How to Prepare for a Winter Storm: A Comprehensive Guide

Prepare for winter storms before you're snowed in. Here's what you need to do.

Winter Storm Preparedness Starts with Your Home

It’s that time of year again, and frigid, snowy winter storms—with winter storm names of all kinds—are descending upon wide swaths of the country. Even if you’re not in the path of the polar vortex this time around, you’ll almost certainly experience severe weather at some point this winter. You need to be prepared.

The first step of winter storm preparedness is preparing for winter in general. Winterizing your home will go a long way toward preventing storm damage. Insulating your pipes and turning off outdoor faucets will prevent water damage, though remember to leave a faucet in the house just barely running overnight when the temperatures drop into extreme cold.

Preparing beforehand for winter storm damage, servicing your generator and preparing your snow blower will keep things working after a big snow dump.

Winterize Your Car

Emergency transportation is next on your winter storm checklist. Winterize your car before an emergency happens. While driving in a winter storm is inadvisable, you will need a working car if you have to evacuate or make a trip to the doctor. You should also keep a winter survival kit in your car in case you break down or get stuck in a sudden storm.

Stay Informed

Checking the forecast will let you know when to expect a winter storm. A heads-up of even a few hours offers valuable time to prepare before hunkering down. Use the opportunity to let your pets out, pull your car into the garage or do anything else that might need to be done.

Depending on your area, you may also be able to sign up for local alerts and severe weather warnings. Then you’ll get a warning text when a storm is coming. This is also helpful if you park on the street and need to plan ahead for the plow schedule. The FEMA app, along with any of these best severe weather warning apps, will give you weather alerts, too.

Install Battery Operated Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

You will still need smoke and carbon monoxide detectors if you lose power. If yours are hard-wired, be sure they also have a backup battery, and check them regularly. You never want to be without these safety features, especially during a time when you might be using a fireplace to heat your house without power.

Charge Batteries and Refill Fuel

If you lose power in a winter storm, you might need to rely on batteries for a while. Charge up your power banks so you can still use your cell phone. Refill any other fuel sources you might need, such as gas for the snow blower. If losing power is a concern, consider getting an emergency generator. Generators can be dangerous if used improperly, so learn and follow all the necessary safety precautions.

Put Together a Winter Storm Kit

It’s good to keep storm survival products and basic essentials on hand so a storm doesn’t catch you by surprise. The American Red Cross recommends stocking at least a three-day supply of non-perishable foods and water. You need one gallon of water per person per day. The Red Cross also recommends your storm kit include:

  • Flashlights;
  • Weather radio;
  • Batteries;
  • First aid and health supplies (including medications and other medical products, such as contact lenses or hearing aids);
  • Tool box or multi-tool;
  • Hand sanitizer and other hygiene products;
  • Emergency contact information for family members and local resources;
  • Ice melt products such as rock salt or kitty litter;
  • Warm clothes and heat sources.

Make an Emergency Plan with Your Family

Communication may be difficult during a winter storm. If phone lines are down, how will you contact your family? FEMA suggests creating an official emergency communication plan so everyone can stay in touch. This should include designated meeting places for different types of emergencies, as well as contact information for out-of-town family members, doctors, daycares and schools.

In its winter storm preparedness guide, FEMA provides simple, detailed worksheets for a winter storm checklist and emergency communication plan. Print them out and keep them somewhere safe. Give a copy to each member of your family.

Check Your Insurance Policy

You might not remember every little detail of your insurance policy, so it’s good to brush up on the facts. Double-check your coverage when heading into winter storm season. Storm damage, particularly flooding from melted snow, may not be covered under every policy. Follow advice from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program to get flood coverage before you need it.

Winter Storm Checklist for Pets

Keep your pets indoors for the duration of the storm. Take dogs for a potty break before the storm begins, and bring outdoor cats inside. Get microchips and updated ID tags for all pets. If a beloved animal does get out, they need to be identifiable.

The United States Ready Campaign recommends finding pet friendly hotels and emergency shelters ahead of time in case of an evacuation. It also suggests assembling an emergency pet kit with food, water, medications, records, a leash, a pet carrier, litter or other sanitary items, photos and comfort items.

Mikayla Borchert
Mikayla is an assistant editor for Family Handyman, specializing in indoor and outdoor gardening, organization and décor. She has one cat and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Minnesota. Outside of work, she likes running, skiing, hiking and tending her balcony garden.