January 21, 2018

Surviving Snow & Ice: PREPARING FOR WINTER



Overcoming the inconveniences of snow requires preparation. This series of posts provides checklists to help you create and prepare for a better winter experience. The posts in this series are: Universal Design for Winter, Preparing For Winter, Snow Removal, Getting Around, and, New Home Construction.

Preparing For Winter

No matter how well we design for our survival (and comfort), nature can always out-do us, reminding us to be humble, thoughtful … and prepared.

This checklist will work best for you if you begin with an evaluation of what you can do, what you can’t do, what’s unique to your situation, what you will need and how you will get it. Do you get over 100 inches of snow every year or snow every five years? Can you shovel and ready your car for travel? Will you need specialized life-saving equipment and how soon? Are you in an area where winter hazards will be cleaned up fast and return to normal promptly?

This list is organized by topic, not region, urgency or chronological order; those would be local and personal conditions you know better than I. As you read through, ponder the degree to which each concern applies. A little effort now saves a lot of effort later at those times when nature gets a bit feisty and reminds us who’s the boss.

Personal Conditions That Pose Added Challenges

  • Diminished vision
  • Diminished physical strength
  • Diminished coordination
  • Side effects of medications (drowsy, dizzy)
  • Poor circulation (more vulnerable to cold)
  • Dependency on assistive technology.

General Preparation And Supplies

  • Stock up on non-perishable food – high calorie is more efficient
  • Stock up on prescription and over-the-counter drugs
  • Stock-up on water; if an emergency is expected, fill up containers and bathtubs.
  • A first-aid emergency kit; supplement it with any special items you need.
  • Batteries (special ones for health gadgets too)
  • Battery powered radio; hand crank is good too.
  • Means for communication: Most phones today require electric to work; make sure you have an old, no-frills phone that needs no more than a basic phone land-line connection. Cell phones will work if you can keep them powered and if the service isn’t congested.
  • Blankets – plenty
  • Matches and/or lighters
  • Snow shovel, snow pusher, ice chipper or snow blower – smaller shovels lift less weight are easier on the back
  • Needed supplies in good working order – as if they might have to for 7-14 days.
  • I wish I didn’t have to add this, but in some cases this is important: have personal protection, something with which you can defend your home and protect your family should that become necessary.
  • Supplies for pet needs too.


  • Shoes: good sole for traction (or add-on traction devices), good insulation for warmth, water repellency to stay dry. If you have a dog who needs walks, good footwear is critical.
  • Layers: Loose helps maintain movability. Layers are easily added and removed to adapt to temp and activity. Under layers should wick moisture off skin and out to outer layers where it can evaporate – no cotton if you will be sweating!
  • Hat – yes, much of your body heat goes out through your head.
  • Bright visible colors – easier to be seen.


  • Stock up on their food, supplies and medications too.
  • If your dog needs walks, have awesome shoes and warm cloths (see clothing section for other recommendations)
  • If your pet needs booties (for warmth or the salt) or a cover, get them.

Staying Connected & Informed

  • Set up channels of communication: family, buddies, neighbors, caregivers, etc; have people calling to check in.
  • For critical health conditions, register with your local emergency management office.
  • Have an emergency bad weather plan; these are thoughtfully created emergency plans shared among caregivers, family and neighbors so people can find you in an emergency.
  • If you have electrically powered medical devices, call your utility provider and let them know; sometimes they will work to restore power sooner for you, or provide a temporary generator or large battery.

Winter Supplies For The Home

  • Stock up on ice-melters: salt (rough on plants, concrete and animal feet), non-salt deicers (magnesium chloride and calcium chloride – less harsh on plants and concrete, work at colder temps.
  • For traction, stock up on: sand, ashes (easy if you have a fire place) and even alfalfa meal (your lawn will like you)
  • Have an ergonomic snow shovel and/or snow pusher.

Home Preparations For The Winter

  • Step treads and walkways or ramps can have electrically heated mats placed in winter months diminishing the need for shoveling and chipping.
  • Clean gutters so they work and drain melt-off rather than having ice form and fall off the roof.
  • If your roof is prone to ice build-up, have heat tape installed.
  • Add low-profile non-skid mats in entrance ways that become slippery when wet (also handy to have mopping supplies nearby).
  • If you plow or snow blow, tune-up and test equipment.
  • Remove moss and mold build-up on walkways and stairs (slippery when wet). Wood can become slippery, if so, add grit or non-skid tape.
  • Inspected and tuned-up your heating systems (furnace and hot water).
  • Inspect and service your alternate heat sources: a generator (and fuel), a propane stove, a fireplace with a clean chimney (and plenty of firewood – don’t forget matches or a lighter).
  • Remove potentially dangerous tree limbs and trees (trimming)
  • Put up plow markers to protect plants and landscaping features from being damaged burlap coverings.
  • Keep heating fuel topped off – don’t let it get low.
  • Know how to open an electric garage door if power fails.
  • If people will make house calls (medical personal or food delivery), what might prevent them and how can that be resolved?

Home Improvements

  • If you don’t have exterior stair and walkway railings, add them.
  • Add exterior lighting; have automated lighting (motion sensors) on walkways, stairs and the driveway.
  • If your roof is prone to ice build-up, have roof venting improved; this is a better solution than adding heat tape.
  • Create smooth walkways that are easier to shovel or snow blow (not slippery, walkways must have some grit for traction).
  • Exterior stairs can be built without risers making them easier to remove snow and drain water that might otherwise freeze; check with local building codes first!

Car Preparations For The Winter

  • Tune-up
  • Antifreeze and radiator check
  • Battery in good condition
  • Snow tires, maybe studded, or chains
  • New wiper blades
  • Working heater and defrosters
  • Snow/ice removal eqpt in car – maybe an old set of gloves too
  • Emergency supplies: blanket, food such as power bars, flashlight, bright colored hazard flag.
  • Your own jumper cables and a tow rope will get you out of trouble a bit faster (and help someone else in need).

Winter Driving Skills

  • Don’t drive in bad conditions if you don’t have to; ‘nuff said. There is no vehicle that performs better in snows or ice – all are prone to loosing traction more easily. Also, it might be the other car that had no winterizing and slams into you. If you must drive, consider the following:
  • Slow starts, slow stops: maintain traction.
  • Reduce speed; a good guideline is being able to come to a stop in half the visible distance (if you can see 100 feet, be traveling slow enough that you can stop in 50 feet).
  • Be awake and alert – not tired or medicated. Sounds obvious, but, emergency situations often diminish sound judgment.
  • Remove snow and ice off car – not a peephole, but all the way around.
  • Know the roadway trouble spots: hills (especially with stops), bridges that freeze sooner, snow drifts from wind, roads that get plowed last (avoid) and those that get plowed first (stay on these).
  • Know your destination and what to expect. A popular mall will likely be cleaned up faster than a small store parking lot.
  • Know your town’s snow policies: how soon are they responsible for restoring roadways and public transportation.
  • Know alternate routes should the usual route be blocked or hazardous.
  • If you need specialized treatment, know how to get there.
  • Stay on main roads and snow routes – plowed first and best.
  • Avoid night driving – black ice hazards, harder to be rescued, and colder.
  • If stuck, stay in car. Use a flag or flare to attract help.
  • Bring your cell phone, even if a call doesn’t work, newer models have trackable GPS signals.
  • 4WD or AWD: No, this doesn’t mean you can still do 70 MPH. It does mean you won’t get stuck as easily.
  • Regions accustomed to annual snowfall will remove it better than regions that don’t have; drivers will be better too due to experience with snow.
  • Keep your gas tank at least half full.

Wheelchairs, Scooters, Canes & Walkers

  • Modify canes and walkers by adding ice & snow spikes.
  • Modify wheelchair wheels with “winter” tires typically modified knobby bike tires or “chains,” an add-on to the existing tire that gives it some bite.
  • Additional wheelchair considerations:
  1. Be aware the knobby tires are harder to wheel and more likely to track snow and mud into a building.
  2. Steeper ramps become almost impossible even with a thin layer of snow.
  3. Wheeling through snow requires considerable strength.
  4. Wheeling through snow is rough on wheelchairs; consider stocking extra parts and being able to make minor repairs yourself.
  • Scooters rely on electric; if a power loss is possible, have an extra charged battery. Snow is rough on scooters; have needed extra replacement parts and be able to handle minor repairs. Finally, have a wheelchair back-up.

Pre-Storm Preparations

A word of caution: This section is at the end because you are already prepared, right. However, if you find yourself chasing down these loose ends, be reasonably sure that others are too and supplies and services will be less and less available. So, be prepared and handle as much as you can as soon as you can.

  • Stock up on non-perishable food (pet food too).
  • Stock up on water; also store it in containers and bath tubs.
  • Have at least 3 days of needed medications.
  • Check your emergency plan and buddy system – connect with each other before to confirm plans.
  • Back-up computer data.
  • Fill up gas tank.
  • Check heating fuel; order a special delivery if it is low.
  • Getting out strategy: snow removal, car, road conditions: how will you get out if you must; or, how will others get to you?