NEWS

Your Guide to Staying Safe During a Winter Freeze

Car stuck in a snow storm.

Andrew Bret Wallis / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • During a winter freeze, experts recommend limiting your time outdoors to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. 
  • In the event of a power outage, the best foods and drinks to have in hand are nutritious and protein-rich and do not require preparation.
  • Non-essential travel is not advised during a winter storm.

Cities across the Midwest, South, and East Coast are currently experiencing temperature lows. A hurricane-like winter storm—called a "bomb cyclone"—is set to hit New England this weekend.

With winter freeze advisories comes the potential for power outages and food shortages. Just one year ago, Texas faced a power grid failure after being hit by three consecutive winter storms.

To better prepare for these bouts of freezing temperatures and snow, we asked to experts share their tips on how to stay warm and prepare for emergencies.

Staying Warm

The best way to stay warm is by staying indoors and limiting your overall exposure to frigid temperatures.

Staying outdoors for prolonged periods can lead to hypothermia and frostbite, according to Joseph Basile, MD, MBA, FACEP, interim chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Staten Island University Hospital.

If you’re outside when it’s freezing outside, Basile suggests paying close attention to the warning signs and symptoms of hypothermia, which include:

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

“If you have to go outside, please dress appropriately and ensure that body parts most often affected by frostbite are covered in warm, dry clothing,” Basile told Verywell via email. “The body parts most often affected by frostbite are the nose, ears, toes, cheeks, chin, and fingers.” 

Also, look out for the onset of frostbite. Signs include “redness, numbness, or pain to any skin area exposed to the cold,” Basile added.

It’s best to layer when you're outside, and whenever you’re in a confined space make sure to use blankets. You can also add instant heat packets, such as Hothands, to your winter freeze toolkit. Under clothes or hats and gloves, these packets trap heat and provide an extra layer of warmth.

Preparing for a Winter Freeze 

Extreme weather events can trigger food hoarding and stockpiling. Coupled with current COVID-related supply chain issues, grocery stores across the country are struggling to keep essential foods—milk, meat, soup, and produce—in stock.

While you shouldn't hoard food and exacerbate the issue, it is a good idea to keep a few items in your pantry. To ensure that you have enough food, Rachel Dowty Beech, PhD, assistant professor of the emergency management program at the University of New Haven, recommends stocking up on nutritious and protein-rich foods, especially in the event of a power outage. 

Examples include nutrition bars, nuts, crackers, dry cereal, and bottled water.

“Canned goods live up to their good name in emergencies, so long as you remember to have a hand-operated can opener,” Beech told Verywell. 

 If you have a hot stove, you can purchase: 

  • Instant oatmeal
  • Dehydrated food packets
  • Pasta

Preparing for a winter freeze also means drawing up a plan for potential power outages. Ensure your phones and electronic devices are fully charged before the electricity could potentially go out and check the weather daily.

“If the temperatures are forecast to rise above freezing within a day or two, drip your faucets to help avoid frozen pipes,” Beech said. It’s best not to drip the faucets if you live in an area where temperatures are below freezing, as this can cause ice buildup in the pipes, she added. 

Lastly, Beech recommends opening any cabinet doors, such as those in the kitchen under your sink, so the heat can easily get to the pipes and prevent them from freezing.

What This Means For You

During winter storms, it's best to stay indoors. If you need to go outside, wear multiple layers of dry clothing, such as thermal wear, and add instant heat packets under your clothes for added warmth.

Taking Transportation During a Winter Freeze

Because weather conditions can be dangerous to travel in, all non-essential travel is discouraged. “There are increased risks of accidents due to the difficult driving conditions,” caused by the snow, black ice, and sleet, Basile said.

If travel is required, Basile recommends public transportation in lieu of driving. 

If you must drive, he says to give yourself extra time, practice caution, and use major streets and highways as much as possible. The National Weather Service advises carrying a winter survival kit in your car that has the following supplies:

  • Jumper cables
  • Flashlights
  • First aid kit 
  • Baby diapers, formula, and food
  • Non-perishable food
  • One gallon of water 
  • Basic toolkit with pliers, wrench, and screwdriver
  • Pet supplies
  • Radio (battery or hand-cranked)
  • Cat litter or sand for better tire traction
  • Shovel to dig out, if needed
  • Ice scraper
  • Extra clothes and blankets

 “A lot of these supplies also constitute good preparation for other emergencies when the electricity goes out, so if you can get all or some of these items they'll come in useful in times when there may not be a freeze, but there's still no electricity,” Beech said. “Remember there are people out there without power or electricity, so if you can buy extra and give to your local shelter or food pantry, please do.”

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent hypothermia & frostbite.

  2. National Weather Service. Prepare for cold weather