A Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for Extreme Winter Weather

A Comprehensive Guide to Preparing for Extreme Winter Weather

For many, winter is a time for fun, rest, and family time. Few things can beat building snowmen, skiing down steep slopes, and enjoying warm dinners after a day out in the cold. 

However, winter also poses some serious health hazards. You’ll have to contend with icy roads on your commute and are more likely to encounter flooded roadways during the winter months

Extreme winter weather can also have an adverse effect on your home. You need to make sure you are equipped to deal with temperatures well below freezing and should take care to ensure snow is removed from your roof promptly before it causes any damage. 

Common Winter Weather Events

Most people think of wildfires and hurricanes when they imagine extreme weather events. However, the winter can pose an even bigger threat to the health and well-being of yourself and your family. This is underscored by the fact that the coldest temperatures on record occurred in 2023 when wind chill temperatures dropped to -108 F at Mount Washington in New Hampshire. 

The Cybersecurity, Infrastructure, and Security Agency (CISA) reports that extreme cold weather events are usually amplified by: 

  • Polar Vortex: An area of low pressure and cold air meets warm air to the south and produces a counterclockwise rotation of air that keeps temperatures lower for longer. 
  • Freezing Fog: Tiny droplets of liquid freeze as soon as they touch an exposed surface like the road or a car. 
  • Blizzard: Sustained winds and snows significantly reduce visibility and may cause wind chills. 

In the past 40 years, these types of cold weather events have caused $120 billion in damage and claimed lives. This has led to the National Weather Service calling winter weather the “deceptive killer” as cold weather events don’t typically grab the same headlines as hurricanes or wildfires. 

Being aware of extreme winter weather events is critical if you want to preserve the health and well-being of your family. Even simple changes, like choosing to dress appropriately for winter, can make a huge difference if you’re caught in a storm. Opt for insulated garments when possible and high-quality winter boots that will keep the wet weather and cold away from your feet. Keep a spare set of gloves and hats in your car, too, as you’ll need them should you break down.  

On the Roads

Every year, winter weather puts a strain on our roadways. Heavy rainfall can produce potholes while freezing temperatures can cause black ice and treacherous driving conditions. Heavy fog can also result in pile-ups or collisions due to lack of visibility. 

Avoid driving if you know that the road conditions are perilous. Even well-equipped cars can skid on ice and there’s nothing more important than your safety. However, if you must drive, you should take steps to stay safe on the road, including: 

  • Slow down and assess the conditions constantly. Drive at least half as slow as normal if it snows and navigate bumps with extreme caution. 
  • Prepare for emergencies by packing a first aid kit, emergency batteries, flashlights, and contact numbers. If you’re driving in remote areas, consider packing a flare, too. 
  • Leave more room than usual as your brakes will be less effective in cold, wet conditions. 
  • Turn around if you encounter flood water, heavy snow, or otherwise dangerous conditions. 

Exercise caution when on the roads in the winter and give other drivers plenty of room. Make sure you take your car in for a service before the cold weather draws in, as you don’t want to break down when the temperatures plunge below freezing. 

At Home

Extreme weather events like blizzards can force you to stay inside for prolonged periods. While your house is usually the safest place to wait out a winter storm, you do need to take precautions to preserve the integrity of your home. 

Start by scheduling a service for your boiler or furnace before winter. Replacing an inefficient boiler is a great way to improve your energy efficiency and save money, too. Keeping the heat running will keep you warm and ensure that your whole family can see out the storm in comfort. 

You can further insulate your home during a storm by hanging heavy quilts over windows and insulating your attic before winter begins. This traps the warm air in your house and minimizes the strain on your heating system. This is particularly important if you know that your furnace or boiler is dated but you haven’t yet replaced it. 

Maintaining Your Health 

Extreme winter weather will put a strain on your physical and mental health. No one wants to be trapped inside for days on end while waiting out a storm and traversing the cold weather can be deadly if you’re not ready for freezing rain and wind chill.

If you’re caught in a winter storm, resist the temptation to start shoveling snow straight away. Intense exercise in cold conditions can put excessive strain on your body and may lead to a heart attack. Instead, complete light exercises to keep your circulation pumping and look for a place to find shelter. Create a lean-to to reduce wind chill and try to attract attention. 

If the heating goes out while you’re at home, close your doors and stuff towels around them. Keep the blinds and curtains closed and wear plenty of lightweight layers. Try to judge how many layers you’ll need accurately, as overheating can cause perspiration and subsequent chill. Keep eating food and drinking water, as your body needs a surprising amount of energy to produce heat and regulate your temperature. 


Extreme winter weather puts a strain on your health, home, and motor vehicle. Stay safe by taking a precautious, preventative approach. Service your car, furnace, and boiler before the weather dips and make repairs before something goes wrong. Remember to dress appropriately whenever you leave the house, as winter blizzards can form unexpectedly and leave you trapped in your car for hours. If you do find yourself in a winter storm, stay safe by eating plenty of food, wearing lightweight layers, and moving your extremities vigorously to keep blood flowing. 

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Article Author Details

Charlie Fletcher

Charlie Fletcher is a freelance writer living in the pacific northwest who has a variety of interests including sociology, politics, business, education, health, and more.