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How to Prepare for a Winter Storm: Forecasts, Power Outages, Snow Shoveling and More

Big winter storms have been sweeping across the US this season. A number of cities, including Philadelphia, Washington D.C., and Atlantic City are expected to see record numbers in snowfall—perhaps this week. Schools, businesses and airports are closing down and even the south is still receiving a bit of a cold snap. For some, it’s been quite a while since they’ve had to deal with such large amounts of snow. A friend of mine in Virginia Beach could not believe how many inches they’ve received so far this year; not to mention how unprepared most residents of that area seemed to be. Winter storms can cause a lot of unexpected things to happen. Not only are you looking at closings and delays, but there is always the chance of power outages, terrible road conditions and supply shortages. Here are some tips on how to handle the current winter fury: Weather Forecasts I am going to touch on this subject first because there are actually quite a few people who do not know the different between a Winter Storm Watch and a Winter Storm Warning. A Winter Storm Watch means that a storm may possibly happen in your area, but it’s not a certain thing yet. You should keep an eye on the weather, since there’s a chance the Watch could become a Warning. A Winter Storm Warning means that a storm is happening and headed your way and there’s at least a 90% chance it will hit your area. Start getting all your preparations in order and be ready to batten down the hatches, if need be. Power Outages When a winter storm comes through you can usually expect a power outage to tag-a-long with it. We’ve had at least 2 so far this year. Fires can happen, wires can snap and go down, and you could be left in the dark for quite a while. Pending on how bad the damage is, some power issues can be fixed within hours; others may take days. If you’ve never dealt with a power outage before, this means that you will have no electricity. Without electricity, you can kiss your lights, appliances, electronics, hot water and refrigerated food goodbye. If you have a corded (rotary) phone, there is a chance that at least may still work, since the phone line is separate from other electricity. There are certain things you will definitely want to stock up on, given the chance a power outage could happen. Warm Clothes and Extra Bedding – If your power is out, there is a good chance your heat went off with it. Make sure you have enough blankets, sweaters, hats, gloves and so forth to keep everyone warm. Flashlights, Batteries, Candles, Matches/Lighters – Daytime only lasts so long and once the sun goes down, if your power is still not working, you’ll need some light to see by. Make sure you have several flashlights and enough new batteries to go with them. If you have one that is chargeable, try to have it charged (along with cell phones and laptops) before the storm hits. Candles are also very helpful, but remember to be careful with them around children. Food and Water – If the power goes out, you may feel obligated to eat the food in the refrigerator before it goes bad. There is one problem with that, however: you have no stove or microwave to cook the food with—and I hardly think food poisoning would be worth it. What you need is nonperishable foods. Yes, junk food can work for this (chips, cookies, etc.), but I was thinking of something a bit more healthy. Certain fruits and vegetables can work, such as apples, oranges and carrots. Nuts, bread and butter are also good choices, as well as some canned food (provided you have a manual, hand-operated can opener). Water is also important. People need to keep hydrated and they need to keep themselves clean. If you are aware of a storm on the way, try to fill up some jugs, bottles or other containers with water. You will need at least one gallon of water per person, per day. If it is safe to travel, and you are lucky enough to have one close by, you can always try to take a few jugs to a natural spring and fill up the water there. Entertainment – Well, of course you will want something to do as you wait for the power to come back on. Arm yourself with books, board games, puzzles and crafts. If the storm is not too bad, you can also go out and enjoy the weather. Build a snowman, go for a walk or go sled riding. Simple pastimes like these are really effective for passing the time and keeping yourself and others entertained. Snow Shoveling After a storm passes, you may be faced with several inches or feet of snow. Driveways and sidewalks are covered, making you cringe at the thought of all that shoveling you’ll have to do. There are ways to make the shoveling a bit more tolerable and a lot less painful. First of all, don’t do it alone! Have someone help you out, whether its family, friends, or maybe even pay one of the neighborhood kids to help you out. You’ll also want to warm up a bit before you start. You can do this by jogging in place and stretching to warm up your muscles. Ergonomic shovels are the preferred choice. They are lighter than normal shovels and have a contoured handle specifically designed to reduce/eliminate bending and decrease lifting. Each shovelful can weigh close to 20 pounds (9kg), so you’ll definitely want to use equipment that lessens strain, rather than adds to it. Next thing you should familiarize yourself with is the proper shoveling technique. Do not lift the snow; push the snow instead and do not overload the shovel. If you must lift, bend your knees and lift with your legs—do not use your back. Also, avoid twisting or throwing the snow over your shoulder. Oh, and taking breaks are okay—in fact, they’re almost mandatory. Every 15 minutes or so, ditch the shovel and walk around for a bit. Drink some water and most importantly, listen to your body. Do you have any aches or pains? Are you feeling rather tired or worn down? If you are feeling any discomfort, stop. Someone else can take over for you. It may surprise you to know that in 2007, over 118,000 people were treated for injuries related to snow shoveling. More than 16,000 of them were injured from using snow blowers. Snow removal can put a lot of strain on the body, especially the heart—and it has been known to cause heart attacks. These tips should definitely help you through the coming winter storms. Oh, and if you’re curious about driving on snow-covered or icy roads, check out this site. It’s part of and contains information on driving and how to winterize your vehicle. Also, for further weather updates, information on closings, road conditions and so forth, head over to and check out the links listed under “February Fury”. By Heidi Marshall