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Preparing for winter in 30 Steps

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    Preparing for winter in 30 Steps

    Winter means two entirely different things above and below the Mason-Dixon line. Below, you’re talking about highs in the 50s and snow on rare occasions. Above, you’re talking about black ice, gusty wind, and inches and inches of snow. If you’re not used to it, your first real winter can be disconcerting — take it from a native Californian who moved to New York. How do you prepare? What’s an ice scraper? How are snow boots different from regular winter boots?

    Preparing for extreme winter weather can seem overwhelming. That’s why Stacker compiled the following recommendations from the National Weather Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other government organizations, in addition to meteorologists and experts. Follow these 30 steps and you’ll be prepared for anything the weather throws at you: freezing rain, sleet, snow, even full-on blizzard conditions. Once you have a good pair of gloves, snow tires, and an emergency plan, the weather report doesn’t seem so dreadful after all.

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    #1. If you don’t have one already, make an emergency plan with your family

    First and foremost, experts recommend that everyone develop an emergency plan — regardless of the climate in which you live. According to the Department of Homeland Security, your plan should cover where you should evacuate in case of emergency, where you will find shelter if you can’t make it home, and how you will communicate with your family.  

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    #2. Learn the difference between the four major winter weather warnings

    The National Weather Service could issue a Winter Weather Advisory, a Winter Storm Watch, or a Winter Storm Warning, depending on the severity of the storm. Each warning merits a different reaction. For example, a Winter Weather Advisory simply makes citizens aware of potentially hazardous conditions, while a Winter Storm Warning often coincides with school being canceled and offices being closed for the day.

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    #3. Pack your Go Bag

    As the name implies, a Go Bag contains everything you would need to leave the house in an emergency: copies of all your important documents, an extra set of keys, cash, bottled water, nonperishable food, medications, a first aid kit, a flashlight, and toiletries.

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    #4. Make sure you have a warm coat

    Just any old parka won’t do. For a coat that’s warm enough to keep you toasty in below freezing temperatures, you’ll want to go with something with a weatherproof exterior and down or microfiber insulation.

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    #5. Get insulated winter boots with good traction

    Winter weather conditions can make walking outside treacherous. Stay on your feet with a pair of boots with rubber soles with plenty of traction, waterproof uppers, and a toasty warm lining. L.L. Bean and Sorel are two popular brands.

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    #6. Purchase weather-proof gloves

    If your extremities feel cold, the rest of your body will feel cold, so don’t skimp on the gloves. Opt for gloves made of synthetic material, as they tend to be more water-resistant and windproof than gloves made from natural fibers like cotton or wool.  

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    #7. Layer Up

    It’s not all about the outer layers: What goes under your clothes matters, too. Stock up on long underwear, wool socks, fleece-lined tights, and lightweight jackets you can wear underneath your coat.

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    #8. Get a warm hat, scarf, and other winter accessories

    Complete your selection of blizzard-proof clothing with a cozy hat, scarf, or cowl and anything else you need to stay warm.

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    #9. Create an emergency supply kit

    Experts recommend keeping enough supplies in your home to allow you to survive on your own for a full week in case of emergency. Your emergency supply kit should include flashlights, a battery-operated AM/FM radio, extra batteries, a whistle, iodine tablets, toiletries, a first aid kit, and any medications you take regularly.

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    #10. Prepare a three-day supply of food

    Keep enough nonperishable food to last for at least three days in the event of a power outage. Try to include foods that are high in both calories and nutrients to prevent malnourishment.

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    #11. Prepare a three-day supply of water in gallon jugs

    Having enough food won’t matter if you don’t have a supply of clean, fresh water. In an emergency, tap water may no longer be safe to drink. Store at least one gallon of water per day per person or pet in clean jugs to ensure that you stay hydrated.

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    #12. Keep rock salt on hand

    Icy, slippery walkways can be just as dangerous as snow drifts. Prevent accidents from happening by salting any steps, sidewalks, or other walking paths with rock salt, which prevents ice crystals from forming.

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    #13. Buy a bag of sand

    If you live in a climate that routinely dips below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, rock salt may not be the most effective choice for managing slippery surfaces. Salt actually stops working at around 10 degrees. In extreme cold, sand is actually your best bet. Sprinkle it all over ice and snow to create friction that allows you to walk safely across the surface.

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    #14. Get a solid snow shovel

    Though shovels come in all shapes and sizes (from 18 to 30 inches wide), the best one is one you can easily handle. Make sure you can easily lift it and take the weight of the snow into consideration.

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    #15. If you drive, get an ice scraper for your car

    You can use commercial de-icing sprays or saltwater solution to melt ice off the windshield, but it’s best to keep an ice scraper on hand in case you don’t have other supplies. Use short, powerful strokes to chip the ice off the glass.

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    #16. Buy winter tires

    Start thinking about preparing your car for winter in the fall. Ask your mechanic about which snow tires or winter tire covers would work best for your car. Though chains were once a popular choice, experts say that you no longer need them on most roads.

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    #17. Winterize your car

    Schedule an inspection with your mechanic before the first storm of the season and ask him or her to check your battery, brakes, antifreeze, windshield wipers, washer fluid, ignition system, thermostat, lights, exhaust system and oil level. It’s always a good idea to keep an emergency kit in your car, too.

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    #18. Always keep your gas tank at least half full

    Follow the Boy Scout motto — “be prepared” — and ensure that you have a sufficient amount of fuel in your car at all times. In addition to keeping your car ready to drive anywhere in the event of an emergency, a full tank also keeps the fuel lines from freezing.

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    #19. Install storm windows

    Storm windows — an additional set of windows mounted on the outside of your home — provide greater insulation and improve energy efficiency. You can also opt for plastic film insulation that you apply with a hairdryer if you don’t want to install a second set of windows.

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    #20. Block drafts beneath your doors

    Freezing winds can also sneak into your house through the cracks underneath your doors — especially in older homes. Stop the problem with weatherstripping or a DIY draft snake.

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    #21. Check your roof for leaks

    In the fall, hire a contractor to examine your roof’s structural integrity and check for any existing leaks. Heavy snowfall accumulation can cause extensive (and expensive) damage to unstable roofs.

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    23/ U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Lucy M. Quinn // Wikimedia Commons

    #22. Clean out your gutters

    This might seem like a relatively minor task, but full gutters can become a huge problem during winter storms. Clogged gutters leave no room for snowmelt or rainwater, so any additional rain, snow or sleet will eventually leak into your house. The debris also absorbs water like a sponge, getting heavier and heavier until the gutters finally fall off the roof. Blocked water in gutters can also freeze in winter storm conditions and cause even more leaks. Just clean your gutters, people.

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    #23. Check your pipes and insulation

    In extreme cold, the water pipes in your home can freeze. When water freezes, it expands, bursting pipes and leaking everywhere. Prevent this problem by installing extra insulation in basements, attics, and other crawl spaces.

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    #24. Have your chimneys cleaned and inspected yearly

    A Chimney Safety Institute of America-certified chimney sweep will inspect your chimney and fireplace for structural integrity, remove flammable buildup called creosote, and clear out any debris that may have accumulated during the year. This not only keeps you safe from fire and carbon monoxide poisoning, but also improves the efficiency of your stove or fireplace.

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    #25. Stock up on heating fuel

    If your home has a fireplace or wood-burning stove, ensure that you have enough firewood on hand to heat your home for a day or two in case of a power outage.

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    #26. Check your smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector

    Don’t be fooled by the cold weather: It’s still possible for a fire to start in the dead of winter. Carbon monoxide detectors are also critical, especially in homes with fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.


    #27. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher

    Everyone should have a small fire extinguisher on hand in case of fire, so take this opportunity to check that yours is still in good working order.

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    #28. Plan for your pets

    Human family members aren’t the only ones who will be affected by extreme weather. Consider how you will care for your pets in the event of a blizzard or storm. If you have any animals that live outside, ensure that they have easy access shelter in case you’re not able to return home in an emergency.

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    #29. Check on the elderly and anyone with limited mobility

    Older neighbors, family members with disabilities, or anyone without access to a car might need your help during severe winter weather. Let them know they can count on you during an emergency and check on them regularly.

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    #30. Download the Red Cross Emergency: Alerts app

    This app provides real-time push notification updates on severe weather conditions and other hazards in your area. It also allows you to share alerts with family and friends, check on their safety and access information about Red Cross emergency shelters.

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