In many places across North American, there are significant weather fluctuations throughout the year. As a result, most North Americans have grown accustomed to adapting. In recent years, though, the weather has been getting more extreme as a result of global warming. We’ve seen winters marked with massive snowstorms, huge snowdrifts, severe winds and even prolonged ice storms. Environmental researchers continue to predict that the weather will only get worse in the years to come. (Hotter summers and much, much colder and snowier winters.) This makes learning to prepare for a snowstorm an essential.
When it comes to severe weather, such as snowstorms, you should do your best to take preventative measures, prepare an emergency plan, and learn how to take care of yourself and your home during the worst of these storms.
Your guide to emergency preparedness
Step 1: How can you take preventive measures during a snowstorm?
Winter storms can result in a number of disruptions, from an increase in car accidents to downed power lines or citywide blackouts to loss of heat supply. For that reason, you should always have an emergency kit both in your home and in your vehicle.
Your vehicle emergency preparedness kit should include:
- Plastic water bottles that will not break in extreme temperatures;
- A blanket;
- A spare pair of shoes or boots, and extra clothes;
- A first aid kit;
- A map;
- A whistle;
- Sand or salt to help if your vehicle is stuck;
- Windshield washer fluid in case of poor visibility;
- Jumper cables for a dead battery;
- Lights or pylons in case you pull to the side of the road.
Your home emergency preparedness kit should include:
- Non-perishable food: three-day to one-week supply, with a manual can opener;
- Water: four litres per person, per day for drinking and sanitation (more on this below);
- Phone charger, battery bank or inverter;
- Battery-powered or hand-crank radio;
- Battery-powered or hand-crank flashlight;
- Extra batteries;
- First-aid kit and medications;
- Personal toiletries and items, such as an extra pair of glasses or contact lenses as well as feminine hygiene products;
- Copy of your emergency plan, copies of important documents, such as insurance papers;
- Cash in small bills;
- Garbage bags and moist towelettes for personal sanitation;
- Seasonal clothing, sturdy footwear and an emergency blanket or sleeping bag (for each person);
- Dust masks if you live in an area that’s prone to earthquakes and/or cloth face masks;
- Plastic sheeting and duct tape (for sheltering in place);
- Camp stove and fuel (in case power supply is cut off);
- Wrench or pliers (to turn off utilities);
- Emergency cell phone with charger and back up battery;
- Soap; hand sanitizer; disinfecting wipes or solution;
- Fire extinguisher;
- Matches in a waterproof container;
- Infant formula, bottles, diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream (if applicable);
- Pet food with extra water for your pet (if applicable);
- Paper and pencil;
- Books, games, puzzles and other activities for children.
Other ways to prevent damage from extreme weather such as a snowstorm include having proper insurance coverage in case of natural disaster, and a weatherized home to protect your property from a variance of wear and tear.
Step 2: How can you prepare your home for a snowstorm or severe weather?
Step one to prepare for a snowstorm is to listen for weather alerts. If your local news or authorities are issuing warnings about a winter storm, do your best to find shelter and stay off the roads. If you must go out in a storm, be sure to dress appropriately.
Once you are home or in a warm location, start to prepare for potential power outages. If you have a generator, now is an excellent time to break it out and put it to use. Just be sure that you keep your generator outside — so the gas omissions don’t lead to potentially fatal carbon monoxide poisoning. (You should also keep the generator away from windows, for the same reason). If your generator isn’t hardwired into your home’s natural gas or propane supply, then make sure the necessary fuel is close-at-hand, should you need to top-up the generator throughout the storm.
If you don’t use a generator, start to prepare for potential power outages by collecting flashlights, head-torches and candles. If possible, make sure everyone in the family has a battery-powered torch and remember to keep matches and flammables out of reach from curious children. Consider, as well, how you will stay warm in the home should you also lose your heating source. For some, this may require you to collect and store enough wood to last a few days in the woodstove. For others, it may require collecting blankets, warm clothes and candles in one room, where everyone can gather and keep warm. Whatever you do, do not bring propane, charcoal or other BBQ or outside stoves into the home. Every year people die from carbon monoxide poisoning — an odourless, colourless gas — often from the improper use of outside stoves and BBQs.
If you anticipate losing power to your home, consider bleeding your pipes. This is a process of shutting off the main water connection to your house (from the municipality service line) and then opening up all the faucets and taps in the house to remove the remaining water. This is done to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting and causing massive flood damage to your home.
Prior to bleeding the lines, however, consider collecting the water your family will need in order to survive the duration of the storm. The standard water intake of a man is about 3.7 to 4 litres (15.5 to 16 cups) of water per day; for a woman, it’s about 2.7 to 3 litres (11.5 to 12 cups) of water per day and for a child, it’s about 2 to 2.5 litres per day.
Did you know most experts define the minimum water intake per day is 1 litre? Plus, as soon as you start to feel thirsty you are already 1% to 2% dehydrated! The impact of dehydration — even mild dehydration — includes: moodiness, dry eyes, headaches, brain fog, dizziness, muscle cramping, food cravings, fever and lack of sweat.
Ideally, a family of four preparing for 72 hours should have between 25.2 and 28.5 litres (106.5 to 120.5 cups) of water and it doesn’t take into consideration other needs, such as cooking or basic hygiene.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each person requires 7.5 to 15 litres of water per day (31.7 to 63.4 cups) to meet their drinking, basic hygiene and basic cooking needs. For a 72 hour period that’s 22.5 to 45 litres (95 to 190 cup) of water per day — or 90 to 180 litres (380 to 761 cups) for a family of four.
Here’s the good news. You can easily store up to 159 litres of water in a standard family bathtub. As you bleed your faucets, make sure you capture and dump the water into the bathtub. Add in a few bottled water additions and you should have enough to meet your family’s needs.
From there, stay up to date with the latest information and weather alerts.
Step 3: What should you do during a snowstorm?
Part of learning to prepare for a snowstorm is knowing what to do when it happens. During a snowstorm, the best thing you can do is stay home and avoid driving on the roads. If you must be outside, you should wear layers of clothing. Although you may feel obligated to maintain your property by shovelling snow, don’t overexert yourself to the point of fatigue or injury. It may be difficult to seek medical attention if roads are blocked. Do your best to check on elderly neighbours to see if they need any support through this time.
If you have a friend or family member who was outside for an extended period of time, make sure you check for signs of hypothermia or frostbite. Frostbite can result in the loss of feeling in your face, fingers or toes. If your skin is numb or is turning white, find a heated indoor location and soak your extremities in warm water. If you cannot find an indoor area, use body heat to stay warm and avoid massaging your skin.
Hypothermia occurs when there is a significant drop in body temperature. If a loved one is shivering or confused, immediately take them to a warm room and focus on heating the center of the body first. If a warm room isn’t available, continue to focus on heating their core, first, and make sure to keep them dry while wrapping them in a blanket from head to toe.
Remember, if you lose power and heat and do not have a generator, do not use your oven to heat your home. If you do have a generator, keep it and any gas-based grill outside of the home and away from open windows or doors to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Step 4: How to recover after a snowstorm
Once the snowstorm passes, it’s time to do a walk around to assess the outside perimeter of your home. Consider the amount of snow on your roof, driveways, pathways and sidewalks. Do your best to clean off any excess snow that’s collected on roof structures and along the sides of your home.
You should also remove snow from your furnace vents, gas, electric and water meters. These vents carry carbon monoxide out of your home, so if they are blocked, the result can become deadly.
Lastly, once you’ve checked your yard and removed any potentially damaging piles of snow, it’s a good time to check on your neighbours to see if they require a helping hand. After all, it’s the Canadian thing to do.