The Big List of Nasty Disasters: Part Twelve – How to Survive Extreme Winter Weather, Blizzards, Ice, and Freezing Rain

Severe winter weather can produce a plethora of nasty effects which include: high winds, extreme cold, snow, sleet, freezing rain, and ice.

Furthermore, the unprepared can quickly perish from the ensuing hazards of frostbite, hypothermia or overexertion.

In addition to these dangers, the possibility of losing power, getting into accidents on slippery roads and walkways, experiencing low visibility, mechanical failures, and freezing pipes can turn a wonderful-white-winter-wonderland into an ice apocalypse.

Therefore, it is imperative to prepare for these potential hazards — in advance.

Before the Storm

There are two primary areas in which to prepare for extreme winter weather, your vehicle, and your shelter-in-place location — most likely your home.

Preparing Your Vehicle for Winter Weather

Encountering hazardous weather conditions while on the road can be extremely dangerous.

Sometimes people think their vehicle provides them adequate safety and shelter. However, if you become stranded, you can quickly freeze to death inside your car. See these tips on how to keep from freezing to death in your car.

If you live where it freezes or will be traveling where it does, the following guidelines will help you prepare.

Make sure that you properly maintain your vehicle. In addition to the standard vehicle maintenance of an oil change, air filter, etc. ensure that the radiator is full and check the battery.

strong>Consider using de-icer windshield washer Fluid. Ice melt will help reduce ice buildup on your windshield and allow for better visibility while driving.

Carry several bags of cat litter, sand or salt in the trunk. The added weight improves traction, and you can use the contents to get un-stuck.

Purchase chains or install snow tires if frequently traveling through areas that see freezing temperatures.

Keep a sturdy ice scraper in your vehicle during the cold season.

Carry a shovel for digging out and a tow rope. Make sure you get a long one like this.

Build or update your Vehicle Survival Kit (VSK). See – How to Build the Ultimate Vehicle Survival Kit: With Checklist. Most importantly, if going on a long trip, or in an unpopulated area, carry enough water and food for at least three days and at least two methods for starting a fire. See – Starting a Fire in Any Situation. In that article, we cover some fire starting hacks including how to start a fire with jumper cables and a pencil.

Also, consider carrying a come along if you will be traveling though areas where you might not see anyone for a long time.


If you must travel in winter weather, let one of your contacts know when and where you will be traveling, along with your route and expected date of arrival.

Also, carry your emergency kit inside the cabin of your vehicle so that you can access it if you get stuck inside your car. Try not to travel alone, if possible. Remember, two people can get a vehicle unstuck better than one, and you can use each others body heat to keep warm. With this in mind, plan who you take with you strategically. 🙂

If you have sleeping bags, bring them with you as well. A good sleeping bag will trap your body heat and prevent hypothermia.

Additionally, if you are stuck, only run your vehicle and heater for 10 to 15 minutes an hour. Make sure your tailpipe is clear before starting your car. At night, turn on a light, (if a vehicle light, only while the vehicle is running) so that rescuers can find you.

Only use your hazard lights if you are a danger to other traffic. Otherwise, they will wear down your battery.

If you are not alone, take turns sleeping so that there is always someone to keep an eye out for rescuers and other unexpected dangers like a bear, a moose, or a Tyrannosaurus Rex. 🙂

DO NOT LEAVE YOUR VEHICLE UNLESS YOU SEE SHELTER NEARBY. While it might be tempting to try to walk for help, your chances of survival significantly increase when you stay with your vehicle. 

If it’s  a life-and-death situation, consider cannibalizing your vehicle for survival. While the vehicle itself will get cold very quickly, it contains items that you can use for signaling, constructing a shelter, starting a fire, and keeping warm. Use the seats and carpet for insulation, spike the gas tank for fuel and use the electrical wires for cordage.

Starting a Fire With Your Vehicle (Hacks)

  1. Use your mirrors or light lenses to focus the sun on a small piece of tinder.
  2. All-You-Need-Is-A-Pencil-Car-Battery-And-Jumper-WiresUse your battery and jumper cables or any wire you have and batteries with steel wool to light tinder. You can also use a pencil with jumper cables. Just split the pencil in half (like splitting a small log) to expose the lead, then touch the negative and positive lead to opposite ends of the lead. The lead will start to glow, and the wood will ignite. Be sure to do this as far away from the battery as possible. Close the hood as well to protect yourself from an exploding battery. Read more about that here.
  3. If your engine will run, pull one of the leads (spark plug wires) off the spark plug with a gloved or well-insulated hand and touch it to any metal part of the engine to generate a spark.
  4. Don’t forget about the cigarette lighter if you have one. It’s the easiest and safest method for starting a fire.

Digging Your Car Out of the Snow

  1. Make sure the exhaust pipe is clear of snow.
  2. Dig through to the underbody of the car to allow proper ventilation from leaking exhaust. Otherwise, leaking exhaust can quickly cause dangerous gasses to build up inside the cabin.
  3. Rock the vehicle back and forth and press gently on the throttle.

If you must leave your car, prepare to take your Vehicle Survival Kit with you.

Preparing your home

There are two primary issues to consider when preparing your home for winter weather, heating, and water.

Heating your Home

Keeping your home warm in extreme winter weather can be difficult if you rely on electricity alone. In the event of a power outage, your home will lose heat rapidly.  Winterize your home to prevent heat loss.

To winterize: caulk windows, weatherstrip outside doors (including doors to a porch or garage), and, if you have an attic make sure your insulation covers the attic access door.

If you lose power, close vents and doors in rooms that you will not use.

Consider an alternative heating source. Either wood, gas or coal.

WARNING: Do not run a generator inside your home. The exhaust includes carbon monoxide which will kill you.


Naturally, one of the most typical extreme winter weather effects is frozen pipes. Make sure you have a water access plan in place. Your plan should include either permanent water storage — filling containers, the tub, etc.  — or a method for collecting and melting snow. See – Melting Snow To Survive: Safety and Viability.

How Much Water is Needed?

In keeping with the FEMA guidelines, store one gallon of water per person per day, with a minimum of two weeks’ supply. WOW!

Small, transportable, bug-out ready options.

Foil Water Packets
Foil Water Disaster Preparedness Packets

Foil Water Bags. These little bags are fantastic for medium to longer term storage.

On a recent hunt, we ran out of drinking water and decided to use a few of these foil water bags that had been in our camp box for a couple of years. The water tasted great.

The foil is thick, and there is enough room for expansion when frozen.

They’re excellent for throwing in packs, the glove box or to store in boxes. Recommended shelf life is five years. However, they will still be safe well beyond that – though the water will probably taste like metal.

The FDA does not require an expiration date on water. The “use by date” is something manufacturers put on by choice because they are concerned with users “enjoying” the taste. But who the heck cares about taste if it saves your life.

At 64 packs for $28.95, a two weeks’ supply (for one person) or 448 packets (14.77 gallons) =  $202.65. You can get them here.

Blue Can Disaster Preparedness Water
Blue Can Disaster Preparedness Water

Blue Can – Premium Emergency Drinking Water. With a shelf life of over 50 years, these cans are fantastic for long-term storage. They are hermetically sealed, tested BPA Free, No Chlorine or Fluoride purified with 12-step filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV light treatment. 

At 24 cans for $47.95, a 2 weeks supply (for one person) or 168 cans (15.75 gallons) =  $335.65.

Currently, you can only purchase these here.

Larger, tap water options

AQUATANK2 Water Storage Bladder These bad boys are available in 30, 60, 150, and 300 gallons. They are super durable, an excellent way to transport water, work well under the seats of some vehicles, and can be thrown in the bed of a truck or even on a roof rack (if you’re careful).

BPA free with an inner lining made from 100% Food-Grade TPU (Polyurethane) and an Outer Shell of Durable Nylon you can’t go wrong with these. Get them here.

waterBob Emergency Drinking Water Storage. In the opening scene of The Road, the main character begins to fill the bathtub with water. His wife asks why he’s taking a bath and he simply says “I’m not.”

While filling the bathtub, and anything else you can in an emergency situation is a good idea, it’s not the most sanitary. Water stored in an open bathtub, with dirt, soap film, potentially harsh cleaning chemicals,  and exposure to debris will spoil and become useless.

The waterBob solves these problems and provides an easy way to fill the tub with up to 100 gallons (most tubs hold 35 to 50 gallons) of clean water that can be used for drinking, cooking, washing and flushing. It keeps water fresh and clean for up to 16 weeks and includes a siphon pump to easily dispense the water into jugs or pitchers. Pretty sweet, don’t you think? 

The waterBob is a must in an apartment, or anywhere else storage is limited.

You can get them here.

waterBob - disaster preparedness water storage solution
The waterBob provides a safe and easy way to fill your tub in an emergency situation.

Water Barrels.  For those who have space, these 55-gallon, food-grade, water barrels are an affordable way to store a large amount of water for long-term disaster preparedness. II recommend that you replace the water every five years.

At 55 gallons per barrel, one barrel will last one person 55 days.

You can get your barrels here.

To store water in the barrels properly, be sure to use a food grade hose when filling, add water preserver (some say it’s not necessary if using city water which already has chlorine). Don’t forget a pump and smaller bottles such as the Aqua-Tainer for transport

Wrapping up

Many of the things you need to do to prepare for extreme winter weather are the same as for other disasters. They just require only a little bit of time and planning. You can do it!

Digging in Deeper

If you want to further your study on winter survival I highly recommend The Winter Survival Handbook: 157 Winter Tips and Tricks (Outdoor Life). This volume is packed full with uber-useful information. 

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I Want to Hear From You!

Join in the discussion and leave a comment. Do you have recommendations of your own? I want to hear them!

BACK TO INDEX: The Big List of Nasty Disasters and How to Prepare: Part One

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