How to Prepare for Extreme Cold Weather According to Disaster Responders

Julie H. Case

Cheap and free tips to make surviving a winter event easier and more comfortable.

When a deep freeze swept the U.S. in 2021, it engulfed Texas, marked the first billion-dollar weather disaster of 2021, and crippled infrastructure. At the peak, 10 million were without electricity—and heat—in Texas. Meanwhile, burst pipes left many without water. The South isn’t the only place prone to disrupted infrastructure due to extreme cold weather. While the northern U.S. may be more familiar with extreme cold weather and its effects, it can still be impacted. That’s why every American should know how to prepare for extreme cold weather. Here are tips from Team Rubicon’s disaster response volunteers on preparing for extreme winter events at home or on the road. 

Prepare to Weather Extreme Cold Events at Home

While insulating doors and windows to prevent drafts—including placing rolled towels along draft lines along window sills and doors—is a good place to start your extreme cold weather preparation, the number one tip disaster relief volunteer and Team Rubicon’s Director of Operations, William Porter, offers is to have a plan.

“Make sure your house is ready to receive the cold,” says Porter. “Have backup lights and heating sources. Have adequate food and bottled water for a few days.” Having an emergency radio, batteries, and power bank on hand is helpful, too. 

Stockpile Water in Advance

Purchase and fill a sterile 5-gallon water jug with tap water for cheap, or save sealable containers—like plastic milk and juice jugs—wash them, then fill them with tap water for free. 

The CDC recommends storing, at minimum, one gallon per person per day for three days and as much as a two-week supply if you have the space. Label each container with the fill date and the words “drinking water” and store them out of direct sunlight, replacing the bottles six months after filling.

Create a Cache of Canned and Nonperishable Food

Because power outages are common in winter storms, having a stockpile of canned food on hand that can be eaten cold can go a long way. For a cheaper solution, pick up on-sale nonperishable foodstuffs to add to your stockpile. 

Canned goods, peanut butter, and dried fruits last the longest, but be sure to check expiration dates regularly. 

Ensure You Have a Working Can Opener. Or Two.

All that nonperishable food will do you no good if you don’t have a way to open the cans. Check that your can opener is in good working order before the storm. And maybe add a spare to your emergency kit. 

Plan to Cook Without Gas or Electric

Never, ever, ever use a portable grill indoors for cooking or heating. It can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. If you think you can weather the storm long enough to grill outdoors, ensure that you have extra charcoal, lighter fluid, and lighters on hand. If you’re planning to use propane, make sure to keep at least one extra tank full.

Help Prevent Pipes from Freezing

Insulate or wrap water pipes in heating tape in advance of a freeze if possible. Also, allow your faucets to run at a very low drip when the temperatures start dropping. Flowing water helps prevent freezing in pipes. 

Prepare for Extreme Cold Weather on the Road

Growing up in Michigan, every car got its winter kit in the fall: Stashed in the trunk or back of the car would be a blanket or two, a flashlight, an emergency food kit, and maybe even a shovel. Should you get caught in a blizzard or stuck on the side of the road in an ice storm, you know you’d have enough to survive. 

Create an Emergency Winter Kit for the Car

Whether you put it in the backseat or the trunk, keep an emergency kit in your car that includes blankets, a flashlight, snacks, and a first aid kit. If possible, also add hand warmers, an ice scraper, and a small shovel.

Fill Your Gas Tank Before a Winter Storm

If there’s any chance you could be stranded on the side of the road in a winter storm, it’s best to have a full tank of gas. If you need to occasionally run the vehicle to warm the interior, you’ll want to have enough gas to do so. Just be sure to crack a window if you get caught in a snowdrift to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. 

By knowing how to prepare for extreme cold weather and then following through with these cheap preparation tips, you can safeguard yourself, your home, and your community from even the worst winter storm.

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