Preparing for Winter Storms & Extreme Cold, Part Two; 8 Less Known Tips to Thrive

By Chris Gilmour | Preparedness

Jan 06
preparing for extreme cold and winter storms

​As I write this post, a HUGE winter ​"Bomb Cyclone" is walloping the east coast of North America called winter storm Grayson. Extreme cold blankets the continent and it is snowing in North Carolina and Florida.

In this post (part two), I share some less common tips and things to consider in preparing for a winter storm.
​In Part one, I chat about lessons from nature in becoming hardy to cold weather and preparing for winter. Click here to read part one.

Scroll down to read post two.
learning from deer

​8 less common, but important things to consider if you want to ​THRIVE in #ExtremeCold, Winter Storms & Survive the #BombCyclone, #BeSafe.​​​​

Click to Tweet

More...

​1) Conduction can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to warmth.

Conduction is a powerful principle in thermodynamics and heat exchange to understand and utilize. Consider which room in your house has the best insulation, both from the outside walls (i.e., an interior room) and the best insulation from the ground below. 
​An underground basement may be naturally warmer than an upper floor. But if your basement has a concrete floor with just a think carpet, the conduction from the concrete is likely to suck the heat right out of you. You will want a thick layer of insulation all around you.
prepare for extreme cold
One of my favorite wilderness survival strategies for cold weather is to warm rocks in the fire. They store and release heat for hours longer than a hot water bottle.
Do you have dry stones and a propane barbecue? Consider heating rocks outside and bringing them in to help warm your bed or indoor squirrel shelter.  Do this at your own risk, but I have done it a ton, and it is a game changer on a cold night. I put one by my feet, one on my kidneys and one on my chest for a warm nights sleep!

**Warning - There is a risk of burning yourself here. Heat the rocks to a point where you can still touch them with bare skin without burning yourself or wrap them in a nonflammable material. Also, BE AWARE, rocks with moisture in them can explode and pose a severe risk of injury. Make sure to gather stones from high and dry places away from water.


​Another great piece of emergency gear if you do not have a barbecue is small propane burner for camping.
Do NOT use this inside.
​You can use this to boil water for warm tea and to heat up a water bottle to bring to bed with you or stuff inside your jacket if you do not have rocks.
Remember to add some butter or coconut oil to your tea for the extra heat the fat will provide your body. Take that ​bomb cyclone and winter storm Grayson!
emergency preparedness gear
One of my favorite wilderness survival strategies for cold weather is to warm rocks in the fire. They store and release heat for hours longer than a hot water bottle. Do you have dry stones and a propane barbecue? Consider heating rocks outside and bringing them in to help warm your bed or indoor squirrel shelter.  Do this at your own risk, but I have done it a ton, and it is a game changer on a cold night. I put one by my feet, one on my kidneys and one on my chest for a warm nights sleep!

**Warning - There is a risk of burning yourself here. Heat the rocks to a point where you can still touch them with bare skin without burning yourself or wrap them in a nonflammable material. Also, BE AWARE, rocks with moisture in them can explode and pose a severe risk of injury. Make sure to gather stones from high and dry places away from water.

Another great piece of emergency gear if you do not have a barbecue is small propane burner for camping. Do NOT use this inside. But you could use it to boil water for warm tea and to heat up a water bottle to bring to bed with you or stuff inside your jacket if you do not have rocks. Remeber to add some butter or coconut oil to your tea for the extra heat the fat will provide your body.
onduction is a powerful principle in thermodynamics and heat exchange to understand and utilize.

​2) Water is easier to drink when it is not frozen.
emergency water storage


A common suggestion is to store water in case the municipal water system goes down, or you have to hunker down for a few days. I commonly see it suggested to have two liters per day per person. I would recommend you double that. You may need water for hydration, cooking and personal hygiene.
​​Something sometimes overlooked is that if this is a winter storm without power, it may be below freezing inside your house. How do you keep your water from freezing then?
​I bet you can get creative and come up with many ways to do this. The critical piece is considering it before the water freezes. Here are two suggestions:

- Store your water in your refrigerator or inside of coolers. Even if the power is out, the insulation of these will insulate the inside from the freezing outside, slowing the freezing process.

- If your curling up under the covers or you build a shelter in your house (see part one), bring your water bottles under the blankets with you. When I guided winter camping expeditions, we always put our water bottle in our sleeping bag at night. For an extra comfort, fill your bottle with hot water before bed!

​Do you know what three of the most common killers are in snow storms? ​Let's look at each of them. #WeatherBomb #GetPrepared

Click to Tweet
​3) Put your candles in a mason jar to prevent house fires.
Home emergency kits often suggest candles, but in an emergency, it is easy to get distracted from adequately monitoring a candle. House fires ​risks go up during blackouts and severe weather.
​Keep some mason jars in your emergency kit to burn your candles inside of. If you are using the candles for heat as well as light, put them in a pop can with the front cut open. This survival hack makes them safer but also better directs the heat and light. I call this my survival flashlight.
improvised survival flashligh

​4) Heart Attacks are easiest to treat when prevented altogether. Aspirin anyone?
Heart Attacks are one of the biggestes killers in winter, ​
​If caught early, there are a few things you can still do to help the potential of a winter heart attack situation. Heart attacks often occur from people doing hard physical work such as shoveling snow, in a cold environment which may limit your oxygen intake and put extra strain on your body. In the case of the bomb cyclone and winter strom Garyson, it could be chipping ice not shoveling snow that is the killer.
preventing heart attacks
​It is important to know you do not need to be overweight or even out of shape to have a heart attack. Even healthy adults sometimes have them. Remember the extraordinary stress load you may be facing if you are in an emergency situation. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Know the sign and symptoms so you can act quickly.  Also, know the first steps to take if you are responding. Remember in a blizzard you may not have quick access to advanced medical care.​
- Know the sign and symptoms so you can act quickly.  Also, know the first steps to take if you are responding. Here is an excellent article with some advice for if advanced medical help is not available or will be slow to respond. Remeber in a blizzard you may not have quick access to advanced medical care.
​Here is an excellent article from the "Survival Doctor" with ​advice on responding to a heart attack and what to do if advanced medical help is not available or will be slow to respond. ​
- There is a fair bit of research showing the blood-thinning effects of aspirin may be able to prevent a heart attack and in some cases MAY even slow the onset of one.
It may be worth having a conversation with your doctor to see if it would be appropriate for you to take an aspirin proactively during a winter storm or emergency situation. I am NOT telling you to do this. I am suggesting speaking with your doctor about it as an option.
​- A folk and herbal remedy for heart attack prevention and mitigation is the use of cayenne pepper. Like aspirin, cayenne pepper is a blood thinner.
I have NOT had personal experience using it for heart attacks and have not found any conclusive studies showing adequate research into the possibilities. ​This in MAY help in an emergency, and with few other alternatives (such as no aspirin).​ Consult your doctor ahead of time to see if this is a safe option for you and do some of your own research.
Cayenne pepper for heart attacks

​5) Improvised indoor emergency heating systems kill people every year.

I am not going to expand on this right now but do some research ahead of time as to what is safe and unsafe to use for backup heating. Burning gas, propane, charcoal & other fuels indoors have the potential to burn up all the oxygen in your home and may release a deadly amount of carbon monoxide. They also may provide increased risk of explosions and fires.

4) Improvised indoor emergency heating systems kill people every year.

I am not going to expand on this right now but do some research ahead of time as to what is safe and unsafe to use for backup heating. Burning gas, propane, charcoal & other fuels indoors have the potential to burn up all the oxygen in your home and may release a deadly amount of CO2. They also may provide increased risk of explosions and fires.
Blackout Preparedness
My top 3 choices for backup heat include (in order are):
1) Install a wood stove,
2) Get a backup generator,
3) Don't worry about creating heat, just bundle up and huddle up! See post one to learn about making a squirrels nest survival shelter in your home.

Do NOT bring your barbecue inside, no matter how cold it gets. There are better ways!
One other important reminder here. If you are likely to loose power and think it could drop below freezing in your home, turn off your main water valve BEFORE everything freezes. This could save you A LOT of money and hassals!

​6) Have you ever tried to use your iPhone outside when it is below zero? ​Have backup communication plans including a landline.

​My iPhone dies so quick when it is cold. If you don't have an outlet (and warmth) to recharge it, rewarming is unlikely to bring it back to life. The lessons here, keep your phone on your body or close to the fire. Have a backup USB charger if the power is out. Plan on not being able to use your cell phone altogether.


​Even though I use my cell phone 90% of the time, I still have a landline. Landlines may work (assuming you have a simple phone) even when electricity is down. I have a basic plan that cost me $120/year. Well worth the investment to me for the peace of mind it provides.
Even though I use my cell phone 99% of the time, I still have a landline. Landlines will work (assuming you have a simple phone) even when electricity is down. I have a basic plan that cost me $120/year. Well worth the investment to me for the peace of mind it provides.
emergency communications

​7) What's your comms plan?

In my work running emergency exercises, one of the first things that often fails is communications. If you have family members across town what is your plan if the phone lines stop working?
- Make sure your family members are aware of the storm and prepared before the power goes out.

- Decide what kind of situation would warrant physically checking up on each other (if even possible) and who would come to who. No need for both or either of you to put yourself at extra risk.

Grid Down Communications
​- Get a hand-crank or battery operated radio to be able to hear emergency broadcasts and news updates even if the power is out
- Try installing an app on your phones such as Zello that need very little bandwidth or signal to communicate.
- Try installing an app on your phones such as Zello that need very little bandwidth or signal to communicate.
- Make sure your family members are aware of the storm and prepared before the power goes out.

- Decide what kind of situation would warrant physically checking up on each other (if even possible) and who would come to who. No need for both or either of you to put yourself at extra risk.
5) Have you ever tried to use your iPhone outside when it is below zero? Have backup communication plans including a landline.

My iPhone dies so quick when it is cold. If you don't have an outlet (and warmth) to recharge it, rewarming is unlikely to bring it back to life. The lessons here, keep your phone on your body or close to the fire. Have a backup USB charger if the power is out. Plan on not being able to use your cell phone altogether.

My top 3 choices for backup heat include (in order are): 1) Install a wood stove, 2) Get a backup generator, 3) Don't worry about creating heat, just bundle up and huddle up! See post one to learn about making a squirrels nest survival shelter in your home.

Do NOT bring your barbecue inside, no matter how cold it gets. There are better ways!
- There is a fair bit of research showing the blood-thinning effects of aspirin may be able to prevent a heart attack and in some cases MAY even slow the onset of one. It may be worth having a conversation with your doctor to see if it would be appropriate for you to take an aspirin proactively during a winter storm or emergency situation. I am NOT telling you to do this. I am suggesting speaking with your doctor about it as an option.

- A folk and herbal remedy for heart attack prevention and mitigation is the use of cayenne pepper. Like aspirin, cayenne pepper is a blood thinner. I have NOT had personal experience using it for heart attacks and have not found any conclusive studies showing adequate research into the possibilities. What I am suggesting is that in an emergency, and with few other alternatives (such as no aspirin), it likely would not hurt and may even help. Again I am not saying this is safe for you, just good to know as a plan B and last resort. Consult your doctor ahead of time to see if this is a safe option for you and do some of your own research.
Heart attacks often occur from people doing hard physical work such as shoveling snow, in a cold environment which may limit your oxygen intake and put extra strain on your body.
Keep some mason jars in your emergency kit to burn your candles inside of. If you are using the candles for heat as well as light, put them in a pop can with the front cut open. This survival hack makes them safer but also better directs the heat and light. I call this my survival flashlight.
2) Put your candles in a mason jar to prevent house fires.

Home emergency kits often suggest candles, but in an emergency, it is easy to get distracted from adequately monitoring a candle.
I bet you can get creative and come up with many ways to do this. The critical piece is considering it before the water freezes. Here are two suggestions:

- Store your water in your refrigerator or inside of coolers. Even if the power is out, the insulation of these will insulate the inside from the freezing outside, slowing the freezing process.

- If your curling up under the covers or you build a shelter in your house (see part one), bring your water bottles under the blankets with you. When I guided winter camping expeditions, we always put our water bottle in our sleeping bag at night. For an extra comfort, fill your bottle with hot water before bed!

Do you know what three of the most common killers are in snow storms?  House fires, carbon monoxide, and heart attacks. Let's look at each.

Something often not mentioned and sometimes overlooked is that if this is a winter storm without power, it may be below freezing inside your house. How do you keep your water from freezing then?
1) Water is easier to drink when it is not frozen.

A common suggestion is to store water in case the municipal water system goes down, or you have to hunker down for a few days. I commonly see it suggested to have two liters per day per person. I would recommend double that. You may need water for hydration, cooking and personal hygiene.
The government and media have been issuing emergency preparation information out to the public. As a professional in the field of emergency preparedness, I appreciate their efforts and understand why they choose to keep suggestions basic. As a person who loves and lives in the outdoors and believes in self-sufficiency and resiliency, I feel different. Emergency instructions often do not go far enough to help people thrive in worst case scenarios.

This is why I have written this post and why I would like to encourage you to share your thoughts, suggestions, and experience in the comments below so we can all learn from each other.

Preparing for a winter storm, here are some less common, but important things to consider if you want to be resilient like nature!

In Part one, I chat about lessons from nature in becoming hardy to cold weather and preparing for winter. Click here to read part one.

As I write this post, a HUGE winter storm is walloping the east coast of North Ameria, and it is snowing in North Carolina and Florida.

In this post, I share some less common tips and things to consider in preparing for a winter storm.

​- If you have elderly neighbors or a single parent living close by, consider inviting them to weather the storm with you.

​8) Drink water to stay warm... say what?

Being dehydrated can significantly lower your body temperature and make you more susceptible to the cold. It often feels counter-intuitive to drink water when it is cold so don't forget! While leading expeditions in the outdoors, when people tell me they are cold, the first thing I ask is when was the last time you drank some water.
​In Part 1 I discuss best foods and what we can learn from a fire when it comes to efficiently fueling our bodies to generate better internal heat.

bullet proof coffee

​What are some of your favorite and less common extreme cold and winter storm survival tips? Please share in the comments below!
8) Conduction can be your best friend or worst enemy when it comes to warmth.

Consider which room in your house has the best insulation, both from the outside walls (i.e., an interior room) and the best insulation from the ground below. An underground basement may be warmer longterm than an upper floor. But if your basement has a concrete floor with just a think carpet, the conduction from the concrete is likely to suck the heat right out of you. You will want a thick layer of insulation all around you.
In Part 1 I also talk about the best foods and what we can learn from a fire when it comes to efficiently fueling our bodies to generate better internal heat more efficiently.
7) Drink water to stay warm... say what?

Being dehydrated can significantly lower your body temperature and make you more susceptible to the cold. It often feels counter-intuitive to drink water when it is cold. While leading expeditions in the outdoors, when people tell me they are cold, the first thing I ask is when was the last time you drank some water.
- If you have elderly neighbors or a single parent living close by, consider inviting them to weather the storm with you.

- Get a hand-crank or battery operated radio to be able to hear emergency broadcasts and news updates even if the power is out




Follow

About the Author

Nature Connection Mentor, Wilderness Survival Instructor, Emergency & Disaster Managment Professional

Leave a Comment:

(13) comments

sally ludwig January 6, 2018

Hi Chris, Thank you for these timely posts! Valuable info and good tips to keep ourselves safe during winter. And it’s neat to hear about your new direction with more nature connection added in! Congratulations on some good reflections and decisions.

Reply
    Chris Gilmour January 6, 2018

    Thanks Sally, how is the planning going for you Transition Town and Emergency Planning Event in Guelph?

    Reply
      sally January 11, 2018

      Chris and Steve are committed to presenting an event, which is great. I think Chris planned to get in touch with you about their plan. Thanks for checking in!

      Reply
Alex Thomson January 6, 2018

Thanks for these posts Chris, keep em coming! Im glad you’re gonna keep going with CWP!!

Reply
    Chris Gilmour January 6, 2018

    Thanks Alex, let me know if you have any topic requests?

    Reply
Ben January 6, 2018

Hi Chris:

Both part 1 and 2 contain very useful and knowledgeable tips. Thank you so much for freely sharing these, it means a lot to me!

Reply
    Chris Gilmour January 6, 2018

    My pleasure Ben, Glad you find it valuable!

    Reply
Vanessa January 6, 2018

If you get stuck with no electricity choose a small room that your entire family can be in. Put foam or blankets in front of the window,over the door, on top of vents anywhere that heat can escape make sure to bring. Bring every animal that you own into the room as well their body heat will contribute to the overall warmth of everyone.
To get fresh air simply move the blanket from the door for a short time.

Reply
    Chris Gilmour January 6, 2018

    Great thoughts Vanessa, we tack a blanket over our back door and it makes a noticeable difference.

    Reply
Melanie January 8, 2018

Great posts about cold weather survival. Your earlier posts inspired me to get prepared for an emergency. In fact, I made it my husbands Christmas present to prepare our family of 5 for a minimum of 72 hours of survival supplies. Thank you.

We recently spent the weekend in a cabin in the woods. I will be helping my kids and myself to build and tend our internal fires with food choices.

Reply
    Chris Gilmour January 9, 2018

    Congratulations on getting the 72hr kit together Melanie. Your more prepared than a good chunk of the world now! I’m also excited to hear you were engaging your kids with this and working on conscious cold training with them a bit. Kids are so hardy and resilient if we let them be. Cheers!

    Reply
Beige January 9, 2018

Thanks for writing this, Chris! It’s well written and I appreciate the reminder about keeping hydrated. I also didn’t realize the risk of heart attack in young healthy folks. I’ll be stocking up my first aid kit with aspirin!

Reply
    Chris Gilmour January 9, 2018

    Hey Beige, I did not mean to suggest young healthy folks have a high risk of a heart attack, they don’t. My point was more that often people don’t realize they have a heart issue and can otherwise feel healthy and fit, thus healthy people can have heart attacks and should be extra careful in an emergency scenario where advanced medical help may not be available.

    Reply
Add Your Reply

Leave a Comment: