There I was: in the local Safeway on the day of what forecasters were calling “a snowstorm of historic proportions.” I had barely been living on my own for a year. I was a grad student and teacher, and to be very honest, I hadn’t been keeping my eye on the weather reports. After all, I lived in Baltimore– the South!– and since I had been living there, we had only gotten one (lame) ice storm. When all of January rolled through without so much as a flake, I hadn’t even thought to be on the lookout for a blizzard.
Until the weatherman started freaking out. And then I did, too. After school, I raced home under gray skies, making up a small (but important) list of groceries I needed to get. You know, the French Toast List: eggs, bread, milk. I wanted to grab some other things too, just to have them on hand but really, I lived alone. I could survive a few days with just a few things. No big deal.
I walked into the grocery store. I’ve never seen anything like it. The produce section had been rampaged. All that was left in the entire produce section– and I kid you not– was one lone yam sitting on top of a display like the golden bauble in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I was one of the few people left in the store. I walked down each aisle, astonished by what I saw. Whole aisles had been ransacked. Other sections (olives, anyone?) had been left untouched. There were no eggs. There was no milk or orange juice. A cereal box or two were toppled, but no other boxes remained.
It was as if people were literally preparing for an actual apocalypse.
I bought a few random things that I could find and got home. Little did I know then that I wouldn’t go to work again for two weeks. Just as Baltimore was digging out from one, we got blasted by a second one. In my apartment, I was happy and warm. I worked on my masters thesis, graded papers, and did things I had put off for a long time. But had I a family or a small emergency? I would have been sunk with the little planning I put into the blizzard.
If you live in a cold climate, it goes without saying: keep your eye on the weather. Even if you don’t, make sure you’re vigilant during the winter. Just because your area usually doesn’t get a snowstorm doesn’t mean it won’t. Even if you don’t see snow, you may see ice, hail, high winds, or coastal surges from a huge blizzard passing by on its way north.
If warnings and watches are being issued, it’s time to take action. Listen to what agencies are saying and the guidance that is being given for your specific area, especially when it comes to wind and cold advisories.
Get to the grocery store as far ahead as possible with a list that covers your family’s needs. You don’t want to end up with a lonely yam and jar of olives in your cart. If your family has any special dietary needs, make sure that you’re also taking that into account. Likewise, if your family has medical needs, make sure you have the supplies and medicines necessary to keep them healthy during the blizzard.
Got library books, Redbox movies, or other items that need to be taken care of now (or yesterday)? Do it. Do it now. Make that list and go run those final errands.
Double-Check Your Supplies
Don’t be like me: I ended up digging out my car with… a frisbee. Because I lived in an apartment complex, I didn’t have to shovel sidewalks, so I never thought of needing a shovel to dig out my car. Do you have a shovel? Deicer? Sand? Do the kids have gloves? Hats? Can they wear their boots (or are they the too-small ones from last year)? If you have a wood stove, do you have enough wood chopped and stacked up close to your house?
Stock Your Car
Don’t drive during the storm. Not only does it put you and your passengers at extreme risk, it also puts the rescue crew and road workers in danger. If you absolutely must drive before or during the blizzard, make sure that you have at least the basics in your car: a shovel, blankets, flares, deicer. If you get stuck in a snow bank, keep the tail pipe clear of snow and other blockage to ensure that the carbon monoxide does not back up into the car.
Have an Emergency Kit
It’s good practice to keep an emergency kit stocked and prepared in your home so that you have the basics to keep your family safe and healthy. Find directions and suggestions for how to do this from Ready.Gov.
Know Who to Call
If you’re new to the area or new to blizzards, make sure that you have someone you can call in case of an emergency or if you need help, especially if your spouse is deployed. Likewise, if you or your spouse is active duty and is serving, make sure you know the protocol for snow emergencies. What does your base do for snow emergencies? Where do you need to look to find out if the base is closed? Does your command have a phone chain or other notification system? Who is expected to report for duty even if the base is closed?
Don’t Get Flustered
Leave something off your list? Forget to do something? Don’t get upset or lose your head in the time leading up to the blizzard– you’ll just end up wasting time . Once the snow starts falling, stay inside and don’t worry about it. Whatever you’ve forgotten will have to wait.
Leave Some Room
And of course, snow days are supposed to be fun! If it’s safe to do so, take the kids out to walk around the neighborhood and see massive amounts of snow. Go sledding. Have a snowball fight. Help someone who could use an extra set of hands dig out. Drink hot chocolate and play board games.
Go Over Safety
Snow and ice is so pretty… and can be so dangerous especially to children who may not see the hidden peril. Make sure that your kids know basic safety when it comes to playing outdoors. No matter how high and tempting the snow is, digging tunnels and playing under the snow can be life-threatening. Ice on ponds, lakes, and rivers may look strong enough, but no one should ever go out on frozen water alone and the ice should be tested thoroughly before going ice skating or ice fishing. Because deep snow can look pillowy and soft, kids might want to jump into banks; remind them that there may be objects under the snow that could hurt them if they jump on top of them. And of course, it’s never okay to put rocks or ice inside of snowballs– even when you’re losing a snowball fight.