How to Prepare for a Cold Weather Emergency

Michigan Snowfall - Prepare for Cold Waether
A pretty snowfall can become a fight for survival

Cold weather storms this time of year can be mild, lasting several hours, or severe, lasting several days. Strong winds and sub-zero low temperatures often accompany these cold-weather events. Knowing how to prepare for these events is important for your safety and the safety of your family. Here are a few things you can do to be ready for inclement weather if you live in a cold climate like Michigan.

According to FEMA, there are three phases to coping with a cold-weather disaster. These are Prepare, Survive, and Recover.

Preparing for a Cold Weather Emergency

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In preparation for a storm or extreme cold, the first thing you can do is gather supplies. The following are some essential (and a couple non-essential) items you might want to stock up on before the next cold front hits.

#1 First Aid Kit

A first aid kit is absolutely essential, especially if the roads are bad and emergency help cannot reach you. Have a first aid manual available, and consider taking a first aid certification course, such as the one offered by the American Red Cross.

#2 Hand crank flashlight with NOAA radio and USB port

The great thing about these devices is that you will be able to get emergency notifications and, if the power goes out, it will provide you with light and a way to charge your cell phone. It also doesn’t hurt to have a couple of extra LED flashlights with 5-year batteries.

#3 Drinkable and Utility Water

Keep at least a 3 day supply of water, 1 gallon per person per day. Also, keep a supply or source of utility water for flushing toilets or washing. You can save a supply by filling a bathtub. A water filter or purification method can be substituted if you have a source of water nearby and a way to melt it if it’s frozen.

#4 Prepared Food, Inventory Your Pantry

Keep a week’s supply of food that is easy to store and prepare. Make sure you have a manual can opener handy.

MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) were originally developed for the military but are now available in many varieties designed for civilian use. They come dehydrated in pouches—add hot water. If you cannot boil water, you can also make them with cold water. Although this isn’t particularly appealing, at least you won’t go hungry!

#5 Candles/Cans of Sterno Fuel

These provide light and enough heat to boil water or warm up some food. Also, be sure to have a box of dry matches or a couple of lighters. If you have outdoor skills, consider getting a small camp stove powered with white gas. If the power goes out, you will still be able to cook. Remember always to vent the area when cooking with gas stoves.

Cold Weather Emergency
Having a Camp Stove or Sterno is Helpful in an Emergency

Other Items to Survive a Cold weather emergency

Fuel, if you have a fireplace, wood stove, or pellet stove, make sure that you have plenty of fuel to burn. If the electricity goes out, this is a great way to stay warm.

Medication. It would help if you always had at least a week’s supply of any prescription medication you use.

Extra diapers and formula if you have a baby.

Extra pet food if you have a pet.

Adequate cold-weather gear and bedding. We’re from Michigan, so we should already have this covered! Use sleeping bags if you have them for extra warmth and comfort.

Salt or some other product to melt ice. It’s useful to have road salt to keep from slipping on your walkways or driveways when it’s time to dig out.

Snow shovel. Go for one of the more expensive ergonomic shovels. Trust me, it’s a good investment, and your lower back will thank you for it later!

Comfort Items

  • Craft beer. What better to accompany your MREs when the storm is raging outside!
  • Games and books. If the power goes out, you’ll need something to do besides sleep.

It’s best to supply yourself adequately so you will not have to drive. In addition to stocking up on essential items, you should develop a communications plan with your family, including those who do not live in your area. If you have a household generator, make sure it’s in working order and ensure the batteries in your smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are fresh. Finally, bring pets indoors to protect them from the storm.

During the Cold Weather Emergency

Power Outage With Candlelight

FEMA recommends that you stay inside during the storm and stay off the roads. Limit your outdoor exposure as much as you can. If you really do need to go outdoors, make sure you’re properly clothed, layering and covering as much of your skin as possible.

In order to avoid freezing pipes, do not lower your thermostat at night during extreme cold snaps and keep your taps dripping. Although it may cost a little more to keep your home warmer, it’s a lot less expensive than repairing frozen pipes and the water damage that can accompany them.

If the heat goes out, close off unused rooms and turn on all of your taps so that they drip. If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, camp out in that room to stay warm. In addition, never heat your home with a grill, propane heater, camp stove, or your kitchen range. If you do so, you risk carbon monoxide poisoning.

After the Cold Weather Emergency

Snow Shovel in the Snow - Cold Weather Emergency
Cleaning up after a snow storm is the worst part.

If your heat or electricity has gone out for an extended period of time, consider going to a friend’s or relative’s house (who has power), a hotel, or a community shelter. If the temperature is consistently well below freezing, move the contents of your refrigerator and freezer to a garage or unheated service porch to keep the food from going bad.

Use extra caution when shoveling snow. Push rather than lifting the snow, take frequent breaks (go inside and warm up), and make sure that you are properly clothed. Also, take careful note of symptoms of frostbite.

Stay Safe Before and After a Cold Weather Emergency

Keep these preparedness steps in mind when the next cold front hits. Doing so will help ensure you and your loved ones stay safe and comfortable, even when the weather takes a turn for the worse. You can find additional information about preparing for winter storms from the Department of Homeland Security and RedCross.org.


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Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: photojo2005, Simon L. and jmannm8400


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