Foolproof Winter Storm Tips for a Safer Season

ASecureLife is headquartered in Utah, a state that likes to brag about having the “Greatest Snow on Earth,” so we know all about winter storms (in fact, one’s starting up at this very moment). We know that snow isn’t always great, especially when a blizzard turns the highway into an unscheduled performance of the Ice Capades.

Read on to learn how to stay safe when a lovely winter wonderland suddenly mutates into a brutal snowpocalypse.

Winter storm safety at home

Winter storm preparedness is a virtue. Be prepared and take these steps to make sure your home is snowstorm-ready before winter comes:

  • Prepare a disaster preparedness plan for your home and be sure that everyone in the household knows the list’s location.
  • Create a family communication plan so when winter weather turns bad, you can all find each other.
  • Pack a 72-hour emergency kit. Read our guide on what to include in your survival kit.
  • Keep your pantry stocked with enough canned goods and bottled water for each person to get through a few days without access to the grocery store.
  • Purchase rock salt or a similar product to melt ice on walkways.
  • Pour sand or even kitty litter on slippery surfaces to improve traction if your vehicle is stuck.
  • Arm yourself with a snow shovel or more robust snow removal equipment like a snow blower if you need it. If you have a snowblower, be sure to fuel and oil it properly so it’s ready to go when you need it.
  • Stock up on dry wood if you have a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
  • Keep tons of blankets and warm clothing readily available.
  • Purchase a portable generator to supply power to your home during outages caused by severe weather.
  • Don’t forget your furry friends! Bring pets inside and move livestock to sheltered areas with fresh drinking water.

When the storm finally comes, we have just one tip:

Stay indoors!

Winter Storm Safety Tips

Blizzard safety

A blizzard isn’t just a delicious ice cream treat—it’s also a potentially lethal mixture of strong winds and heavy snowfall that can last for several hours. In 2016, just one blizzard killed almost 40 people across a dozen states.1 Outside is the last place you want to be when a blizzard hits, so stay inside and wait it out (this will be a recurring theme throughout this article).

  • Remain indoors and dress warmly.
  • Eat and drink regularly to sustain your body’s ability to produce its own heat.
  • Keep dry and change wet clothing to stay warm.
  • Stay in one room and block off other rooms to conserve energy and heat.
  • Let sunlight in during the day but cover the windows at night.

Why are house fires more common in the winter months?

It’s like a living Christmas card: you’re baking gingerbread cookies, sitting by your space heater and/or crackling fire, admiring your holiday lights, and inhaling the sweet aroma from your vanilla candles. Life couldn’t be cozier.

But when you consider that all of these holiday delights are fire hazards, it’s easy to see why house fires are so common during the winter.  

Here are a few dos and don’ts to bear in mind if you want to stay toasty without going up in smoke:

Pro Bullet Do
  • Pro BulletUnplug electrical devices when not in use, especially space heaters.
  • Pro BulletKeep your fire extinguishers in good working order and somewhere easily accessible.
Con Bullet Don't
  • Con BulletLeave open flames unattended. Candles, fires, anything suited to roast chestnuts—supervise them closely, especially if there are children in the home.
  • Con BulletPlace inflammable items close to heat sources or open flames.

Using space heaters safely

Space heaters can warm up those odd nooks and crannies in the house, but if you don’t use them correctly they can be very dangerous. It’s important to always turn off your space heater and unplug it when you’re not in the room. Keep your space heater three or more feet away from any objects, including the walls, to reduce the risk of fire or heat damage.

Never use an extension cord with a space heater—the cord could potentially melt and start a fire.

Two more pro tips: If you have a gas space heater, turn on the gas after you strike your match. And never use your gas oven as a space heater—it increases the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

Fireplace safety tips

When a snowstorm hits, you’ll want to stay inside and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa by the fire, so it’s important to keep your chimney and fireplace safe and clean. Here's how to keep your hearth healthy:

  • Do not use the fireplace for long periods of time. We recommend that you limit fires to less than five hours.
  • Keep glass fireplace doors open so air can flow upwards to cool the chimney.
  • Close the screens to prevent sparks from leaving the fireplace.
  • Sweep out ash to prevent buildup. Chim chiminey, chim chiminey, chim chim cher-ee!
  • Let fireplace coals sit for a minimum of three days before cleaning up the ash.
  • Don’t use a vacuum to clean up ash because live embers could still be in the ash.
  • When you’re regularly using the fireplace, clean the area where the logs burn once a week. Leave some ash in this area while using the fireplace, but once you’re finished using the fireplace for the winter, clean all of the ash out.

What are some snow shoveling safety tips?

Few things are more beautiful than falling snow . . . and few things are more dangerous than shoveling it. One study estimates that shoveling snow causes 11,500 injuries and medical emergencies in the US every year.2 It’s easy to throw your back out or slip on ice while shoveling snow, so take the following precautions to keep yourself from joining the ranks of the winter wounded:

  • Bundle up.
  • Use a shovel that’s comfortable for you.
  • Warm up and stretch before you begin.
  • Wear winter boots with grippy soles to keep your feet warm and to prevent slipping.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.
  • Shovel freshly fallen snow (wet, packed down snow is more difficult).
  • Push the shovel instead of lifting it (it’s easier on your back).
  • When you do need to lift the shovel, use your legs and keep your back straight.
  • Watch for signs of a heart attack, such as lightheadedness, shortness of breath, dizziness, or tightness or burning in chest, arms, back, or neck.

If you need to stop, STOP! Don’t be a hero. Listen to your body and get medical help if necessary.

Getting help with snow removal

Many cities provide snow removal assistance for the elderly and disabled. If you are over a certain age (usually around 60) and/or physically unable to shovel your own snow, you may be able to take advantage of these programs. Contact your city’s elder services department to learn more. And if you’re a strong, young whippersnapper, consider volunteering—someday you might be the one who needs help.

What are some driving tips for winter storms?

The best winter driving tip we can offer is don’t drive unless you absolutely have to. We know that’s not always possible (um, more snow days for adults, please?), so here are some things to bear in mind when the call of duty forces you to venture out on snowy roads. 

Check your local weather and TV stations for up-to-date road conditions to gauge the possible threats on the road before heading out. You can also get this information through weather and road trip apps on your smartphone. As the ski patrol likes to say about avoiding avalanches, know before you go. 

Service your vehicle regularly and winterize it early in the season (before trouble strikes). Ask your mechanic to check the heater and windshield defroster, battery, brakes, brake fluid, ignition system, lights and emergency flashers, tires, exhaust, oil, radiator, and power steering fluid.

Keep an emergency vehicle kit in your car at all times, not just the winter months. Emergency essentials include a flashlight with extra batteries, a tool set, nonperishable foods, and a first aid kit. Whether you buy a ready-made kit or put one together yourself, check out our article on emergency car kits for a checklist of what should go in one.

Even if you aren’t mechanically inclined, you can easily check windshield washer fluid, tire air pressure, and fuel levels yourself.

Pick up a gallon or two of deicing fluid—it keeps your windshield from icing up.

Keep your gas filled above half a tank so you don’t get stranded on the side of the road, and if you do get stranded, you’ll have enough fuel to keep your heat running.

Tire maintenance tips for winter safety

Get winter or all-weather tires. Summer tires just won’t cut it on icy roads. In climates that bring extreme winters and extreme summers, some folks have two complete sets of tires—one for freezing cold, one for scorching heat—and rotate them throughout the year as weather dictates.  

Keep your tires properly inflated. Four, eight, sixteen—no matter how many tires you have, you need to keep them filled. Crack open that vehicle manual clogging up your glove box to see what your tire pressure should be and check your tires regularly to make sure they meet the specified level.

Temperature fluctuations will affect air pressure, so tires that appear deflated in the cold morning may return to ideal pressure levels as they warm up during the day.

Consider buying snow chains for your tires. In some snowy, mountainous regions, chains are required to travel certain roads (usually the ones that go to fun places like ski resorts, sledding hills, and grandmother’s house). We recommend that you first practice putting them on in good weather—that way you won’t have to figure it out mid-blizzard at the mouth of a snowy canyon. 

Engage your 4WD. If you have four-wheel drive, use it. But just because you have a 4WD vehicle doesn't mean you're immune from slipping, so play it safe and slow down to the speed of a one-horse open sleigh.

What should I do if I get stranded on the road?

  • Stay by your vehicle unless you know exactly where you are. You don’t want to get lost on foot in winter conditions.
  • Attract attention by lighting flares at each end of your vehicle. Keep them a safe distance away.
  • Check to see if the exhaust pipe is blocked. If not, run your engine and heater for about 10 minutes every hour or so. If the tailpipe is blocked, try to clear it out before running your heater—you don’t want to run the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Layer on warm clothes and blankets to stay warm.
  • Open a window slightly so heavy snow and ice don’t seal you inside the vehicle.
  • Keep a stash of hard candy in the car so you can suck on it to keep your mouth moist while you wait for help to arrive.
  • Move around at least once an hour inside your car. Try clapping your hands or stomping your feet.

Winter safety tips outside the home

OK, maybe you didn’t hear the winter storm warnings, maybe you think you’re big and tough enough to ignore them, or maybe it’s just a bit of bad luck, but somehow you got caught outside during an abominable snowstorm. It’s a worst-case scenario, but here are some measures you can take to stay safe when Jack Frost starts nipping at a lot more than just your nose. 

  • If possible, walk to shelter to protect yourself from extreme winds and freezing rain, but only if the shelter is nearby. The windchill factor during winter storms can drop temperatures to fatally low levels.
  • If you are wet, try to get dry by changing clothes if you have a spare set or lighting a small fire. Do not wait to deal with wet clothes—hypothermia can set in quickly during cold, wet weather.
  • Keep your skin covered to prevent frostbite. Frostbite can numb your skin, so it sneaks up on you if you aren’t careful.
  • Fires can provide warmth and dry your clothing. You can also use a fire to signal for help.
  • Do not eat snow, as it will lower your body temperature and increase the risk of hypothermia. Instead, find a container to put snow in and then place the container inside your coat but not directly on your skin. Once the snow melts you can drink it to stay hydrated.

In other words, we think you’ll be much happier indoors.