by Jerry Ward
Winter is a wonderful season! It's filled with snowy landscapes, great outdoor recreation opportunities, time spent with family and friends, and good eats. It also has the dark side of blizzards, ice storms, bitter cold, fallen trees, closed roads, and power outages. Winter’s dark side is nothing to fear, and you can prepare for it by having a few survival and emergency items at home just in case winter's fury pays a visit. View our Winter Storm Checklist.
Heat & Shelter Concerns
When the mercury drops and you’re faced with an extended power outage, it's critical to have gear to help fight off hypothermia and provide a little psychological comfort while you wait for the power to come back on. Warming up your living area is the first order of business. If financing and space allow, consider having a freestanding woodstove installed in the common room of your home. Be sure to also keep a few cords of dry seasoned hardwood on hand as well.
A less-expensive option would be to purchase one of the many portable propane heating units available on the market today. Just be sure it is designed to be used indoors and does not require a vent. Do not use gas or charcoal grills indoors as a heat source. These devices put off carbon monoxide gas, which is colorless odorless - and lethal.
I also recommend purchasing a good quality sleeping bag for each member of the family. Choose one rated for 10-20 degrees colder than the usual winter lows for your area. Combine that with a wool blanket or two, and you'll be sure to stay warm even in the worst blizzard.
Another possibility to prepare for is winter storm damage to the structure of your home. High winds, heavy snow loads, and ice accumulation can all be problematic. Falling limbs, wind damage, and roof cave-ins are all possible. You need to be able to isolate the damage and temporarily patch any holes in the exterior. A good selection of heavy-duty tarps, a staple gun, hammer and nails, a few sheets of plywood, and a handful of 2x4's will go a long way in keeping the outdoors where they belong. Tarps can also be used to cover windows and doorways to create smaller living spaces within the home that require less heat to keep warm.
Water storage and purification is another area that must be given top priority. I recommend a minimum of 3 gallons per person per day for hydration, cooking, and sanitation. That means that the average family of four will need a bare minimum of 12 gallons of clean water per day. The two best options for storage are individual bottles of water purchased by the case or the Waterbrick. This nifty little container holds 3.5 gallons of fresh water in an easy-to-carry rectangular shape. Just like the bricks used in construction, the Waterbrick can be stacked securely without the fear of tipping. It also features a wide mouth that makes it great for storing dry goods such as grain and pasta. Simply fill the container with water, add 3 drops of plain chlorine bleach, and store for up to 6 months in a tucked away and unobtrusive location.
You should also prep for water purification in the event you need to take advantage of the water in your toilet tanks, water heater, backyard swimming pool, livestock pond or other source. I recommend a filtration system over straight chemical treatment. Filtration will not only remove the biological nasties, but will filter out the chemical pollutants as well. My family uses the Lifestraw, which is a personal system that will remove any contaminant found. It is easy to use, filters a decent volume, and is budget-friendly. The Lifestraw is used the world over to make water safe and is the one I personally use in the field.
While not nearly as important as water in the short-term, there is no need to go hungry in your own home. Our metabolism amps up when we are exposed to colder temps in an attempt to keep our core body temperature near average of 98.6° F. Therefore, we need to consume more calories to keep the furnace going. Cold weather survival is not the time to be watching your waistline. I recommend having a minimum 6-month supply of food stored at all time. A good combination of frozen, canned, dried, and freeze-dried/dehydrated will ensure food for all situations and seasons. In the winter, go for fat- and protein-dense foods like cheese, nuts, jerky, peanut butter, trail mix, and butter. The key is to eat often and eat a lot. Be sure to include a way to prepare the food in your larder: woodstove, gas grill outside, gas range inside, camp stove, or some other safe method for heating.
Have several alternate light sources on hand. My family has a good selection of LED flashlights, oil lamps, and candles throughout the house in ready-to-use locations. Battery-operated lanterns are also another good source of emergency lighting. Make sure to include extra batteries for any electronic device. Some other items to add to your preps may be pet food, prescription medication, medical kit, snow shovel, ice melt, basic hand tools, fire extinguisher, chainsaw, generator, firearm and ammunition, clear plastic sheeting, board games, reference books, anything you think might be useful or worthwhile in an emergency situation.
Winter is a beautiful season full of its own wonders, but it can also be quite cantankerous. We may not be able to avoid the natural disasters associated with our coldest season, but we can prepare to deal with the aftermath by having a few basic items on hand and the knowledge to use them effectively.
Jerry Ward is the owner and chief instructor at Ozark Mountain Preparedness. He has extensive survival experience and has taught survival for 10 years to a wide range of clients, including U.S. and foreign military personnel. He is also an author, trapper, and certified Wilderness First Responder who has worked as a gunsmith, rock climbing guide, wildland fighter, and member of various Search And Rescue teams.