I remember my first winter in the Shenandoah Valley. I was just out of college and moved here from Virginia Beach in October, unaware of the things I needed to be prepared for the winter ahead. When with the first snow storm the power went out, my thought was, "It will be back on in a few minutes (as was normally the case in Virginia Beach)." After a few hours, my townhouse was getting colder and I was hungry. The solution for the cold was simple - put on additional layers of clothes. But when searching the cabinets for something to eat, I realized that even though I had a nice selection of canned foods to choose from, the only can opener I owned was electric! Fortunately, the power didn't stay off long enough for me to starve or freeze. But it did leave me with the understanding that I needed to make some changes in order to get through winter without a disaster.
Winter storms are not new for people who have lived here all their lives. But the storms sometimes do catch us off-guard or unprepared. Take these steps now to be sure that you and your family are ready!
Prepare an emergency supply kit
Most of the items for a kit can be found around your home. You just need to gather them and put them in a convenient place, such as a box or duffle bag, so that they will be ready when needed. Include non-perishable food, water, a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, extra flashlights and batteries, and extra clothing and blankets for warmth. (Don't forget the non-electric can opener!) For winter storms, you'll also want to have on hand rock salt to melt ice, sand for traction, snow shovels/snow removal equipment.
Make a family emergency plan
Talk with family members in advance about what to do during a winter storm. Talk about how you will contact each other, how you will get back together, and where to go if you can't get home. An out-of-town emergency contact can help you get messages to each other if the local phone circuits are busy. Also ask about the emergency plans of places where your family spends time. Your plan needs to match theirs (such as if your school system's policy is that only a parent with photo identification can pick up a child during an emergency).
Prepare Your Home
Be sure that you have adequate insulation and seal leaks around your house to keep the warm air inside. You may need to keep a light bulb on in the crawl space or let the faucets drip to keep pipes from freezing. Make sure you know how to turn off the water valves if they do freeze and a pipe bursts. Have an alternative heat source, but carefully follow the instructions to use it safely. Never use charcoal or gas grills or camp stoves indoors! They give off toxic fumes that can injure or even kill you. If you must build a fire, do it outdoors and away from buildings; never under a carport because the sparks could catch the house on fire. Always have fire extinguishers available and teach everyone in your family to use them.
Prepare your car
Keep your gas tank mostly full during the winter. A full tank will go farther if you are stuck in traffic for a long time or if you need to leave the area. Be sure your car is in good condition, including appropriate antifreeze levels, tires with adequate tread, and snow tires or chains if necessary. Stock your trunk with an emergency supply kit, including food, water, battery-powered radio, flashlight and batteries, and blankets.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast and understand conditions that cause roads to become icy, such as freezing rain, sleet, and snow. Know the difference between a WATCH and a WARNING. If a Winter Storm WATCH is issued, keep a close eye on the weather through radio or television and avoid unnecessary travel because the conditions are right for a winter storm. If a Winter Storm WARNING is issued, the storm is either definitely coming or has already begun. Continue to listen to the radio, do not travel unless absolutely necessary, and do your best to stay safe at home.
Since you will be prepared, you can use your manual can opener to open a delicious can of soup, heat it on your camp stove outdoors, settle in to enjoy a day off with your family, and "let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."