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GET PREPARED
Here are some tips from the Red Cross, FEMA, emergency workers, first responders and others to help you prepare in case a blizzard heads your way.
- Create a Winter Storm Plan
- Emergency Preparedness Items
- Your Home and Property
- Heating Sources
- Prepare a Home Inventory
- Look Into Insurance
- Additional Information

Click here for helpful forms related to this topic.


Create a Winter Storm Plan

  1. Learn about the signs - Blizzard - Advisories and Warnings.

Be prepared to keep warm.

  1. Have extra blankets on hand and make sure that each member of your household has a warm coat, gloves or mittens, hat, and water-resistant boots.
  2. Store flashlights, matches and firewood, in case of a power failure. Gather extras if a winter storm is on its way.
  3. WHN TIP: Flashlights.

    If possible, use flashlights instead of candles. Flames are quite dangerous and could ignite gases. Store a flashlight in each bedroom and other common areas around your home. Make sure each family member knows where they are located.

The Family Emergency Plan

  1. Create an emergency exit plan for your home. (Click on the link for instructions.)
    • Consider that the snow could be very deep and you might not be able to open doors to outside.
    • Practice your escape plan every month. Practice using both exits. Make sure windows and doors aren't stuck and that screens can be removed. Also, practice exiting with your eyes closed or in the dark (it may be hard to see in an emergency especially at night).


  2. Plan in advance where to go if you are asked to evacuate your home. Take some time to really think about it; consider more than one option such as a relative's home, a hotel, or a shelter.
    • Know where emergency shelters are located. Contact your local emergency management office or American Red Cross for information on designated public shelters.
    • Know the emergency response plan for your workplace, your children's school or child care center, as well as other places where your family spends time (i.e. church, gym, rec center).
  3. Go to our WHN Contact List. Print copies of the Emergency Contact List and keep it by your phones for easy access.
    • Ask an out-of-state friend to be your "family contact." After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance.
  4. Meet with neighbors either informally or through a neighborhood group to create a neighborhood preparedness plan.
    • This will help you and your neighbors know who may need extra assistance.
  5. Always have extra cash on hand (at least $100 or so) because ATMs and credit card machines won't work when there's no electricity.

Emergency Preparedness Items

  1. Prepare a readily available and fully stocked Home Disaster Preparedness Kit (Click on the list for a printable list to print out.)
  2. WHN TIP: Disaster Kit Drill

    Pick a night when everyone is home. Turn off the TV and lights, don’t use the faucets, fridge or the stove. Check and see what items are missing (special needs for family members, can opener, etc.). Make a list and add these items to your kit.

  3. Have a car emergency kit. Include water, first aid, and a way to signal need for help, flashlight & batteries, warm blankets, a shovel, and a battery-operated radio.
  4. Add a NOAA Weather Radio to your home and car emergency kits.
    • If there is a severe warning in your area, a NOAA Weather Radio automatically turns on and alerts you with beeps and sirens. It even alerts you if the power is out (the radios have battery back-up).
    • Look for NOAA radios with "SAME" feature (Specific Area Message Encoding) which means the receiver is capable of turning itself on from a silent mode.
  5. Consider enrolling yourself and/or family members in first aid and emergency preparedness courses such as those offered by the Red Cross.
    • Adult family members should know how to turn off the water, gas and electricity at the main valves or switches. Family members should also know CPR, how to help someone who is choking and first aid for severe bleeding and shock.

    WHN TIP: In Case of Emergency (ICE)

    In the event of an emergency or after an accident, emergency personnel use your cell phone to look for "ICE": who to contact In Case of an Emergency. Here's how to do it.

  6. Buy extra fire extinguishers and teach each family member how to use it and have a central place to keep it.



Your Home and Property

Winter storms bring with them the very real possibility of high winds, freezing rain, hail, flooding and significant snow accumulation.

WHN TIP: Check The Codes.

Before you prepare for the effects of a blizzard, make sure you do it right: contact your local building official. He or she can let you know what the codes require as you do your work, and can provide you with assistance so that you can make improvements properly the first time.

See our Links section for additional resources.

Winter Indoor Precautions

  1. Consider buying a setback thermostat that will allow you to set temperatures lower when sleeping or when your away from home.
    • Temperatures inside your house should be at least 55 degrees. An ongoing, inside temperature lower than 55 will not prevent the pipes from freezing, according to the Red Cross.
    • Factors include how well insulated your home is, where the pipes are in the house.
    • To keep pipes from freezing, wrap pipes in insulation or layers of old newspapers or heat tape, then cover with plastic to keep out moisture. You can find heat tape at hardware stores.
  2. Place an easy-to-read thermometer in an indoor location where you will see it frequently. This is in case your thermostat is incorrect.
  3. Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside. This will provide an extra layer of insulation, keeping cold air out. Don't forget basement windows.
  4. Check that the doors and windows shut tightly. Add or replace worn weather-stripping and add caulking around doors and windows. Don't forget basement and garage-entrance doors and windows.
  5. Have your house insulation evaluated. Proper attic insulation keeps your home warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
  6. WHN TIP: Insulate.

    Ask the staff at your local home improvement center how much insulation is recommended, then check your attic insulation to make sure it's adequate.

Winter Outdoor Precautions
  1. Trim tree limbs that are hanging over or touching the roof. Winter storms can bring high winds or heavy accumulation of ice that can snap limbs.
  2. Clean drain gutters and point downspouts away from the house. This will keep melting snow running away from your home.
  3. Add waterproof veneer to exterior walls and seal all openings, including doors. This will help prevent water entry.
  4. Put an additional coat of sealer on decks. This will help protect the wood.
  5. Winterize your summer tools and appliances. Drain the gas from your lawnmower into an approved gas can and store in a safe location.
  6. Drain garden hoses, roll them up, and store them inside.
  7. Close and cover the swimming pool.
  8. Cover outdoor furniture or store it inside.

Heating Sources

  1. Have your furnace checked by a heating professional before the onset of winter.
  2. Check the thermostat to be sure it is working properly and the pilot light is functioning.
  3. Replace the furnace filter according to the furnace manual. Use a high-efficiency furnace filter to reduce the circulation of allergens.
  4. Have the heating ducts cleaned on an as-needed basis, and make sure to vacuum dust from vents or other types of heating elements around the house.
  5. Have your chimney or flue inspected each year by a qualified inspector.
  6. Close the chimney damper when not in use. Remember to open it before lighting a fire.
  7. When a wood fire is present, a window should always be kept open.
  8. Install a smoke detector and a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector near the area to be heated, if using a fireplace, or wood stove. Test them monthly, and replace batteries twice yearly.
  9. Have propane or oil tanks filled.

Prepare a Home Inventory

  1. Create a household inventory - videotape, photograph or compile a written inventory of your home and belongings. See our article The Easy Guide to Home Inventory. This will make it easier to file an insurance claim.
  2. Keep the inventory off-premises in a safety deposit box or with an out-of-the area contact. The inventory will provide a record for you and the insurance company.
  3. Update your inventory every year or so and every time a major purchase is made or significant renovations are undertaken in your home or on your property.
  4. WHN TIP: Watch Out for Water.

    Don't keep these documents in an area of your home that may be susceptible to snow/water damage.

Should a loss or disaster occur:

  1. Create a written and photographic record of all damaged items and keep the items until an adjuster has seen them.
  2. Provide your adjuster with your household inventory and/or family photographs as documentation

WHN TIP: Photo Op

Remember, relatives and friends may have taken photos of holidays, birthdays, etc. in your home.


Save all receipts for bills incurred after the winter storm: living expenses; repair, replacement or clean-up costs; rented equipment and contract labor; moving a mobile home out of a winter storm area.

Look Into Insurance

  • Insurance Information Institute
    Here you can find answers on homeowner’s insurance, filing a claim and general home security concerns. The mission of the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) is to improve public understanding of insurance -- what it does and how it works. The Insurance Information Institute is a nonprofit communications organization supported by the insurance industry.
  • National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters
    NAPIA is the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. Public Adjusters are experts on property loss adjustment who are retained by policy holders to assist in preparing, filing and adjusting insurance claims. NAPIA members across the United States have joined together for the purpose of professional education, certification, and promotion of a code of professional conduct.

Additional Information

  • Avalanche Awareness
    Learn more about avalanches and what precautions to take. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) archives and distributes digital and analog snow and ice data.

  • FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for Kids
    Offers educational information on winter storms for kids. The site also has fun games and stories. FEMA prepares the nation for hazards and manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident.

  • Winter Storm Resource Center
    An extensive resource site on winter preparedness, winter driving, snowstorms and more. Fun in the Snow has great activities to do when you’re snowed in. The University of Illinois Extension provides education and information focused on addressing environmental, economic, and societal issues.

Thank you ...

A special thank you to the first responders, emergency workers, government officials, lawyers, insurance agents and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.

Last Updated: 9/2008


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