You're Snowed In - Now What?

A snowed-in house.

OK, so let’s say you just got 2 ½-feet of snow. You are snowed in. Power failures often occur in big winter storms as ice and snow build up on power lines and tree branches. So I will include a power outage with the snow storm. You already have shelter. The other necessities are heat, water and food - and something to do with your time.


If you do a little preparation, waiting out the storm will be relatively painless. As far as heat, I have a big fireplace, so I’m covered in case of a power outage. Remember a gas furnace usually has an electric fan, so that won’t work. Cooking and baking can be a source of heat, but keep a close eye on it and never leave burners on unattended. If you don’t have a fireplace or gas stove, invest in a kerosene heater for emergency heat. Learn how to operate it, and use it a few times to heat your house to test it out. You must supply ventilation when using a kerosene heater. Crack a few windows while using the fireplace or any other inside heat source. Otherwise there is a chance for deadly carbon monoxide to build up. You should have carbon monoxide detectors.

Even, if you have no power failure, there is still all that snow on power lines and tree branches. I have a big ranch home, and I typically only keep the heat up in my dining/living room, with just enough in the back of the house to keep the pipes from freezing. When there is a threat of a power outage, I open the house up and heat everything. Then if I do lose power, the air and contents are warm, and the walls and furniture will keep it warm for a while.


OK, you bought your kerosene heater for emergency heat. Now make sure you have the other two necessities, food and water. You should stock up before you get snowed in. Plenty of drinking water is important. It depends on how many occupy the house – 1 gallon per person per day – figure on three days. I live alone. I keep 20 gallons of fresh water in various places in the house in case of being snowed in.

You can buy 5 gallon bottles of water, but they are very heavy and hard to pour. You really need a 5 gallon dispenser for 5 gallon bottles. Single gallon bottles are most practical. If you didn’t stock water ahead of time, fill your bathtub with water. A water main could break, ending your supply of water. A power failure may be enough to cut you off too. If the water service comes in through the cellar an electric pump moves the water upstairs, and cannot do this with no power. That’s why it is so important to have fresh water stored.


As far as food, stock up on non-perishable and canned food. Get plenty of crackers, and a lot of canned vegetables, tuna, deviled ham and other non-greasy canned foods. Canned vegetables have fresh water with vegetables, and can be eaten without heating up. I have an electric can opener, but I bought a hand can opener for power outages. Sometimes it is the small details that count. Having 20 cans of vegetable and no working can opener is unacceptable.

Also put some bread in the freezer and have some peanut butter. Peanut butter is loaded with protein and vitamins. You could actually ride out the storm with nothing but a big can of peanut butter. So now we’re covered for all four necessities: Shelter, heat, water and food.


You may have already done some winterizing, probably in the fall. Being stuck at home provides you an opportunity to tighten things up even more against the cold. Most electrical providers will send insulators for switch plates and wall electrical outlets. Electric outlets are holes in the wall that can allow cold to come in from outside. Heavy furniture may have to be moved to get to some outlets. What better time to do this than being snowed in with nowhere to go? Modern, insulated windows provide good insulation against the cold outside. But if you have old fashioned windows, they’re probably drafty and let cold in. There are kits with fasteners and plastic shrink materials. You place the fasteners on the window frames and apply the plastic. Then use an electric hair dryer to shrink and tighten the plastic. You can see right through it, and you will like the warmer, cozier home you have with properly insulated windows, and how much you save on your heating bills.

If you have some weather stripping to install, do it while you are snowed in. A good tip is to put an old bath towel up against the bottom of outside doors. You’ll better be able to find drafts and leaks when there is cold air outside. If you didn’t purchase any winterizing materials, you can at least find the cold spots in the home. Then you know where your drafts and cold are coming in when the roads clear up and you can get out to get the proper winterizing materials.


Another thing we have to look at is communication. Most modern phones need electricity and will not work in a power outage. A crank, solar or car charger for a cellphone is a must. You may also be able to have landline phones that need no power other than what comes through the phone line. Kitchen wall phones and other phones that can be plugged into a phone jack will work. You should also have a battery operated radio for news, weather and entertainment if there is a power outage with your snowstorm. A well-stocked first aid kit is a necessity.


Finally, you’re not going anywhere for a while, you can’t watch TV or use the computer and battery power is a precious commodity. Especially if there are young ones in the house, be prepared with card games, board games, puzzles, books and the other things people occupied themselves with before they had electronic devices.