A Checklist to Keep the Family Safe in Winter Storms

Here’s how to keep the family prepared, safe, and even cozy during powerful winter storms.

As a New Englander, I’m familiar with the power of fierce winter storms. There’s no denying their beauty – or their potential for damage and harm.

Even when they’re not dangerous, blizzards and snow days create havoc with schedules, commuting and childcare.

But they can also bring families together for some of the coziest days of the year. 

A key to dealing with stormy days – and even enjoying them – is preparing for the worst. This includes power and water outages, and not being able to drive on the roads.

Family safety comes first.

Many preparedness experts suggest a family communications plan in case of emergencies. This is an excellent idea.

Your family may not be together when a winter storm hits, so it is important to know how you will contact one another in an emergency, and how you will get back together when it is safe to travel again. A storm may overwhelm landline and cellular phone systems. You may need to use text messaging or social media to communicate with family and friends.

Keep important numbers written down in your wallet in case you cannot access the contact list in your phone. For more information, including a sample household communications plan, visit www.ready.gov/make-a-pla

Stay Informed

The Red Cross has a free app with real-time severe weather alerts and safety information. Text GETEMERGENCY to 90999 or search “Red Cross Emergency” in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Get a radio with NOAA Weather Radio, if possible (as noted below).

Plan for a 3-Day Disruption

While a powerful winter storm may pass in less than 24 hours, cleaning up and restoring services like power and water can take days.

Don’t just plan for the day of the storm; stock up for at least three days.

 Checklist + Shopping List for a Winter Storm

This is a modified version of a list from the American Red Cross. It includes a few extra items and gear suggestions.

__ Prescription and other Medications (7-day supply) and other medical items (hearing aids with extra batteries, glasses, contact lenses, syringes, etc.)

__ Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)

__ Pet food & other required pet supplies

__ Sanitation and personal hygiene items.

__ Toilet paper. Stock up.

__ Water —at least a 3-day supply; one gallon per person per day.

__Food—at least a 3-day supply of non-perishable, easy-to-prepare food. Here’s a list from Real Simple of “Best Foods to Stockpile for an Emergency.”

__Flashlight. The Energizer LED 2 in 1 handheld flashlight has a built in area light (handy), comes with batteries and is highly rated on Amazon. 

__ Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible) The Mightyhand is top-rated on Amazon and less than $25.

__ Extra batteries

__ First aid kit. The Dixie EMS First Responder kit is $40 and fully stocked. But what you need are basics like a variety of bandages, latex gloves, antibiotic cream, gauze and medical tape. Here’s how to make your first aid kit from the Red Cross.

__ Cell phone with chargers. An external cell phone battery is great, but make sure it’s fully charged before the power goes out. The $29  Amazon portable power bank can fully recharge a smartphone nine times on a single charge. Don’t forget that you can always recharge a cell phone from the car battery in a pinch.

__ Warm coats, gloves or mittens, hats, boots and other warm clothing ready to go for everyone.

__ Sleeping bags and extra blankets for everyone. 

__ Fill your car’s tank with gas, even if you’re not planning on driving anywhere.

__ Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)

__ Family and emergency contact information. Many people only have this information on their smartphones. What happens when the battery dies? Write it down and keep it someplace safe. 

__ Extra cash

__ Tools/supplies for securing your home

__ Sand, rock salt or non-clumping kitty litter to make walkways and steps less slippery

__ Backup heating methods

There are many checklists available online to help prepare for winter storms. The CDC and Ready.gov have useful lists for winter storm preparedness that include reminders for easy-to-overlook items, like medications, pet food and baby supplies.

FEMA has an exhaustive guide to Winter Preparedness. Download “How to Prepare for a Winter Storm” here.

Heating the House if the Power Goes Out

It’s important to know how your home is heated. If you have a natural gas or oil furnace, find out if it still works without electricity, or if it has a pilot light that needs to be lit manually.

If your home heating system doesn’t work without electricity, consider what kind of temporary alternate heating source might work for you.

NEVER use generators, outdoor heating or cooking equipment, such as a grill, camp stove, or a gasoline or propane heater, indoors. Carbon monoxide is a danger for those heat sources. NEVER heat a home with a cook stove.

Many people use kerosene space heaters. I prefer the Mr. Heater Portable Radiant Propane Heater.

Maintain ventilation when using kerosene or propane heaters to avoid carbon monoxide build-up.

Refuel kerosene heaters outside and keep them, at least, three feet from flammable objects

Conserve fuel, if necessary, by keeping your residence cooler than normal. Temporarily close off heat to some rooms.

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).

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