can get to them, fuel will need to be conserved. Also keep a working fire extinguisher nearby. If you don’t have one or the one you have is expired, this should be the very next thing you pick up at the store.

If you have a generator and use it to power your home for heat, never use it inside or even inside an attached garage as doing so will produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Entire families have perished in because of this.  Keep your generator running in a  visible and secure outdoor location, consider chaining to fixed structure – thefts are COMMON during winter storms and ice storms. If you purchase a generator for a weather event, be wise, and keep it for the future. Don’t return the generator after the storm is over as if it’s never going to happen again. Most experienced preppers have a very dim view of this practice.

10) Clothing: Dress in layers…

Assuming that you don’t own the proper clothing or enough of the proper clothing to deal with this kind of weather; dress in layers to stay warm (think: t-shirt + sweatshirt + coat). Double up on socks, wearing a hat even when you are sleeping will make a huge difference on your body temperature as most of your heat is lost through your head. For women, wearing tights or nylons under your pants can make a huge difference in overall body warmth.


ice storm2

Ice Storm Cheney, WA
Photos by Stephanie Dayle (c) 2014


Lastly, use this time to make plans to get your family more prepared for these types of emergencies in the future. If it happened once it will most likely happen again.

Preppers are great to make fun of until something like this happens and they are warm and comfortable in their homes with plenty of food, water, and heat while you are stuck in a cold house with the bread and milk that you ran to the store to get last minute. Come on over to our way of thinking….  explore our website, it is a vast database of preparedness knowledge. Click on the links below to get started!

Getting Started with Preparedness

How to Make a Get Home Bag

Winter Car Kits

Deep Snow Winter Weather and How to Deal with it 


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About the Author:

Stephanie is a writer for the American Preppers Network, a small local paper and for her blog, The Home Front. She is also the credited writer of "Emergency Bag Essentials (Swatchbook): Everything You Need to Bug Out" to be released in August 2014. "I write articles based on my own experience about emergency preparedness, self-sufficiency, homesteading, food preservation and life around the farmstead. I grew up in a very rural area where I learned to garden, the art of canning, to hunt and fish, and to raise my own animals for food. Yes, families such as mine still do exist! I also spent 6 years volunteering for the local county Search and Rescue group where I learned a variety of survival skills and a little bit about law enforcement protocol. " "As a general rule of principle do not write articles about information that I have only read - if I am writing about something it's because of I have done it myself and gone to great lengths to provide you with the facts. I also have a full time job with an hour commute - my alter egos are as a Marketing Director, and an amateur photographer. " To connect with me --> click on one of the many little square social media buttons below!

7 Comments on "10 Things to Do if a Winter Storm Is Happening and You’re Not Prepared"

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  1. Les Norman says:

    Another good tip fill tub with water for those on a well so you can use it for toilet flush or cooking.

  2. Sue Klaus says:

    I found that my outdoor sidewalk solar lights provided indoor light when the power went out. Use the part without the stake and in the morning put it outside again!

  3. S.D.R. says:

    Great list! A few others:

    1) Pitch a tent or make a fort in the room where you will be staying to keep even more body heat trapped.
    2) Handwarmers in a sleeping bag work wonderfully for keeping warm without other heat sources. Just watch for children and elderly who might not realize it is too hot for their skin.
    3) Keep fire extinguishers/buckets of water or sand handy if using any open flame such as a candle.
    4) Keep a corded phone in the house. Landlines work even when the power goes out, but you must have a corded phone. Wireless handsets don’t work.
    5) A gas oven usually still works when the power is out (for heat). However, ensure that no pets or children can get close to the oven, and that you have functional carbon monoxide detectors.