How to Prepare for a Winter Snow Storm

"Snow" by Marc Davison is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

On Feb. 22, a sudden and severe snowstorm hit Portland, Ore. They received 10.8 inches of snow, their second-heaviest snowfall in a single day on record, causing long-standing traffic backups. Drivers were stuck in traffic on the streets and highways for hours, some for over seven hours. This led some motorists to abandon their cars, later requiring the city of Portland to tow 349 vehicles with an additional 230 canceled towings, meaning the driver retrieved the car before the tow truck arrived. 

Shortly after, the same storm moved south towards California with freezing temperatures and downpours of snow. Intermittent snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has left residents trapped in more than 100 inches of snow. This prompted the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, to declare a state of emergency in 13 counties on March 1. Crews are working to clear roads, restore power and relocate people to evacuation facilities. 

Major snowstorms like these are becoming increasingly common due to climate change. Winters are becoming shorter and warmer, but more snowfall is expected due to an increase in water being evaporated into the atmosphere, causing more precipitation. Research is also currently being done on the connection between an increase in frigid polar air and melting ice in the Arctic. The combination of increased polar air and downpours of snow creates dangerous weather conditions you should be prepared for. 

The best way to stay warm and safe during a winter storm is by planning ahead for power outages, icy roads and cold temperatures. At home, you should do the following:

  • Insulate exterior water lines to prevent the water from freezing.
  • Repair roof leaks and cut away branches that could fall.
  • Insulate your walls and attic.
  • Have a source of heat, but never use a cooking stove or oven to heat your home, as this could cause fires and carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Have a multipurpose, dry-chemical fire extinguisher to prevent fires from a heat source.

If you have a fireplace, wood stove or kerosene heater, be sure to install a smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector that you test regularly. 

It is also important to have the necessary emergency supplies prior to a winter storm as stores may be closed or unreachable:

  • Prepare food, water and medicine in advance.
  • Have enough warm clothing, like hats, gloves and blankets.
  • Set aside a gallon of drinking water per person per day in case you lose access to drinking water.
  • Keep personal, financial and medical documents safe and easily accessible.
  • Have a shovel and ice-melting products. 

While it is not advised to travel during extreme weather, if you must, make sure you have an emergency kit for your car, including the following:

  • Cell phone, portable charger and extra batteries
  • Water and food
  • First aid kit
  • Tow chains and tire chains
  • Emergency flags, flares or signs 
  • Waterproof matches 
  • Flashlight 

Learning skills like first aid, CPR, and how to spot and treat frostbite or hypothermia can save lives if emergency services are delayed. Regardless of an incoming storm, following these tips now can prepare you in the event of an emergency.