Monday, December 7, 2009

Cold Weather Survival

Today it was freezing outside. Literally. Actually most of the day it was around 20 degrees outside with no let up in sight. Here's some cold weather survival tips in case the weather is similar at your place:

In your car:
  • Make sure your car has anti freeze in it, not just water.
  • Realize that ice and black ice are very real possibilities any time the temperatures dip below freezing. Bridges and overpasses are particularly susceptible to freezing. In any case, stay home if possible and if not possible, drive with extreme care. Note that if you hit ice, it won't matter how carefully you have been driving, you will slide anyway.
  • Check the emergency supplies in your car to make sure every thing is ready to go (batteries in flashlights, water and food that has been rotated recently, etc). Also, add items that you will need for cold weather including cat litter (for traction) and a shovel as well as extra blankets, etc.
  • Consider using studded tires (note that they aren't non-slip) and always carry chains if there is any possibility that you will end up traveling in the snow.
  • Check to make sure that your windshield washer fluid is the type that won't freeze.
  • If you are driving a truck, consider adding extra weight in the back for extra traction.


  • Be careful walking! Our Volksmarch excursion last weekend had me a bit concerned with all of the elderly people who were participating. I wasn't concerned with their ability to walk the 6+ miles, but I was worried about them slipping on the roads (who'd have thought the white painting on the cross walks could get so slippery?). With black ice, one wrong step, and you could be on your ass. Not good no matter what your age is.
  • Note that even if you are careful walking down the street, cars that are coming at you could slide on the ice and you could be toast. Pay attention to everything and be ready to jump out of the way if necessary.
  • Dress warmly and depending on the weather (ie: subfreezing with a high wind chill factor) go inside often to warm up.

Your home:

  • This can't be repeated enough...never use a generator/barbecue grill/anything else that combusts inside your home. You will die from the carbon monoxide.
  • Insulate any exposed water pipes so they won't freeze then burst. I've had this happen and it wasn't pleasant. You will want to cover the outside faucets and if you have water pipes running in an uninsulated part of your home (ie: under your home, below the insulation) be sure to wrap them with insulation or heated pipe wrap.
  • If your house is cold as some older homes tend to be if not well insulated, "hibernate" in one room with a space heater. The space heater will keep the room toasty warm even if the rest of the house is on the cool side. Note that you don't want to turn the heat in your house completely off as you don't want things in your house to freeze.
  • Get ready for a power outage. Often with freezing weather comes downed tree branches and downed power lines which can knock out power for hours or days. Be sure you are prepared for a power outage with alternate sources of heat, communications, easy to prepare food, etc.
  • If your home becomes unlivable (no heat, no power, no water because of a burst pipe, etc) seek refuge at a community shelter which are often set up during the coldest days of the year. Better to suffer some place warm than to suffer and freeze to death.
  • Check on elderly neighbors. Whether because of declining mental state or declining ability to judge temperature, some elderly literally freeze to death during times of severe weather. If you have friends or neighbors who are elderly, check on them to ensure they have heat, have firewood where they can reach it, and if you really want to help them, offer to run any errands for them so they won't have to get out in the icy cold.

If you are outside:

  • There is a huge difference if you are outside by choice or necessity (ie: participating in outdoor sports versus being homeless).
  • If you are outside by choice, of course dress warmly in layers and in sub-freezing temps, make sure everything is covered (ears, fingers, face, etc). Also be sure to seek shelter throughout the day to warm up. Carry hand warmers with you. Also, if you will be out skiing, snowshoeing, or otherwise in the wilderness, be sure to carry an avalanche beacon and a complete cold weather emergency kit with you at all times.
  • If you are homeless, dress warmly (many shelters and social service agencies are providing hats, coats, and gloves for free), and seek shelter indoors whenever possible (ie: at an overnight shelter, or at the mall or library or shelter during the day).
  • If you are homeless and decide to stay in your outside shelter, dress warmly and insulate the shelter with extra tarps, blankets, etc. Do not get wet! If you get wet and stay cold you can easily get hypothermia and die. Consider using hot water bottles (easily made with warm water put in a soda bottle--you can even use urine to fill the bottles--it's warm). If you have a dog, all the better--they are quite warm to cuddle up to.
  • If you end up sleeping outdoors for what ever reason, don't drink alcohol. Alcohol and frigid temperatures don't mix and you can easily die since alcohol numbs your ability to judge how cold you are. Also, be careful with fire. Having a fire on the coldest of nights is a good idea but don't let it get out of hand and catch anything else on fire.

Pets and Livestock:

  • Dogs who aren't used to the cold can not be left outside for long on the freezing pavement without damaging their feet. I know it looks weird but if you want to walk your dog in sub-freezing temps, fashion some kind of shoes for them.
  • Bring pets in at night, even those that usually stay outside. During the coldest nights we always used to bring our dogs in to the kitchen and barricade it so they couldn't roam around the rest of the house. For livestock, ensure that they have a dry, draft-free place to shelter.
  • Be sure to check outside water bowls/troughs throughout the day (take a hammer with you because you will probably need to break up the ice that is covering them). You may also want to give your animals extra feed to carry them through the colder weather.
  • Always keep pets and livestock away from anti-freeze and de-icing chemicals which can injure or kill them.

Other Random Tips:

  • If you take the bus or other public transit, check the appropriate website to see if the icy weather has changed anything (routes, times, etc).
  • Check the kid's school website each morning as well. Sometimes freezing weather will cause a delayed opening or, with heating problems, may close the school all together.
  • Depending on your employer, icy weather may cause them to institute their bad weather policy which could mean delays in opening, closures around the base/campus, etc. Know these things before you head out to work.
  • Do you know where your homeowners insurance policy is? It's always a good thing to have on hand when potential disaster threatens.


  1. Thanks for the info.

    My wife hates dogs in the house.

    I have to spent nights in the garage with them. I have place my old carpet for them and i sleep in an old army cot.

    It's a great experience and kind of like it.

    Thanks again.

  2. Ditto here. Dogs as a rule are never allowed in the house, however when faced with the choice of the dogs literally freezing to death or letting them stay in the kitchen where they can't do any damage--and the hair is easy to clean up--they get to stay inside when it gets below freezing outside.
    Neither spouse or the dogs seem overly happy about the situation (I think the dogs would prefer to be outside after about 10 minutes in the house) but it is the best solution to a temporary problem.