How to Prepare for A Winter Storm: Useful Advice & Information for A Difficult Situation

Coleman camp stove
Written by Dennis Owens

Mother Nature can express itself in different forms and natural disasters, are an unavoidable aspect of nature. Most of the time, they come all of a sudden, taking people by surprise if they are not prepared. For instance, do you know how to prepare for a winter storm?

I mean we all love winter, but there are emergency situations that you would prefer to avoid. How that’s not possible at all times, you need the proper knowledge to survive.

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During such a phenomenon you need to stay warm and safe, especially if you are stuck in the wilderness. In such a situation, you would need extra layers of clothing, packed food to keep you fed, water, and the likes. Also, communication with family and friends are a must in these conditions.

We cannot control what happens during a storm but, it is within our control to manage the preparation and be ready. Awareness is the key in such situations and survival measures include staying protected before, during and after a winter storm. But, let’s discuss the 3 stages of storm protection in detail.

The 3 Stages of Storm Protection

Before the storm

This is the first stage that revolves around preparation. This is a rather important step that involves equipping yourself with all the necessary items for facing the winter storm in the wilderness. Some of the essential components of the ‘before’ stage include gathering emergency supplies, chalking out proper family plans that especially focus on communication during the storm, emergency notifications, and the likes.

Before the storm

If you are out there in the wilderness driving through the storm, you must have the essentials ready with you as well.

During the storm

This is more aptly known as the survival stage. This is when all your plans and preparation are brought to fruition. The disaster supplies will come into use now. During a storm, your best bet would be staying indoors within the protection of your walls.

During the storm

However, if you are outdoors, you have no other option than to wear layered clothing and take as much protection as possible.

After the storm

Recovery is as important part of preparation for a winter storm as the others. The key here is to bring your life back to the usual. This would be spread out over a considerably long period of time where things would be brought back to normal.

If the power outdoors has been kept off for quite some time, it would be a good idea to actually resort to warming shelters. Besides, you need to be extra careful about being susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.

Preparing for A Winter Storm

Even though your home is the safest place to be in when the storm hits you may not be that lucky. So, if you’re going outdoors, in the winter, you need to put together adequate supplies of emergency items.

Preparing For a Winter Storm

You don’t know exactly when the storm will hit you, so it is better to be prepared than be stuck in an emergency situation. Now, it is a rather tricky task to choose the exact items which are important.

Remember, you cannot include a huge baggage here since it will make the whole idea of an emergency kit redundant. So pack your bag wisely and include all the necessary items. Here are some ideas for your winter storm kit.

  • Water: If you are outdoors, it is essential to have sufficient water for yourself. On an average, each person requires about ¾ of a gallon of water daily. So your water supply should be such that you can survive with it for at least 3 days. This water does not only refer to drinking water. Other measures like sanitation and food preparation also require water for emergency situations.
  • Food: Just like water, you need to have adequate food supplies with you such that you can survive 3 days in the storm without having a way back home. The best option here would be opting for non-perishable food items that it does not get spoilt. Also, you must pay extra attention to special dietary needs. For instance, if you have a baby with you, infant solutions would be required in your emergency kit.
  • Flashlight: The flashlight or a torch is an indispensable object when it comes to any emergency situation. If your torch is powered by batteries, keeping a few spare batteries is a must since you do not know for how long you would be stuck in the storm.
  • Cell phone charger: Even though one cannot be sure if you would be able to get electricity during one of these menacing winter storms, keeping a phone charger might come in handy. You wouldn’t want to lose your cell phone in such a situation. This also allows you to charge your phone from a car outlet if required. Check out our reviews of the best solar phone chargers to help you.
  • Medical supplies: This is a characteristic of every emergency kit. You need to have a set of first aid supplies to protect yourself from the storm and the harsh conditions outdoors if required. These would include band-aids, gauze, and the likes. If you are under any prescription drugs, it is advisable to add them to this kit.
  • Radio: This might not seem like the most important item in your emergency kit to fight winter storms, but they are more important than what you could imagine. Having a radio facilitates communication. If you are stuck in the middle of nowhere due to the winter storm, you can have access to the rest of the world via the radio. This could also let you know if your friends or family are safe.
  • Fire making tools: If it’s the chilling winters, you need to be equipped with waterproof match sticks and at least two other ways to make a fire. Even if the storm ceases, you need some warmth to stay protected and safe. Lighting up a fire can only work to your advantage in these situations. See our piece on how to choose the best windproof lighters to prepare for any snowy situation.
  • Sanitation: Being outdoors means you have to be extra careful about the sanitation conditions of the area hit by the storm. This pack would include sanitizers, toilet paper, diapers, plastic bags and the likes. Even though you are trying to have a sufficient water supply, you should be prepared for performing these sanitation jobs without using water.
  • Clothes: We cannot stress on how important it is to have enough and sufficient layers of clothing when you are outdoors in the storm. Keeping a few warm blankets handy might work to your advantage here. Apart from that, you should have extra layers like jackets, hats, mittens, caps and the likes. Also, it would be a good idea to have a sleeping bag with you such that you could sleep in the wilderness when struck by a storm.
  • Others: Among other things, you should have rock salt. Spreading out rock salt would help you melt the ice around so you can move. Keeping a shovel in these situations might also come in handy. You can remove some snow from your path to make

Be Aware of Health Issues

The winter storm can take a toll on your body. It is thus advisable that you have sufficient information about each of these in order to prepare yourself in the case of a storm. The issue with winter storms is that they are often dubbed as silent killers.

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The diseases that you are most likely to contract during or after a storm would include hypothermia and frostbite. It is for this reason you need to know about these health issues in detail.


If you see a dip in your body temperature during the storm then there is a good chance that you have contracted hypothermia.

Hypothermia winter storm

The disease will cause low body temperature of abnormal proportions which if not treated can lead to life-threatening conditions.


  • Shivering – When we say shivering we mean you can have uncontrollable shivering which is the first and glaring symptom for hypothermia. It would be good to have a friend or family by your side but since you will be out, therefore, chances of having them are low.
  • Drowsy Feeling – The next symptom you need to look out for is drowsiness. Here, you will need to fight the urge of sleeping in order to protect yourself.
  • Disorientation – When we talk about disorientation, this will not be restricted to your physical situation, but also mental condition. There are possibilities of memory loss, slurred speech, and the likes which all are symptoms of
  • Exhaustion – Here the feeling of exhaustion is often apparent; so be careful about it as well.

The road to recovery:

  • Getting the victims warm – The first thing you need to do is find a place warm enough in your car or in your tent. For this purpose, you can use your blankets to keep yourself warm during the storm. If you are in your car and if it is working condition then a good idea would be to stay close to the heater.
  • Clothing – If you are diagnosed with hypothermia then you will find your clothes getting wet. You have to make sure you remove all the wet clothes and put on dry ones; so keeping a decent stock of dry clothes close by will be a good idea.
  • Something to drink – If you are suffering from hypothermia then having some warm beverage will definitely help you. So have some coffee or tea close to yourself during the storm to be on the safer side.


Often referred to as cold burn, frostbite is a painful condition where the tissues placed just below your skin are frozen.

Frostbite winter storm

The areas which are most likely to be affected by it are exposed portions of your body.


  • Loss of senses – The first thing you will notice here will be a loss of feeling in the exposed part of your body, namely your toes, face, etc.
  • Change of skin color – Another symptom for frostbite is the change of skin color to a more pale appearance of the areas affected by the disease.

The road to recovery

  • Cover up – In order to prevent frostbite from setting in, firstly, you would need to cover up the areas which are exposed to the cold, especially your face, nose, and toes.
  • Don’t rub – Make sure that you don’t rub the areas that are affected by frostbite as it can have an adverse effect.
  • Medical Help – As soon as you get the chance, rush to your nearest medical facility to get yourself checked as seeking medical attention is the only way to protect yourself against frostbite.

An awareness and knowledge of these possible health issues is an integral part of the preparation for a winter storm.

Communication Is The Key

When you are out in the wild and have to face an adverse situation like this keeping tabs on your near and dear ones is the best thing to do. It helps you know whether they are safe or not and at the same time, they also get to know about your whereabouts which is essential here.

Radio in the car

It is, for this reason, you must have a channel of communication ready beforehand so that you aren’t caught off guard. Hereunder, you will find the reasons for communicating with your family and friends.

  • Information. Information is everything to a survivalist which is something you can get from your family and friend. Key pieces of information like areas affected by storms and safe time to drive can save you which you can get from the people sitting on the other side.
  • Peace of mind. If you are all alone and your family is far away from you then it is natural to get concerned. Therefore, if you are in constant communication with each other then, both you and your family can breathe a sigh of relief.
  • Moral support. Lastly, in a situation like this, your mind is also under pressure which is much more than any physical pressure. It is here that the moral support of your family can help you deal with the situation and get you through the storm.

Ways to communicate

Some of the ways you can communicate with your loved ones through this horrible time are as follows.

  • Cell phones. It is needless to say that it is impossible to find a landline when you are out there, so your cell phone will be your channel of communication here. Be prepared for call drops or busy tones as lines will be overwhelmed during the storm, so texting would be a good idea for communication purposes. Moreover, you can access various social networks from your cell phones which will allow you to be close to your dear ones even if you cannot call or text them.
  • Radios. One of the devices you discarded a long time ago for a smartphone is a radio, which can come back to save your life. Although, the radio will not let you contact your family directly but you can get all the recent updates of areas affected and the current status of the storm which are all important pieces of information for a survivalist. For the best and reliable emergency radios, check out our article on this topic.
  • Satellite Phones. Your last option can be the satellite phone. Often unheard of, but a device which will allow you to communicate with your family from any place is the satellite office. So if you are caught in the storm in a mountainous region and want to call your family then all you need to do input in the number on your satellite phone and call them up.

Know Your Weather and Specific Terms

When you are stuck in a situation like this, you need to prepare beforehand. And by being prepared we mean you should keep a tab on the weather news. As an experienced outdoor adventurer, you should know some specific weather terms but if you’re a beginner the news might seem confusing.

Winter Storm Warning

So, here’s a quick crash course on the important terms you need to know as part of your preparation for winter storms.

  • Winter storm outlook – It is possibly the least problematic situation but serves as the first level of warning for a possible storm. It reveals the possibility of a storm happening in the next 2 to 5 days.
  • Winter Weather Advisory – This is something which tells you of imminent winter Now these conditions have the possibility of causing inconvenience which might be hazardous in nature. But if you are applying caution then chances of any life threatening situation can be avoided.
  • Winter Storm Watch – If this advisory is delivered in the news bulletin then it is time to prepare for severe weather conditions. If you are outdoors and you get this warning, it’s time to start looking for shelter or trying to reach an inhabited area (if possible).
  • Winter Storm Warning – It is the alert which is issued to intimate an oncoming storm which is usually severe. The weather conditions in the affected area are supposed to be extremely severe to the level of being life threatening.

This advisory is delivered around 24 hours before the storm to let the general public know and prepare them for the storm. It is possible that the affected area will be under 4 inches of snow within the next 12 hours and close to 6 inches snow in the next 24 hours. Again, it’s a red flag that you should find shelter and keep low for a while.

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As you can see, the first aspect to dealing with a winter storm in the wilderness is awareness and knowledge. Having an idea of when and where the winter storm might strike is the key here. So, checking up on the news and radio broadcasts is important.

Besides, being aware of the possible health issues and taking suitable measures are an integral part of the preparation. Once you are aware of the specific consequences, you can be ready to deal with them when the time comes. For more cold weather camping tips and safety guides, see our must-read article for reference.


Dennis Owens

Dennis Owens is a graduate of National Camping School and REI Outdoor School. He knows everything about what gear to take with you, how to plan your trip to stay safe and what to do if you get lost in the mountains. We are lucky to have Dennis with us as he is a ‘walking encyclopedia’ when it comes to the wilderness.