Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

February 9, 2016

Things I've Learned About Winter Storms

When I lived here the first time, almost every big snow event of my life was when I was still living with my parents, except for the years after college when I lived on my own before moving to the west coast where it rarely snowed in WA and never snowed in CA.  Over the course of 2+ decades, I forgot what it was like to have a snowstorm with blizzard conditions and high winds.

My first winter back here, 2012, was extremely mild.  It snowed once and melted fast.  I was delighted.  That's the winter climate I was used to out west.  2013 rolled around and we had a wicked blizzard.  It was exciting at first.  We had thundersnow that storm.  But as day turned to night, the storm was still howling.  Our power went out & the house got very cold.  The dogs were scared to death.  The fun wore off real damn fast, let me tell ya.  Especially since our power was out for four days.  Four miserable, cold, desperate days.  We got a generator the following fall just in case.  

2014 and 2015 were horribly cold and snowy, with 2015 being the absolute worst winter I've ever seen, in terms of nonstop snow and freezing temps.  But the power stayed on both years.  If the power is on, being snowbound doesn't suck.

My first experience with a prolonged power outage after a winter storm was in 2006 in Washington. Power was out for 5 some places it was out 2 weeks.  They had crews flying in from all over the country to help.  And while it was cold and it did suck to have no power, it was also not a bitter cold, snowy region either, and we had a wood stove.  Here? Not so much.  I was so cavalier about that 2013 storm, and it bit me in the ass big time.  2014 and 2015 were freezing cold and snowy, but the power stayed on.  

Over time, with each big storm, I have learned a few things about how to deal with them:

Storm Still Life by artist George Lucas of Maryland
  • In the days preceding the storm, do any and all errands you can think of.  Stores will be crazy the day and night before and a lot of stuff will sell out.  Take weather predictions serious enough to be prepared with prescription refills, pet food, flashlight and hearing aid batteries, toilet paper, salt or ice melt, etc.  If the storm doesn't pan out then hey, you got shit done.  The big joke and meme I see online is, 'Big storm is coming! Get milk, bread and TP!'  There's a lot of truth to it too. But if the storm is bad, you're good.
  • Keep the shovel..or at last a shovel..and the car brush/scraper inside the house.  Depending which direction your main door faces, you might open the door to let the dogs out and find a 2' drift on the other side.  I have to shovel my way out of this house.  And the car brush/scraper is not much help inside a car that's so covered in snow you can't get the door open to get the damn thing.
  • Banking.  Anticipate what you might need.  Get some cash to have on hand. Same for post office.
  • Start charging flashlights and electronics early and gather all the candles you can find in one place.  Grab extra blankets.  
  • Flip your wiper blades up prior to the storm.  This is something new that I never saw back in the 70s and 80s when I grew up here.  It's a good idea.  Russell's gotten me in the habit of backing into the driveway before a snowstorm because it's easier to pull forward, if for some reason I have to leave. 
  • Is your generator working? Battery?  Fuel?  See here's where this post gets ironic cause mine is not working, due to a dead battery.  Get the extension cords and power strips out.  And for the love of god NEVER RUN A GENERATOR INSIDE A BUILDING, OR INSIDE OF AN ADJOINING BUILDING, LIKE A GARAGE.  
  • Don't stock up too many things that need to be frozen or kept cold in case the power is out. What I did a few years ago was drag out a big cooler, put it on the snow on the deck, frozen food went next with snow shoveled on top, then the fridge stuff and more snow.   Didn't lose a thing.  Frozen food was still frozen when I unpacked it after 4 days.
  • Don't leave stuff to soak in the sink either.  Just do the dishes when you are done eating.   If you have no hot water due to no power, trying to wash stuff in cold water is the pits and unsanitary.
  • Fill all vehicle gas tanks.  Do all the laundry.
  • Take out the trash.  If you have curbside pick up like I do, drag the barrels out to where they are picked up. You don't want to be trying to drag a heavy barrel through a foot of snow.  Even if they can't pick up on their usual day, it's out there for when they do show up.
  • Stay off your phone if the power goes out cause you can't recharge it.  If you are planning on charging your phone in the car, then CLEAR THE SNOW AWAY FROM THE TAILPIPE!
  • Check the dryer vent after a storm and make sure it's not blocked with snow.
  • Try to line up a plow guy in advance.
  • Stay in one room as much as possible and shut the doors to the other rooms to keep the cold as isolated as possible.  Light enough candles and the will slowly warm the room.
  • The big thing here is to 'make a packy run', which means stock up on beer, wine, etc. That's not my thing, but a lot of my friends emphasize that alcoholically speaking, they are prepared for the storm. 
  • Finally, if you value your sanity, you will avoid storm coverage by the media.  Remember back in the day when it just snowed?  The meteorologists would say there was a snowstorm coming. That was it.  Now they whip everyone into a frenzy with nonstop coverage and predictions of Snowmageddon.
  • If you have to go outside, like to take your dogs out, make sure your keys are in your jacket pocket.  I live in fear of the door locking behind me.  It's not a bad idea to get in the habit of taking your cell phone too.  If you do lock yourself out, as long as the tailpipe is kept clear of snow, you can take refuge inside the car.  
  • Back up your pictures & computer stuff.
I cannot emphasize advance preparation enough.  All that stuff sounds like a lot of work, but does anyone want to be searching around for stuff in the dark by a flashlight with a dying battery?  I know I don't. I have in the past and it sucked.  Power outages and being snowbound can be a real pain in the ass when you realize you need a prescription refill, with authorization, and the doctor's office is closed.  

Having the power out in the cold is very uncomfortable as it is, without stupid things sending the frustration level off the charts.


  1. Or if you live in Canada, take it all in stride.You remind me of what it was like in NC when we lived there. People tended to panic. We thought it was funny. I guess if you live further south, not so much. I always have enough things on hand to last a week or so (we lived a week without power after a hurricane). Most of the power is underground here so it is rare we have outages because of snow. Maybe this year you won't get much anyway JoJo. We certainly haven't done so yet.

    1. We used to take it in stride too but over the past 2 decades, the weather's been extreme with more powerful storms, more often. Planning ahead goes a long way.

  2. your header is incredible! this is a very helpful list! this only our second year of experiencing snow and different than our Florida weather. I know we would like to install a back up generator and I would like to have a wood burning stove as back up as well. You really have some great tips here. I need to print off this list and put it on the fridge!
    Always nice to see you stop by my blog. :)

    enjoy your day!

    1. Hi Marie! Thank you so much! :) My husband thinks it's hilarious the way I attend to every detail of life prior to a storm, but this is years of experience. Like having no cash at all after the 1989 SF Earthquake, and the banks were closed the following day b/c of the severity of the quake. Lesson learned. lol

  3. These are all excellent ideas. We lived in Hopkinton MA during the 1978 blizzard and we were stranded for 5 days. Nice people who had snowmobiles were going house to house to see if we needed water and groceries. Everyone was out shoveling and walking down the middle of streets that had no traffic. It was really cool, no pun intended... Thank goodness we had a wood stove. Now we have a generator where we live now. LJ

    1. I was in 8th grade in 78 on the Cape..I remember that blizzard well! Luckily we didn't lose power. I will never be unprepared for a storm again.