The intensity and frequency of blizzards have increased significantly over the past decade, which increases your risk of getting unexpectedly stranded. In fact, the past few years have seen “bomb cyclones” and winter storms inundating parts of the U.S., especially the East Coast.
In this article, we’ll show you ways to survive a blizzard in the places where you’re most likely to be when they strike: at home, in your car or if you’re out in the open.
Scenario #1: At Home
You can improvise some things if you’re at home during a blizzard, but being prepared is still the best tactic. In particular, have a lot of firewood ready, assuming you have a safe place to burn it, and take note of the other staple items and things to do to make it through a blizzard.
To stay warm, stay in one room and have a heat source like a fireplace or wood-burning stove — critical items since it’s likely that the power grid will shut down. If you have a generator, use electric heaters but don’t turn on too many appliances at once to avoid overloading the generator and consuming all its fuel too quickly. Also, when using a generator, fireplace or stove, ensure that these are placed in a well-ventilated area to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. Never run a generator inside your living space!
Bundle up on clothing, put on a sweater, wool socks and a thick blanket. Stuff towels in the space under doors to keep the heat in and the cold out, let sunlight into rooms during the day and close your blinds at night, and close off any unused rooms.
Secure Your Water Supply
Stock up on clean drinking water beforehand. Ideally you should have enough water to provide each person with a gallon of drinking water per day. Have a water stockpile that will last for at least 10 days. You can drink water from the tap as well as collected snow; just be sure to process water from both sources of them first before drinking. Remember, municipal supplies will probably be compromised when the power goes out to the treatment plants.
Stock Up On Food
Stock up on MREs, canned meat, fish, vegetables and other staples that have extended shelf lives, such as beans, rice, nuts and dried fruit. Beef jerky, preserved fish, pickled vegetables, instant noodles, canned soup and powdered juice drinks are likewise good options to have around and in abundance. Don’t forget to stock food for your pets if you have any.
Prioritize eating the leftovers in your refrigerator or freezer, and cook and eat what spoils quickest. If it stays below 40(F) when the power is out, you can move food from your refrigerator to sealable containers and keep them on your porch or other secure area that’s exposed to the cold. Frozen foods can be stored this way as long as the outside temperature is below 0(F). Have easy-to-cook vegetables like potatoes, corn and carrots, along with other items you can wrap in foil and cook over a fire, or toss in a pot and boil.
Safeguard Your Plumbing
The water in your pipes can freeze when the temperature drops below freezing. Should this happen, your pipes could burst from the expanding frozen water and cost you a lot in plumbing repairs and other bills. Prevent this by wrapping your water pipes with foam insulation. You should also use non-toxic plumber’s antifreeze in any shower or bathtub drain, bathroom sink and toilet that you don’t plan to use during the emergency.
One of the worst disasters to occur during a blizzard is to have the toilet get blocked up or flood your home after the frozen water has expanded and burst the pipes. Follow these steps to “winterize” your toilet:
- Drain the water in your toilet’s tank by turning off the shutoff valve behind the toilet, then holding down the flush lever.
- Pour an entire bottle of plumber’s non-toxic antifreeze into the tank.
- You can also wrap the pipes in foam heating pads, if you still have electricity.
NOTE: DON’T use automotive antifreeze as it has ethylene-glycol, which is dangerous to pour into your septic tank. Use RV antifreeze, which has a safer formulation of propylene-glycol. Wear gloves and safety goggles when handling antifreeze.
Stay In Touch
Charge your phone and have backup batteries or powerbanks ready. When low on power, turn off extraneous connections like cellular data, bluetooth and GPS to extend your phone’s battery life. A CB or other longer-distance two-way radio can also be helpful, as most state authorities and emergency services still monitor the emergency frequency, channel 9. Should the power or mobile network go down and you lose Internet connectivity, it’s useful to have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio to get weather reports and news advisories.
Shovel Your Driveway
When the storm lets up a bit, grab a shovel and remove some of the snow on your driveway and walkways. This will make it easier for the sun to melt the snow once the blizzard passes, and you won’t have the hassle of being snowed-in and unable to get out your door.
Clear away some of the snow only when you can, you don’t have to clear it away completely and take risks unnecessarily. Don’t over-exert yourself, especially if you’re used to a sedentary lifestyle. Shovel away snow in a slow and steady pace, and don’t toss a heavy load of snow over your shoulder. Take frequent breaks, and don’t go shoveling right after a meal or after smoking; note that over-exertion from snow-shoveling has been linked to heart attacks.
Scenario #2: In Your Car
A level of preparedness is called for, not just for the winter season but in case you’re caught in your car when a blizzard hits. Should the road or highway you’re on be rendered impassable, don’t leave your car and go on foot unless the weather’s cleared up and the nearest shelter is a short distance away. Never leave the relative safety of your vehicle, especially when both the temperature and visibility have plummeted, unless it’s in an unsafe location that exposes you to additional dangers.
Check Your Battery
Be sure that your car’s battery isn’t about to run out of power, or that its contacts aren’t damaged or encrusted with rust or corrosion. You’ll need to be able to run the lights, listen to the radio for advisories and start the engine occasionally to keep warm.
Outfit Your Car
Even if there’s no storm indicated, put snow tires on your car and keep chains in the car for times when they may be appropriate. Do this to avoid slipping on icy roads and getting into a car crash.
Have a Survival Kit Ready
Assemble or purchase an emergency survival kit and stow it in your car trunk. Some of the items you’ll need for the kit are:
- Extra gloves
- Hand warmers
- Flashlight with batteries
- Jumper cables
- Tow rope, strap or chain
- Waterproof matches
- Butane lighter or firestarter
- Paracord (at least 20-foot hank)
- Road flares
- First aid kit
- Local map
Stay On The Road, Stay Put
When you’re stuck on a main road, stay there even if it’s still possible to use alternative routes. In a blizzard, visibility and driving conditions can quickly deteriorate and you could get stuck on a back road that search and rescue teams may not know about or think to check. Even if you’re driving a 4×4, once the blizzard hits it’s not advisable to go off-road or use any back roads or “shortcuts” as you’ll be more difficult to locate. Remain on roads where you’re more likely to be seen and rescued, chances are other people will be stuck on the same road that you are. Stay in your vehicle as it already offers some protection and warmth, plus it’s easier for emergency services to find a stranded car than a wandering person.
Apart from covering up with a blanket, turn on your car’s engine for about 5 minutes at a time every hour or so to run the heater. Get out only to check and clear your car’s tailpipe, as a blocked tailpipe can cause emissions to go back into your car’s cabin and you could get carbon monoxide poisoning. Open the windows a small crack to let fresh air in.
Don’t remain motionless inside your car. The cold coupled with inactivity can let hypothermia or frostbite set in. Get your blood circulation going and stomp your feet, clap and rub your hands and move around as much as you can at least once every hour.
Call For Help
Try to call 911 whenever possible and let them know of your situation and location. Don’t keep your phone on and idle if there’s no signal. Turn off your phone if there’s no network coverage, and use it on only when the signal returns and when calling for help.
Make your car easier to spot by hanging bright clothing or plastic from the windows. Turn on your hazard lights periodically, and use warning triangles or road flares. Once the snow has stopped falling, open your car’s hood to signify distress.
Scenario #3: Out In The Open
This is probably the worst place to be in during a blizzard, and should be avoided at all costs. But if SHTF and you find yourself caught outdoors, there are things you can do to survive.
Seek Or Build Shelter
Your first priority is to get out of the open and find the nearest shelter. If there’s still some visibility, look around for a house, shed, cabin or even a cave – any port in this storm. Should you be unable to find shelter within a reasonable amount of time, make your own refuge from the storm by digging a snow cave out of a snowdrift or an embankment. A pit shelter can also be made under a pine or evergreen tree. If you’re caught out on a flat plain, dig or build a trench in the snow at least four feet deep and a little longer than your height, then cover it in triangular fashion with blocks made from packed snow, or with tree branches or a tarp (if you can find them) to provide some protection from the cold.
Make A Fire And Keep It Going
Once you’ve found or made some shelter, you’ll need to make a fire. Ideally you will have a lighter, waterproof matches or other type of fire starter on your person; for the fuel, dry wood shavings, cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly, tinder cloth or laundry lint will suffice. Don’t start a fire if you don’t have the fuel to keep it going; look for dead wood, dry twigs on the ground, lichen or dead tree limbs. For twigs or branches, inspect them for wetness and use a pocket or survival knife to shave off the wet layers of wood to get to the dry inner layers of wood pulp.
Dig a hole in the snow until you reach the soil and pile your fuel there. Use your matches or fire starter to light the fire and keep it going. Remember to allow for ventilation in your shelter to prevent carbon monoxide buildup.
Get Yourself Found
The trick to surviving the blizzard in this case is to get found by search and rescue teams as soon as possible. Keeping a fire going not only keeps you warm, but the smoke and flame can be seen for miles, even more so when the storm passes. Make it easier for search and rescue teams to find you by tying a colorful article of clothing or bright-colored plastic tarp to a nearby tree. You can also form the letters “SOS” by writing them large in the snow, or spelling them out with rocks.
The chances of making it through a blizzard rise exponentially if you stay indoors. If you’re caught by a blizzard while at home, it can be very inconvenient, but waiting it out comfortably is possible if you made the necessary preparations.
Should you be in your car or out in the open, survivability will depend on the tools you have on hand, coupled with some ingenuity, quick thinking and a positive mindset. Bear in mind that even the worst blizzard is still survivable.