If you have ever heard the terms “winter storm watch” or “winter storm warning,” there’s a high probability you’re going to experience a blizzard. All snow storms must be taken seriously, but blizzards demand extra precautionary measures.
They reduce visibility, carry extremely strong winds and bring extremely cold temperatures. Because of the risk they pose, it’s crucial to prepare in advance. With a bit of help from this guide, you’ll learn how to accurately stock an emergency preparedness kit, reinforce your home ahead of a blizzard and find the necessary emergency protocols to stay safe.
What is a blizzard?
Let’s start off with the basics. By definition, a blizzard is a winter storm that combines both snow and wind. What you probably didn’t know, however, is that a snowstorm becomes a blizzard when it features sustained wind or gusts of 35 mph or higher, along with at least three hours of snowfall. That’s according to the National Weather Service. The combination of blowing snow and strong winds results in low visibility, limiting views to a quarter mile. Blizzards are often accompanied by severe cold temperatures and heavy snowfall.
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Now, there are a few types of blizzards to keep in mind. A ground blizzard occurs when strong winds kick up loose snow that has already fallen, causing reduced visibility and high snowbanks. Meanwhile, a lake-effect blizzard originates along the coasts of large lakes. Like a typical blizzard, vapor from the lake combines with strong winds. In any case, one common factor among blizzards is that they have several distinct sounds, including strong winds, the rustling of nearby trees and the cracking of metal pipes.
Blizzards do not typically topple homes or obliterate buildings, but they are capable of freezing pipes. Frozen pipes prohibit the flow of clean water, which can limit your ability to hydrate, clean and bathe. This can sometimes be covered under homeowner’s insurance, but not always.
More serious, however, is that blizzards have been known to cause hypothermia and frostbite. Driving or spending time outside during whiteout conditions is highly inadvisable, as the potential to crash or sustain injury is its peak.
Levels of a Blizzard
There is currently no uniformly accepted blizzard measuring scale available. However, some meteorologists use the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). According to this scale, snowstorms are classified as follows:
Category 1: NESIS Values 1 – 2.49
Category one snowstorms are described as “notable.” Widespread areas receive at least four-inch accumulations while small, isolated pockets receive 10 inches of snow.
Category 2: NESIS Values 2.5 – 3.99
These significant storms bring snowfall totals of more than 10 inches to large areas. Smaller areas receive 20 inches of snow or more.
Category 3: NESIS Values 4.0 – 5.99
These snowstorms are considered “major,” as more people are affected. Widespread areas receive 10 inches of snowfall while isolated pockets get up to 20 inches of snowfall or more.
Category 4: NESIS Values 6.0 – 9.99
Category four storms are crippling. Huge areas experience at least 10 inches of snowfall, while large areas get at least 20 inches of snowfall or more.
Category 5: 10.0 and above
These extreme snowstorms are rare. Snowfall totals of 20 inches or more span massive areas, affecting upwards of 60 million residents across the northeast. One such case is the Superstorm of 1993.
Prep an Emergency Kit for a Blizzard
It’s important to prepare for a potential blizzard before the winter season hits. Prepare a blizzard emergency kit containing all the essentials to remain warm, fed, hydrated and safe. In the sections below, you’ll learn the steps you have to take in order to prepare a home and a vehicle preparedness kit – so that you’re ready for either situation.
Preparing a Blizzard Emergency Kit for Your Home
When preparing the kit for your home, there are five main factors you want to worry about. These include the following:
- Water: Collect one gallon of water per person, per day for at least three days. Use plastic containers and bottles to collect clean water for both drinking and cleaning. Avoid using glass containers, as they often shatter if they become frozen. If plastic containers freeze, place them near a fire so the water begins to melt. Place them far enough away from the flame so the plastic does not melt.
- Food: Gather enough non-perishable food items to sustain everyone in your party for a minimum of three days. Dried foods such as crackers, nuts, raisins, apricots and granola bars require no preparation and little to no cleanup. Canned foods like soups, ravioli, beans or chili are ideal, as you can cook them quickly on a stove top or gas grill if your home loses power. Purchase fresh fruits prior to a storm, but make sure to eat those first, as they are the most likely to spoil. High-calorie foods like peanut butter or almond butter pair nicely with fruit (like apples) and prolong your food supply.
- Tools: Include a few essential tools and supplies, such as a battery-operated flashlight and extra batteries. Also, keep a manual can opener, lighters and matches readily available. Firewood, lighter fluid, extra lanterns, blankets and warm clothes are essential to remain warm if there is no power. It’s important to have a basic first-aid kit as well as hand warmers, thick gloves and socks.
- Medication: Don’t forget to gather any prescription medications, cookware, cutlery and cleaning supplies to add to the kit.
- Miscellaneous: Paper towels and garbage bags aid the cleanup process and are part of a well-stocked blizzard emergency kit. Additional items to add include cash, important documents placed in protective sleeves, a fire extinguisher, an axe and other hand tools.
Preparing a Blizzard Emergency Kit for Your Vehicle
If you live in an area where it frequently snows, you are susceptible to a blizzard during the winter season. Light snowfall can turn into a major snowstorm in a relatively short amount of time. If you are caught in a fast-moving storm while in your vehicle, an emergency kit can help keep you safe. And while you won’t be able to prepare as many items as for your home kit, the following recommendations are key.
Keep a shovel in the storage area of your vehicle, such as your trunk. If your vehicle becomes trapped in accumulating the snow, you’ll need to dig out your tires to continue driving. You will also need a windshield scraper and small broom to keep your windows from completely freezing over. Keep a water-proof container in your storage area as well, filled with the following supplies:
- A flashlight and extra batteries
- An extra heavy blanket
- A winter jacket
- Cat litter (to give your tires traction)
- Jumper cables
- A first-aid kit
- Non-perishable food items, like granola bars or trail mix
Include a pair of warm boots and a hat in your emergency kit. A battery-operated radio also comes in handy, along with a pocket knife, tow rope, flares, a whistle and a portable cell phone charger. If you know you are going to be out while it’s snowing, inform a friend or relative of your whereabouts and your intended route so you can be easily found if you are caught in a blizzard.
Keeping Informed About Emergency Protocols
When it comes to protocol, keeping informed is the best policy. Listen to your local weather broadcasts daily for any warnings or alerts. A winter storm watch means that conditions are conducive for the formation of a snowstorm. Likewise, a blizzard watch indicates favorable conditions for a blizzard to occur. Winter weather advisories alert you to the chance of three to five inches of snow falling within 12 hours. They will also cover the potential of sleet, freezing rain or blowing snow. Winter storm warnings encompass heavy snow and ice accumulation, while blizzard warnings denote blizzard conditions for a minimum of three hours.
When officials issue a watch, advisory or warning in your area, initiate your emergency protocol plan. This means gathering all of the food supplies, collecting your tools, inspecting your home for exposures and weaknesses, gathering extra warm clothes and blankets or accumulating more firewood. You know what you need, so the next step is assigning each member of your family a designated role. You can also develop a checklist of tasks for each person. With all of these steps in place, you can wait out the storm safely.
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