Not one but two severe storms during the month of November – a month when most of us still are preparing for winter – are reminders of just how important that preparation can be, and neither of them followed the typical pattern of thunderstorms, hail and tornadoes we usually think of when we think “severe.” In Washington state, one of the worst windstorms on record left people without power for up to 10 days in the Spokane area. During Thanksgiving weekend, it was ice that left Oklahoma and some parts of other mid-America states in the dark, and without power, many were left in the cold as well.
We may have remembered to winterize the car and scheduled an annual checkup for the furnace, but we don’t usually think of winter bringing the destructive storms that snap trees, down power lines, and create cold-weather hazards. That’s why the National Weather Service calls winter storms “deceptive killers,” because the tragedies associated with them, like hypothermia and traffic deaths, are indirectly related to the weather event. The property damage may keep insurance professionals and contractors just as busy, though, and it’s a good idea for homeowners to prepare ahead for cold-weather storms.
Heavy snowfall that snarls traffic and restricts travel is a fact of like for lots of Americans, and we call that winter. But with severe incidents, the real concern is that heat, electricity and communications may be cut off for days at a time – and in recent years, that’s been the case in Kentucky, Missouri and other locations. One of the best things you can do, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s ready.gov website, is have an emergency kit so that you’re prepared to deal with falling temps and ice.
When you design your kit, plan for both home and car and make sure you have winter necessities like shovels, sand and rock salt in both locations. You can add these to a basic emergency kit that includes a flashlight, extra batteries, a first aid kit and other items you might need to use all year round. Heating options become the real concern, so a safe alternative source is key – but make sure you know how to use a kerosene heater or wood stove properly, because failing to do so creates potentially fatal risks. Remember that children and older adults are more affected by the cold, so you may want to check on neighbors or plan in advance for any necessary travel ahead of the forecast. Don’t forget pets, too!
Planning for travel is a good idea for everyone, and should be avoided during the storm event. If it seems like you can’t stay in a cold house with no power, consider that the option of a cold vehicle with no power isn’t likely to be an improvement. Try closing off rooms in the house to keep the heat in one room, and stay indoors – away from icy sidewalks that can cause falls, and wet clothes that create a greater risk for hypothermia. If an emergency arises and you must travel, let someone know so that they can account for your safe arrival at your destination and notify proper authorities if you haven’t.
Most of all, remember that sometimes, severe storms and winter storms can be the same thing. Your best bet is to know in advance to charge your phone and other electronics, identify the emergency supplies you need, and know where to find a warming center. Power outages that last a week or more – a Toronto ice storm that caused $200 million in damages in 2013 comes to mind – are likely with severe winter storms, and they impact large cities as well as rural areas. Taking steps to help you stay warm and stay connected before the storm hits keeps you, your family and your community so much safer.