Yesterday we tackled warm clothing and safe boots, but thorough winter preparedness includes places where you spend a lot of time, including your home and automobile. Preparedness is about knowledge as much as it is about having the proper equipment. Remembering some common sense directives can be the difference between getting to your destination safely and needing to be pulled out of a ditch.
It may seem like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t hurt to check the forecast and traffic reports before you head out on snow-covered roads. The best way to avoid accidents is to be nowhere near them! As we head into the icy season, it’s a good idea to make sure your car’s fluids are at proper levels, including topping off the washer fluid, making sure to choose a variety that won’t freeze in the cold. Check the wipers to make sure they’re in good condition. Counterintuitively, it’s also a big help to have a functioning air conditioner, as this device removes humidity from the air inside your car, which can help defog the windows for better visibility.
Remember to use the brakes gently, accelerate slowly, make turns carefully, and leave a lot of space between you and, well, anything else. If you can come to a slow roll instead of stopping completely (such as when approaching a light about to turn green), that may be safer and easier than coming to an abrupt stop and then trying to get started again. There is wisdom in going as slowly as is safe and practical; don’t be like the drivers in this Utah storm:
Cars Sliding & Crashing in Utah, posted by James Morgan
It’s worth considering stocking the car with some extra supplies, too. Harsh conditions make for more emergencies, and it’s better to have some basic items on hand than to depend upon the kindness (and winter preparedness!) of strangers. The following items can be kept in a sturdy canvas bag and tossed in the trunk next to the spare tire, just in case:
- Jumper cables or portable jumpstarter
- Tow rope or chain
- Fix-a-Flat canister (as a last resort)
- Spare fuses
- First-aid kit
- Flashlight and batteries
- A few quarts of oil
- Duct tape
- Cell phone charger
- Energy bars
- Extra wool socks and gloves
- A thick blanket or sleeping bag
- Tool kit or multitool
Extra supplies are also a good idea to keep on hand at home. They can come in handy during winter storms or anytime it’s just too cold and icy to go out. Have a supply of water in case the pipes freeze; a gallon or two per person per day, and it can be rotated to stay fresh. Canned goods and boxed non-perishables, perhaps stored in a way that makes it easier to use the oldest ones first, will last a good long time. Consider buying a few extra on each shopping trip if possible, and make sure to buy the ones you like to eat. If all you have left during that big storm is the three-year-old, outdated can of pork and beans that nobody likes, it’s going to really affect morale.
As part of long term winter preparedness, you may want to consider adding insulation or upgrading to more efficient windows, but when you’re facing down an ice storm and the power goes out, you have to make do with what you already have. Just like dressing in layers can keep you warmer, dressing your house in layers can keep the heat inside for longer. If your central heat is broken, consider consolidating activities into one central room. If you have a basement, it may be the easiest room to keep warm. Hanging blankets in front of cold windows and rolling up towels to seal out drafts underneath doors will help, and if times are desperate, think outside the box: use the spare mattress from the guest room to make a tiny, well-insulated “fort.” More blankets on the floor can slow heat loss from below.
It goes without saying, but be extremely careful with heat sources. Even lighting a candle can add a surprising amount of warmth to a small room, but don’t fall asleep while it’s lit or put it near anything flammable, such as the blankets hanging over the windows. If you use anything larger than a candle, such as a kerosene heater, make sure there is proper ventilation, and never use a grill or charcoal briquettes indoors. One old-timey way to keep warm is to heat stones in the oven to put under a blanket with you. Some stones may explode and cause injury if heated, so it might be worth planning ahead and finding a useful chunk of soapstone for this purpose, as demonstrated in the video below.
Survival Heat: Soapstone Warmers, by engineer775
Above all, stay safe and use common sense. Winter preparedness is about planning for the worst, but also knowing how to get through the unexpected, safely.