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Deep Snow, Winter Weather - How to Deal with It

By Stephanie Dayle

Snow storms, even serious snow storms are pretty common in my neck of the woods. Eastern Washington is a whole different animal than the Washington State coast and I live in the Northern part of it in the bottom part of the Selkirk Mountain range. This makes our weather more similar to Northern Idaho and Western Montana's weather. So, yeah, we get a lot of snow most years. Three feet is pretty average, but there have also been years where we've seen very little snow. Either way we are always prepared for it, and that's why it hardly ever makes the news.

I want to apologize in advance if any of my attitude comes out in this post. People who live in areas that get alot of snow tend to have a dim view of populated areas that panic whenever they get alot of snow because they are unprepared.  It's not that we're mean, it just we are so used to dealing with it that we don't see why it's such a big deal.

Here are some tips from Eastern Washington on how to deal with snow and winter weather. Yes, other areas get more snow - other areas get colder. It's not a CONTEST.

Be Prepared for a Power Outage. And Expect it.
Snow collects on  power lines during big storms, the lines stretch under the weight of the snow. Then, suddenly, the show falls off and the lines snaps back. The lines and transformers don't like this so you lose power. Unmaintained trees and tree limbs also bend and break under the weight of snow and ice -  they take the power poles and power lines down with them. When this happens on a massive scale power companies are overwhelmed sometimes it takes weeks for power to be restored.  Where I grew up you could easily drive a truck up any power line in the county they were so well cleared. When I moved to the city for college I was shocked at the overgrowth of the trees along power line routes.

Power outages in the winter mean you need a way to heat your home other than with something that requires electricity. Why not just stay in a hotel? Well you could, if you could afford it and if they have power - but if it gets cold enough during the power outage your plumbing could freeze and break.

Wood heat? Might not be a bad idea - it's a great back up. Where I live it is STILL the most common source of heat. It's not because we are backwards, it's because the weather is so crapy up here and our power lines are so old, that it does go out fairly frequently - and no one wants to freeze their butts off so alot of people have wood stoves in their houses. My Hubby and I flat out refused to be solely dependent on the power company for our well being, so we made it a priority to have wood heat.

Other options:
  • A large generator to run the furnace for your house. Please note: this option requires a large amount of fuel stored at all times, because if the power is out in your area, it will be out at the local gas stations as well, and surprise - surprise you won't be the only person in need of fuel. So keep some on hand. Also - don't be one of those guys that returns a generator after a storm, I mean really? Have one before you need it, and don't sell it or return it just because you haven't used it in a while.
  • A propane generator. This will also require fuel storage but the fuel will NOT go bad. You can keep a several full tanks, or one large full tank, at all times and not worry about it going bad. Try not to store the propane IN your house.
  • A pellet stove really doesn't draw that much power, and would be easier to run with a smaller generator. Also wood pellets keep longer than gas does if you can keep them dry.
  • A propane or kerosene heater. These come in a variety of sizes with all kinds of safety features you can find them in the outdoor sections of most stores or by clicking here. They will help keep you warm but even if you have several of them, they are impractical for heating a large house for any length of time and preventing pipes from freezing. They will however keep you from freezing and that's what is most important.
  • A gas or propane fire place. Most of these can be safely operated and lit without power and they put out a fair amount of heat. It's an option to consider if you have one. Adding a few battery powered fans to move the heat around would be a good idea.
  • Solar? Wind? I don't mean to leave solar or wind out - it's just that if you are in the middle of a big storm you may not be generating enough solar power to get the job done, due to lack of sunlight. If you have only a small back up battery system it may not be sufficient enough to help during a big storm - although i do realize there are solar and wind systems out there that could do the job, not many of them are affordable. 

Cooking without Power
Be prepared to cook and provide light without power, winter daylight hours are short increasing the demand on supplemental lighting. We usually just cook on the wood stove during outages, but honestly, I would have no problem what so ever busting out one of our propane camp stoves or my Volcano Stove and cooking with one of those indoors on my stove top (to avoid damaging my table or counter tops). We have carbon monoxide detectors in the house just incase but carbon monoxide is not a byproduct of burning propane or kerosene, the only exception to this would be if one of the burners was malfunctioning. It will however consume oxygen so if you are in a small room crack a window a tad. Camp stoves are different from propane grills (which are often abused, corroded, and not functioning properly to begin with) do NOT under any circumstances bring your propane or charcoal grill indoors. I know it's cold - but leave them outside, neither type of grill is safe for indoor use.

Saving your Food Without Power
If the power goes out for longer than a day or so - stick your food in a cooler and stick the cooler outside or in your garage. If it's winter out and snowing, it will be cold enough to save all your food. If the power is out just for a day or two. Leave your freezer alone and don't open it. If the outage lasts any longer - repeat the above process. Also having some food on hand that is instant, canned, or freeze-dried is not a bad a idea. Preppers usually have 3 month to a year of easy to prepare emergency food on hand, how much do you have? Stock up now, so you don't have the fight the crowds just before a storm, and stock up on food that makes sense - does beer make sense? Does cereal make sense? Does chips make sense?? Then why do those items get purchased first in a rush before a storm in cities? Can you make meals out of them? Are you going to live on crackers and cookies? Wise up people! Head to the canned food section and look for items you can easily eat maybe even heat up and eat without power. Then get some drinking water, then go find some batteries.

Lighting Your House Without Power
For lighting we use one of our LED lanterns in a pinch. They are bright and easy on batteries. If you can avoid candles, do, but if you must use them candles in jars are safer than pillar candles. Know were your fire extinguisher is so if you knock a candle over you can put out any resulting fire. Light only rooms you are in. If there is no one in the bathroom or bedroom, turn the light out or remove the light from that room, this conserves battery power. Assign one flashlight or headlight per person in the house - so that person can travel safely throughout the house and not leave the others in the dark. Again I recommend LED lights as they will make your batteries go much further.

Charge your Gadgets Before Hand, Fill Up Your Tub
If you know a storm is coming - charge up all your computers, cell phones, and devices. Fill you bathtubs up with water, if you have no other emergency water stored this will give you a lot of water in a pinch. There is a product called a waterBOB that will help you accomplish this with a large plastic bag and a cap - it's alot more dependable than the plug on your tub and it collapses down to nothing for storage.

Keep Shovels on Hand
Notice how I said SHOVEL(S). Because they break, especially when you are trying to use them for something they weren't meant for, like breaking ice. Your snowblower will run out of gas, if the power is out your electric one won't be helpful either. You may or may not have invested in a snowplow for your lawnmower, ATV, or truck - but those could also run out of gas. Lawnmowers and ATVs can also be overwhelmed with too much snow. Shovels are a 'no brainer' for folks in northern areas and they will be the first thing hardware stores sell out of when big snow hits.

One of the favorite things for the rednecks to do up here is to buy lots of snow shovels when a storm is forecasted to hit the city. They wait for the stores to run out of shovels knowing lots of city folks will wait till the last minute to get one - or will break the only one they have, by then the stores will be sold out. They will then sell their extra shovels for $60 a piece on craigslist. Don't buy snow shovels for $60 - buy them ahead of time and keep them on hand, even if it hardly ever snows in your area.

Buy a Set of Chains for Your Vehicle and Keep Them *with* Your Vehicle
Even if it doesn't snow in your area very often, just do it, and keep them in your trunk. Make it a point to know a little bit about them. You can't drive real fast with them on, and they are hard to put on, but it is amazing how helpful they can be in making the difference between you getting stuck or getting home. It's the responsible thing to do, so just pass on going out to sushi for a couple of weeks or make your own dang coffee for a month and buy some chains. Around here if I see a car in the ditch with no chains and/or crapy tires, I may still help pull them out - but they will get a lecture while I am doing it.

Have Some Nice Winter Clothes
I don't mean nice, like North Face nice, I mean nice - as in it works - it doesn't have to cost a fortune. Girls, those stupid fake deer skin boots are not going to cut it. They suck. They are about as handy in the winter as slippers. They shouldn't even be sold in the winter time. I don't even think they look nice, when I see them, I see stupid (and I say that in a loving "I want to help you be smarter kind of way").
  • Invest in at LEAST ONE nice pair of water proof insulated winter boots. If it doesn't snow much in your area you will have them forever! If it does that one time - you'll feel like a genius. Personally, I have a pair of Sorels that I have had since I was 14 years old. I have replaced the liners in them a few times, always opted for the nice wool ones, but years later they STILL don't leak. 
  • Have a nice pair of waterproof insulated gloves. That you can actually grip a shovel with - ski gloves don't ways make the best shoveling gloves.
  • Have a nice wool hat. Not a silly skull cap, and nothing dangling. You're not going skiing you are shoveling snow. Wool is great because it can get wet and stay warm.
  • Also invest in at least one waterproof winter coat. Go with gore-tex or the generic equivalent do not depend on one of those soft shell coats for winter storms and working with wet snow they are not waterproof enough, you'll be soaked to the bone in no time.
  • Get at least one pair of quality thermal underwear. There is some really nice inexpensive underwear on the market now - from years of testing I prefer the merino spandex blends, but the spandex/poly blends are good too. The important part is that you have at least one pair.
  • If you are in an area that gets a lot of snow every year, pick up a pair of snowshoes. They can make getting around a lot easier - but if you are in an area where it's a rare thing, I don't think that I would bother - you can make do without them, its just more work.
Admitting Defeat is Ok - Sometimes
When a storm comes in, leave work early to get home safely and beat the traffic. Realize that you may not make it to work in time tomorrow, if at all. You might even want to call in ahead of time and tell them you aren't going to make it. Once you accept that - it makes the situation is less stressful. You can then make safer decisions based on the yourself, your property and your loved ones. Basically you are giving yourself permission not to worry about work right now, and to worry about other more important things.

Shovel/Plow Snow on a Schedule
During a storm which lasts longer a couple of hours - if the wind is not blowing too bad, and you can see go outside and shovel and/or plow every couple of hours. Don't sit inside, cuddle up and wait it out. If you do, and you get a more than a foot of snow - you will be faced with a mountainous task. That amount of snow can overwhelm some plowing devices forcing you to shovel. Also have a plan on where you are going to put the snow. We get so much snow in our area that we have had to make a large empty area just off of the driveway, that is twice the size of our front yard just to have somewhere to shovel snow to. So have an idea in mind on where you would shovel and plow the snow to - you get a ticket for plowing it out into the road or street and it has to go somewhere.

Shoveling more than a foot of snow is completely physically exhausting even if you are in shape. You can throw your back out, rip muscles, get sick, and make existing illness worse - by overexerting yourself like that. Therefore its best just to go outside very couple hours and clear everything off. I will even set my alarm clock to get up in the middle of the night and shovel snow so that I can be sure that I can get out and go to work the next morning. Don't just clear your driveway, now is not the time to be lazy. Also keep in mind when the city or country does get around to plowing your road - you will have to shovel AGAIN to get in and out of your drive away. Have patience with this process and be prepared to do more work. The road crews cannot plow out everyone's driveway - their priority is the road.
  • Clear your walkways
  • Clear off vehicles parked outside
  • Clear off outbuildings
  • Clear any paths to dog houses or animals you have outside
  • Clear gates
  • Clear your decks
Also keep some ice melt on hand - always. After you are done shoveling - and its done snowing, throw some ice melt down where you walk, around your car, and near the entrance to your driveway/garage.  This will insure your vehicle is not trapped on a solid sheet of ice when you need to leave. Purchase 'pet safe' ice melt if you have dogs or cats. 

Check Your Roof
Your roof may be rated to hold 32 inches (or whatever the exact number is) of snow but snow compresses as more falls and as winter goes on, heat from your house will melt the snow, so the last six inches of what's on your roof could be ice which is alot heavier than snow. It's always a good bet to keep your roof cleared off during times of heavy snow fall. If you happen to notice that your doors aren't closing right on your house - this is a sign that the weight of the snow is putting pressure on the frame of your house. It means you need to clear your roof off pronto. If you are caught in a big storm it may be necessary to clear your roof off in the middle of the storm to prevent structure damage, be prepared to do this. Ice cleats will help you not slip and fall off, they are worth their weight in gold during the winter in our area. Anything that prevent slips and falls on ice should be kept on hand. And for heaven sakes you should own at least one ladder that will reach the top of your house.

Clear off what is most important, what will allow you to travel, and stuff that is susceptible to damage. If you have to, leave the rest of the stuff for the weekend, but don't blow it off - do it that next weekend. The point here is to not overexert yourself to the point of exhaustion, sickness, or injury.

Most of the problems I see in large populated areas that get slammed with winter storms are due to not being prepared. A little bit of practice doesn't hurt either - but you have what mother nature gives you. If you are prepared for storms it won't matter if the power is shut off, or if the roads aren't plowed. You will have yourself taken care of and when you are done working you can sit back and relax for a little bit as the county or city takes care of everyone else. It will take them some time, and its important not to get mad or angry about it taking so long because they may not even have the equipment they need to clear the streets, it may need to be brought in from somewhere else. If you are prepared and know what to do there will be little reason to whine about anything other than maybe your sore muscles.

If you are physically not able to do these things, you need to make arrangements before hand for extra help.

And lastly - if you have big dogs, let them break trail for you after the storm. It's way easier.

Ice Storm Road Side Damage

Ice Storm Road Closer

Ice Storm Damage


  1. Hi Stephanie,

    I am enjoying reading your blog. Do you have any idea how to reduce humidity in a house when there is not electricity. I live on the humid east coast. Thank you.

  2. Hi Sue,

    Have you ever heard of Damp-rid?? Might want to check it out.


    Also as a low tech solution setting out plates of dry rice will lower the humidity of a closet sized area, you would probably have to use too much of it for a house but its an idea.


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