Outdoors Magazine

How to Survive a Snowstorm – Our Pro Tips

By Chris Noal

Winter is one of the most beautiful seasons on earth. The temperatures cool down, children go out to play in the snow, and nature hibernates until the spring; truly winter is a majestic sight to behold.

However, that beauty is only one aspect of this wonderful season. Winter can turn deadly in a matter of hours, and a sudden snowstorm can leave you stranded, isolated, and in a precarious survival situation. When this happens, it’s important that you know how to keep yourself alive until the storm has subsided. But, just how do you prepare for the unexpected?

How to Survive a Snowstorm

Early Preparation

Snowstorms can happen at any time during winter. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t anticipate the worst and prepare beforehand. There are steps you can take to prevent a storm from completely catching you off guard and the first one is as simple as turning on the news.

Local weather stations will usually tell you the chances of heavy snowfall; by keeping up with these forecasts you can actually get a good idea of how bad the storm will be. Once the storm has hit, you’ll be able to listen to the local news by using self-powered radios.

Now you’ve caught wind that a storm is coming in a few hours and you that gives you some time to prepare. What steps should you take in anticipation of the incoming weather?

For one, stock up on a variety of supplies that can last you at least a week:

  • Food (canned fruits/meats are better)
  • Water (both for drinking and cooking)
  • Medicine (over the counter stuff for possible colds etc.)
  • Fuel
  • Diapers
  • Entertainment for the kids (coloring books, crayons, markers)
  • Batteries (keep a stock of rechargeable ones fully charged)
  • Light sources (candles, flashlights, matches, light sticks, glow sticks)
  • First-aid kits

These supplies are crucial for tackling any unexpected situations during the snowstorm. But, you’ll also want to keep an excess of water in places like a bathtub so you can use it to flush the toilet, and if worse comes to worst then you can also melt some snow to achieve the same objective.

Furthermore, you’ll want to keep the plumbing in your house from freezing over. The best way to do this is by shutting down the main water supply and keeping your faucets slightly open so that water slowly drips out.

You see, water in the pipes will freeze at any temperature below -7 degrees Celsius. If you want to keep this from happening in the long term you might want to insulate the interior piping with foam insulation.

Investing into an alternative heat source is also a good idea. You might want to buy a wood stove, a small kerosene heater, or if you have a fireplace then stock up on some firewood. Electric generators are also a good idea if you keep plenty of fuel at hand (don’t place one inside the house).

Surviving at Home

The odds of surviving a snowstorm depend on multiple variables. One of the biggest factors is your location when the storm inevitably hits. Your chances will be better or worse, depending on where you are and if you’re home, then your chances of making it out alive are fairly good. However, just because the odds are in your favor, it does not mean you can lower your guard.

Survive a Snowstorm

Take steps to prepare and read up on the following advice:

You’re going to want to stay inside the house as much as humanly possible. Exploring outside during a storm is extremely challenging (not to mention an awful idea), due to low visibility, moving wind temperatures, and the very real possibility of cold weather injuries.

While inside the house you’re going to want to wear some lightweight, warm clothing that will keep you at a comfortable temperature. Use layering to your advantage and avoid wearing heavy clothes. Optionally, you can wear mittens, hats, earmuffs, and other accessories to keep your body warm, but not so much that you’ll start sweating because you want to remain as dry as possible.

However, if by chance you do get soaked in water or sweat, you’ll want to dry off quickly. Drying your clothing and body can be challenging during a snow storm as these tend to knock out the nearby power sources. If this happens, your best bet is to remove the wet outfit, put on a dry one, and place the old one near any additional heat source.

Fireplaces are one example of these, as they can generate a lot of heat as long as you have enough fuel/firewood for it. Electric generators on the other hand can keep the power in your house going. However, these must not be used inside the house as they can fill your home with toxic gasses.

Do not use the following as heat sources:

  • Charcoal Grills
  • Propane Grills
  • Coal Stoves

The aforementioned can easily lead to Co2 poisoning (if placed inside the home).

After you light the fire, or turn on the alternative heat source, you’re going to want to keep your group/family together and keep the rest of the house closed. By keeping your unit in one spot, you’ll maximize the heat in the area and you won’t have to worry about keeping the rest of the house warm.

Additionally, the use of blankets and sheets to keep yourselves covered (remember to maintain a healthy distance from any heat sources) will provide additional warmth. Furthermore, you’ll want to keep food and drinks in the area for the sake of keeping your body’s energy output high and also avoiding dehydration.

Once the storm has passed and the snow has stopped/slowed down, you’re going to need to break out the shovels. It’s important to keep the following factors in mind when you’re shoveling snow:

  1. People have died shoveling snow due to heart attacks caused by inactive lifestyles.
  2. If snow is shoveled improperly you can potentially injure your back.
  3. Shoveling snow is difficult work and you shouldn’t rush to finish.
  4. Stop shoveling if you feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  5. Drink plenty of fluids and eat.

If you fear any of the above, then see if you can invest some money into a snow blower or perhaps a neighbor can assist you in shoveling snow. Once the outside is taken care of, you’ll want to look at the roof of your home.

Snow is pretty heavy, plenty of roofs have caved in or received damage after a snowstorm and you’ll want to avoid that happening to yours. Clear the roof of your house with a snow rake or any other item that can be used to remove snow. Check all of the internal/external ventilation to make sure the snow hasn’t clogged them and then verify that the roof itself has not been damaged. Check the rest of the property for any potential damage, locate your vehicles, dig out any nearby fire hydrants, and keep in mind that storms come in waves.

Afterwards, you might want to check up on your neighbors. While you might be prepared to weather a storm, some people might not be as fortunate. Take your time checking up on those nearby your home and offer help if required. Elderly folk are usually the biggest group at risk during these types of situation so keep them in mind.

An additional bit of advice, keep your cell phones charged, and make sure you call family members as soon as possible to let them know of your condition (this will ease any concerns they might have).

Snowstorms in a Vehicle/Tent

Getting caught outside in a car or campgrounds during snowstorm; however, is a lot more dangerous than when you’re home. There are numerous risks and disadvantages that come when you’re outside your home turf. As such, keep the following advice in mind:

Snowstorms in a Tent

First of all, you’re going to want to stay inside your vehicle or tent. Don’t take your chances and drive off, your best bet for surviving is staying still in one spot while the storm passes over. It’s not worth risking your life or that of others since the visibility on the road will be awful and the climate is unpredictable.

Stay in a group and don’t separate, you might be thinking of sending someone to get help, but the chances are that the individual will not survive. Make a plan on how you’re going to bide your time until the storm passes over.

If you’re outside without any form of shelter, it is imperative that you find one as soon as possible. Freezing to death is very likely if caught unprotected during a blizzard, and certain states (such as Alaska) will actually permit breaking and entering into cabins in the case of emergencies.

Try looking for places that can form natural shelters such as overhangs, caves, fallen hollow logs, etc. These will at least provide some protection, but be careful of the animals potentially living inside such as bears. Failing that, make your own shelter by fashioning a snow fort or snow cave. Build a fire as soon as possible in order to stay warm.

Your chances of survival increase exponentially with your ability to retain heat so stay as dry as possible and avoid sweating too much (this will prevent your body from using the sweat to lower your temperature).

If you’re inside a car then keep the windows rolled up. Leave the engine running in order to keep the heat on, and every so often step outside the vehicle to ensure that the exhaust pipe isn’t clogged by the snow.

If you’re inside a tent you’ll want to keep the flaps closed. Huddle together as much as possible and wrap yourselves up with any blankets, coats, etc. available, you’ll avoid catching frostbite this way.

In both scenarios, you’ll want to stay as well-fed and hydrated as possible (that doesn’t mean you should gorge on your limited supplies though). Eating will help you maintain a steady core temperature and avoid the effects of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Also, don’t eat raw snow; melt it down first by using the heat from the car or a fire.

You’ll want to plan things out while waiting for the blizzard to finish. Ideally, you’ll be thinking of what to do when the storm is over. In the meantime, ration your food and don’t overeat as you’ll need to make it last throughout the storm and it could potentially take a day or more for it to be over.

Please keep in mind that your tent or car might be stuck in the snow, and it might be impossible to dig your way out. In these cases, calmly wait for help to arrive. However, for those who are within the confines of a natural shelter (like a cave) feel free to venture back to civilization once you’re comfortable with setting out.

Finally, check to see if anyone in your group needs medical attention. Hypothermia and frostbite are extremely dangerous, so make sure you understand how to treat these injuries before attempting to do so.

Advice for All Scenarios

Getting caught in a snowstorm is bad regardless of your location. But, here is some advice for survival in any scenario:

  • Canned food is the best alternative for meals in these situations. It might not be the tastiest treat, but it will stay fresh for extended periods of time.
  • In the cold your body is not going to tell you it needs water like it would in the desert so it’s important that you stay hydrated and take regular breaks to drink some quality H2O. Always try to keep a few gallons on hand.
  • Stay on top of the news by using a battery-powered radio, this way you can monitor the situation for any changes.
  • Wool or mink blankets are life savers. Sleeping bags are also a good alternative.
  • Frostbite and frostnip are extremely dangerous and can lead to hypothermia if left unchecked.
  • One of the final symptoms of hypothermia is a sudden feeling of warmth that will make people undress it’s called “paradoxical undressing”.
  • Entertainment is important, especially if you have small children. Keeping their minds occupied while the storm is happening will avoid a lot of headaches in the long run.

Surviving a snowstorm is difficult, but possible. Expert survivalist will in fact tell you that the best you can do in these situations is maintain a level-headed approach. Don’t panic, and keep a steady supply of items at the ready for potential emergencies. Stay in groups, don’t separate, and keep yourselves huddled together for warmth. The worst you can do in these scenarios is to leave your base of operations as the low visibility will make it impossible for you to navigate the area. However, as long as you have enough food/water to wait out the storm, and some heat sources to keep your body temperature steady, you should theoretically be fine. Just remember, that blizzards can happen at any time and the best thing you can do to survive is anticipating the unexpected.


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