wikiHow to Survive a Winter Storm

Three Methods:Staying Safe if You're Caught OutsideTaking Safety Measures in Your HomePreparing for an Incoming Winter Storm

Winter snowfall can go from beautiful to deadly in a matter of hours. Whether you're at home, on the road, or camping in the wilderness, it's important to know how to keep yourself safe until the sun comes out again. Read on to learn how to survive a winter storm and get prepared for the next one that hits.

Method 1
Staying Safe if You're Caught Outside

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    Stay inside your car or tent. When the snow starts piling up and it becomes clear that you're stuck on the road or your campsite, your best bet is to stay there. Venturing out in the snow increases the mortality rate in this type of situation, since visibility is usually close to zero and the temperature and wind are unpredictable its not worth the risk. Hunker down and plan to wait out the storm.[1]
    • If you're with other people, do not send a person out for help. This is extremely risky and is not likely to end well. It's important to stay together until the storm has passed or you're rescued.
    • If you're stuck outside without a car or tent, it's imperative that you find some sort of shelter. Seek out a cave or an overhang, or look for a tarp or other materials you can use to fashion a shelter. If all else fails, build a snow cave to serve as insulation.
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    Keep warm and dry. Keep the windows rolled up or the tent flap closed while you're inside. Wrap your coat, blanket, tarp, or any other type of material you have with you around your body to stay warm and to prevent frostbite. If you're with another person, use each other's body heat, too.
    • If you're out in the wilderness, build a fire close by to keep warm and serve as a signal to attract attention.
    • If you're in the car, let the engine run with the heat on to stay warm. However, it's very important that you don't keep the engine running if the exhaust pipe clogs with snow; this could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, which is deadly.
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    Stay hydrated. This is a very important way to keep your body healthy while you're trapped. If you don't have a water supply, stay hydrated by melting snow and drinking it. Put some in a container and melt it using the fire you built or your car's heater.
    • Do not eat snow. This is harmful to the body. Melt the snow and drink it instead.[2]
    • If you have food, ration it to make it last over several days. Do not eat full meals.
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    Determine what to do when the blizzard is over. When the snow stops falling and the sun comes back out, your physical state will help you determine what comes next. You may be able to dig your way out of your car or tent or walk away. If that seems impossible, wait for help to arrive.
    • If you're on a road, you can be fairly sure help will come soon. People have survived for over a week waiting for help in the car, so sit tight.
    • If you're in the wilderness and are afraid no one will find you, you may have to hike to safety on your own. Get your bearings and set out in the direction of civilization.
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    Get medical treatment if necessary. If you or someone in your group gets hypothermia, remove cold, wet clothes immediately and use hot water bottles and warm fluids to warm up. Read How to Treat Hypothermia for detailed instructions on handling this serious condition.

Method 2
Taking Safety Measures in Your Home

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    Stay indoors as much as possible. In blizzard or white-out conditions, visibility can be very limited, even during daylight. Snowdrifts can hide familiar landmarks. Becoming lost and unable to return to shelter is a real possibility.
    • Keep warm and dry when you do go out. Wear several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing rather than one layer of heavy clothing. The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Most heat escapes the body through the top of the head and the feet, therefore always wear a hat and mittens, which are warmer than gloves.
    • Be careful to not become soaked by water or sweat – this can cause body related problems. Your skin should stay dry and moderately warm.
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    Have backup heat. Winter storms can knock out the power, and when this happens the house will quickly grow cold. Aside from having plenty of blankets around, you might want to build a fire in the fireplace to generate more heat, or use a backup generator to keep the power on.[3]
    • Never light a grill or coal stove inside the house. This could lead to carbon monoxide poisoning. Using a generator inside is also extremely dangerous.
    • Keep the family in one central location, and close the doors leading to the other rooms. This will concentrate the heat in one area, which will be easier than heating the whole house.
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    Stay fed and hydrated. Drink liquids and eat plenty of food to keep your body's energy high and prevent dehydration.
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    Shovel safely. Many heart attacks and back injuries occur when people used to a sedentary lifestyle attempt to shovel snow. It's extremely heavy work. If you don't work out regularly, see if a neighbor has a snow blower or is willing to help shovel. Take your time shoveling, take frequent rest breaks, and drink plenty of water.
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    Clear the roof. After a very heavy snowfall, you may need to clear your roof, ideally with a roof rake. Otherwise the weight of the snow may damage your house, especially flat or low-angle roofs. Be sure your air intake for the house is clear, to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. During a power outage you may not have a functioning alarm.
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    Make sure others survived the storm. When the storm has passed, and you are safe, check on your neighbors, especially the elderly. Check your property for damage and repair anything dangerous. Stay aware of the possibility of a second wave storm.
    • Help clean up. If the storm has left snow, shovel your sidewalks. Dig out the nearest fire hydrant. Find and dig out your car.

Method 3
Preparing for an Incoming Winter Storm

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    Watch the local news. Some storms arrive suddenly, but usually the local weather team can give you some warning that there is a chance of a storm. In addition, during a storm, the radio can give you information on storm intensity, storm tracking and other emergency information.
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    Stock up on supplies.[4] Have enough medication, food, water, fuel, toilet paper, diapers, and so on stocked in your home. Make sure you have enough supplies to last at least a week. Ensure your first-aid kit is well stocked. Have plenty of extra sheets and blankets available.
    • Get plenty of candles and matches. When the power goes out, you will need to have light to see. Be sure you have extra batteries. Always use caution when using candles.
    • Purchase self-powered radios and flashlights. Some of these models will also charge your cell phone. Also purchase light sticks as well.
    • Make sure you have water. Cleaning, then filling the bathtub is a good way to store water. You can quickly pour water directly into the toilet bowl to flush it. If bad comes to worse, you can melt snow to get water.
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    Turn off the main water supply and open faucets. This will prevent water from freezing in the pipes and rupturing them, thereby avoiding future expensive damage.[5]
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    Have a backup heat source. Have a fireplace, wood stove, or kerosene heater available to keep you warm. You could also buy a generator for backup electricity. Be sure you know how to use these sources safely, and have appropriate fuel at hand. Be careful to conserve energy if you're anticipating a long power outage.


  • Stop to enjoy the snow. Assuming it is safe outside go for a walk, take time to enjoy how quiet and tranquil it is with no cars on the streets. Make a snowman. Admire the sparkle of the icicles.
  • Don't forget that you have several gallons of potable water in your water heater. Drain some if necessary. If you drain all the water be sure to turn off the water heater and make sure there's water in it before you turn it back on.
  • Consider outside temperature in your decision-making. If the temperature is above freezing, you have different options than if it is bitterly cold out. You can be in a cold house, and be slightly uncomfortable, and not be in any danger. Use any fuel for cooking food and heating water rather than to trying to heat your house a few scant degrees.
  • Conserve as much fuel and water as possible. Although most power outages are only for a few hours or days, it could be longer. You do not know how long you will be without power or assistance.
  • Use emergency shelters if they are available and you need them. If your house is unsafe to stay in, if you have young children, elderly or ill people at home especially consider this. There are no medals for doing things on your own.
  • If your local power company has a power outage line, you can call to report outages and find information about power restoration.
  • Make sure that you stock up on enough food and water for at least a week.


  • Maintain plenty of ventilation when working with gas and kerosene stoves and heaters.
  • Drive as little as possible; stay off the roads to free them for emergency management crews and people seeking shelter.
  • If there are downed power lines keep well away from them. Downed power lines may still carry electricity (even if the power is off) in voltages that can be lethal. Call your power company to alert them to the danger.
  • Ice and snow are heavy. Much of the damage from these storms comes from broken tree limbs and snow falling off of roofs. When you are outside make sure you are not in harm's way.
  • Keep dry. Despite the cold you could be sweating a great deal. Wet clothing loses insulating qualities and transmits heat out of the body quickly. Change your clothing often and stay dry, especially when you're active outside.
  • If snow is above the exhaust pipe of your car, shut the car off to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

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