I live in Georgia. If you’re not aware of weather patterns down here, in the spring, summer and fall, it’s hot. We are usually sweating on Halloween — no joke.
Of course in winter, it gets cold — but not typically too cold for too long. The temperature will drop below freezing for a few days at a time, but on average it’s not too bad.
We have had our fair share of unexpected winter weather that threw then entire state into a state of panic.
How Important is Winter Preparedness?
In March of 1993, we were hit with an actual blizzard! Where I lived, we saw snow depths of around 10″. Now, I know that doesn’t seem like much to you Northerners. Surely, you’re measuring in feet instead of inches.
But down here, it’s a big deal. I was 19 years old, and I remember it like it was yesterday. We had to shovel snow from our driveway just to get the truck out to get to the station a few miles away that sold kerosene. When we got there, the line of cars was literally a mile or more long.
My dad’s truck had a camper shell, so my nephew and I rode in the back while mom and dad were in the front. When we got to that line, dad told us to take the fuel tank (which was actually an old 6 gallon metal gas tank for a boat similar to this one) and go stand in line at the kerosene pump — that line was about 20 people deep.
By the time we got the kerosene, mom and dad had made it to the station. We paid for the kerosene, got right into the truck, and went back home to fill the kerosene heater and stay warm! The power was out for us for about 6 days.
You would think that would be a hard enough hit for the state to be ready if something like that should happen again. But lo and behold, January of 2014 rolls around and BOOM — 3 whole inches of snow shut down the city of Atlanta.
It was a total nightmare.
There was even a prediction of snow! Kids were so happy to know they would probably be getting a snow day or two to stay out of school, sleep in, ride trash can lids down hills like sleds, and have snowball fights… but that wasn’t exactly what happened.
In areas where they thought there would be a “dusting” of snow, there was 3″ instead! The state is prepared for minor weather problems, but when you start talking about most of the state being shut down because of black ice on all of the roadways, they’re not equipped to handle that.
This time we had children trapped at schools — young children who have never even spent the night away from their parents. One father whose 5 year old child was stranded at school walked 6 miles just to spend the night at the school with his daughter! There were school buses trapped on the roads with children in them, cars abandoned on the interstates, big rigs stuck on the road — all unable to move.
The thing is, you can’t predict “Mother Nature”. She does what she wants, and there’s nothing you can do to stop her. The only thing you can do is be prepared for any situation. Let’s draw our focus into the importance of winter preparedness and how to be better prepared.
Winter Preparedness for Your Car
There are a few things you should always keep in your car, and there are some that are more seasonal. Whether you think there is a possibility of snow and ice or not, put them in your car. Remember the old saying, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
- Sand / Kitty Litter – If your car gets into a slick spot on the road, and you can’t move, use the sand or kitty litter to get your car unstuck. Pour it around your drive tires (the ones that actually move when you step on the gas pedal), and ease onto the gas pedal to get yourself unstuck.
- Snow Chains – Yes, even in the south! If you DO get stuck, and can get yourself unstuck, put the snow chains on the tires to get yourself home, or at least to somewhere warm and safe.
- Cell Phone Charger – You don’t want to be stuck in the snow with no way to contact your family. While you probably already have one that plugs into a car outlet, you might think of investing in a solar powered cell phone charger.
- Extra Clothing – You could use the clothing as added layers for protection against the cold, or as dry clothes to change into if your clothes get wet. Include an extra hat, scarf and gloves (and coat, if you have a spare). Be sure to include waterproof hiking boots or rain boots to protect your feet.
- Food & Water – It never hurts to keep a snack or two in your car in case of emergency. In fact, you could store a couple of homemade MREs under your seats.
- Entrenching Tool – It’s not always feasible to carry a shovel in your car, but this folding entrenching tool will do to help you shovel snow from around your tires.
Winter Preparedness for Your Home
Of course at home you have the standards — spare clothing, spare blankets, food, water, etc, but what if the power goes out? How will you keep yourself warm?
Some of you just responded with “I’d build a fire in the fireplace.” Great idea! But what about those people who don’t have a fireplace? Even if you have a fireplace, there are things you can do to be better prepared. Here are some items to have and tips to remember for your home.
- Kerosene Heater – Some might immediately disagree with this because of carbon monoxide emissions, but in an emergency situation, it’s not going to kill you. I’ve been there and done that, and I’m still alive. However, if you are concerned (and you should be), you can always get a carbon monoxide detector to alert you of danger. Also, if you have a fireplace that isn’t in use, you can put the heater in or near the fireplace and open the flue to help vent any carbon monoxide.
- Stay in one room – In order to conserve heat, it would be a good idea to keep everyone in one room (or two, if need be). Keep the door to the room closed to hold the heat in. If you’re in a room that doesn’t have an actual door, just a doorway (like a family room), hang an emergency blanket over the opening so the heat isn’t leaving the room.
- Keep Curtains Closed – Snow is pretty, yes, but opening the blinds and curtains will only allow make the air in the room colder. In fact, you may want to hang a set of insulated black out curtains over the window. You could also use bubble wrap to line your window panes with an added layer of insulation.
- Get an Emergency Radio – If the power is out in your home, you need some way of finding out what’s going on in your local area. An emergency radio will let you find out what is going on with the weather and any emergency relief efforts so you’ll have a little more peace of mind. A radio like this one would be perfect because it’s hand crank powered, tunes in AM and FM stations as well as NOAA weather stations. Plus, it’s solar powered, has a flashlight and an additional USB port to charge your cell phone.
Winter Preparedness at Your Job
If you don’t have an office, or a desk, or even a locker, this may not apply — but for those of you with any of these luxuries at work, here are a few things to keep in mind during the harsh winter months.
- Change of Clothes – Just like your car, it would help to have a spare change of clothing at work for the same reason. You can layer your clothing, or use them as dry clothes if your clothes get wet in the weather.
- Extra Cell Phone Charger – Again, you could get a solar charger, or you could get a second wall charger to keep at work.
- Blanket – In the rare chance that you might have to sleep at work, a blanket will keep you warm.
- Extra Cash – Even if it’s just $5, you might need this for vending machines. Just be sure it’s in singles and coins.
General Winter Preparedness Tips
- Bring pets/companion animals inside during winter weather. Move other animals or livestock to sheltered areas with non-frozen drinking water.
- Maintain heating equipment and chimneys by having them cleaned and inspected every year.
- Insulate pipes with insulation or newspapers and plastic and allow faucets to drip a little during cold weather to avoid freezing. Running water, even at a trickle, helps prevent pipes from freezing.
- All fuel-burning equipment should be vented to the outside and kept clear. Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to avoid build-up of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects. Always keep kerosene refill tanks outside.
- Keep multiple fire extinguishers on hand, and make sure everyone in your house knows how to use them. House fires pose an additional risk in winter months because more people turn to alternate heating sources without taking the necessary safety precautions.
- Insulate your home by installing storm windows or covering windows with plastic from the inside to keep cold air out.
- Stay indoors during the storm. If you must go outside, walk carefully on snowy, icy, walkways.
- Keep dry. Change wet clothing frequently to prevent a loss of body heat. Wet clothing loses all of its insulating value and transmits heat rapidly.
- Watch for signs of frostbite. These include loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes, and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help immediately.
- Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness, and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.
- Drive only if it is absolutely necessary. If you must drive: travel in the day; don’t travel alone; keep others informed of your schedule; stay on main roads and avoid back road shortcuts.
- Let someone know your destination, your route, and when you expect to arrive. If your car gets stuck along the way, help can be sent along your predetermined route.
- Learn how to shut off water valves (in case a pipe bursts). If the pipes freeze, remove any insulation or layers of newspapers and wrap pipes in rags. Completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they were most exposed to the cold (or where the cold was most likely to penetrate).
Stay Safe This Winter
I hope you are all safe and warm this winter season. If you get into a situation and don’t have what you need at the time, make a mental note so that you can add that to your list of things to get for the next time you are put into this situation — and trust me, you will be put into this situation again to some extent or another.