Preparing for a Blizzard or Snow Storm

Waking up on a winter morning with snow falling and everything covered with a blanket of white can be beautiful. Snowstorms are common in almost every area of the country that receives snow. When conditions are right however, snow can become as deadly as it is beautiful.

What Defines A Blizzard

The term blizzard is sometimes misused by the media when describing strong snow storms. According to the National Weather Service’s blizzard facts though, there are certain specific conditions that must be present before a storm becomes a blizzard. Technically speaking, a blizzard must have sustained winds at 35 miles per hour, blowing or gusting snow that reduces the visibility to under ¼ mile, and these conditions must last for at least three hours. These conditions vary slightly in other countries, but are generally very similar.

How Blizzards Form

Many different factors enter into the formation of a blizzard, but simply put, they are the result of a strong high pressure system interacting with a strong low pressure system. When the high is correctly positioned, it brings colder air from northern regions into the storm system, while the low pressure system brings in moisture. Because of the difference in air pressure between the two systems, the air in between the two will move rapidly. This is what causes the characteristic strong winds.

Areas That Commonly Experience Blizzards

A blizzard can occur almost anywhere, all you need is heavy snow and strong winds. However, in the United States some areas experience them more frequently or with more severity than others. Among these states are those that lie in the northern Great Plains and the New England states. Some of the states that are affected most often are:

  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota
  • Iowa
  • Illinois
  • Nebraska
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
  • Massachusetts
  • Rhode Island
  • Connecticut
  • Alaska

While these are certainly not the only states that experience blizzards, anyone who lives here can tell you how important it is to keep blizzard supplies on hand during the winter months.

Although there are many blizzards documented throughout history, one appears in almost every account of blizzard facts. The Schoolhouse Blizzard, or children’s blizzard as it is sometimes called, happened on January 12th of 1888 and resulted in 230 deaths. Any blizzard resulting in deaths is a tragedy, but this seems more so because most of the casualties were school children. The blizzard occurred on a warm day and many people were outdoors and unprepared. Arctic air mixed with moisture laden air from the south and blizzard conditions developed very quickly. Temperatures that were well above freezing dropped to -40 F in a short period of time. Because so many were caught outside in the frigid weather, deaths from hypothermia were widespread. Some teachers elected to keep their children in the schoolhouse but others chose to send the students home and many of them were overcome by the cold. It is conceivable for a blizzard of such magnitude to take place today, however with advanced technology and warning systems the death toll from such a storm would most likely be far lower.

Blizzard Supplies

Since we do have such advanced warning systems there is usually enough time to prepare for a blizzard, but when the time comes it’s important to know how to prepare. There are certain blizzard supplies that should be kept on hand in during the winter months just in case Mother Nature decides not to give us a lot of time to prepare.

  • EMERGENCY FOOD AND WATER- These are among the most important blizzard supplies. You should have a three day supply of water on hand for drinking. This should equal one gallon of water for each person per day. Also keep a three day supply of food on hand. These should be non-perishable items such as canned fruits, vegetables, and soups, as well as dried items such as granola bars and trail mix. If there is a baby in the house, make sure to stock an adequate amount of formula. Make sure to remember extra pet food if needed.
  • HAND POWERED CAN OPENER- All the soup in the world won’t do any good if you can’t open it, and trying to use a knife as a can opener is dangerous.
  • WINTER CLOTHING AND BLANKETS- Make sure every member of the family has a warm coat, mittens, boots, and hats. Make sure to have plenty of blankets on hand. Have an alternative source of heat if possible, but make sure to provide adequate ventilation.
  • MEDICATIONS- Have at least a seven day supply of medications that anyone in the household uses. This includes pain relievers and personal hygiene items. When checking your blizzard supplies make sure to check all medications to make sure you have enough because a trip to the pharmacy may soon be out of the question.
  • FLASHLIGHTS AND BATTERIES- Make sure that all the flashlights are in working order and that you have plenty of extra batteries. Battery powered lanterns will also come in handy.
  • BOOKS, ART SUPPLIES, BOARD GAMES- While these things won’t save your life, they may save your sanity if you have children. If there is no electricity that means no TV or internet. Some drawing paper and crayons for younger children and some board games for the older ones, will keep them occupied during the ordeal.

There may be other blizzard supplies that you will need depending on the individual needs of your family, but having these things on hand is a good start.

Having your blizzard supplies on hand is good, but there are also some things that you should and should not do during the storm.


  • STAY INSIDE- Your home offers the best protection from the snow, winds, and cold.
  • DRESS WARMLY- If you must venture outdoors dress in layers. Outerwear should be windproof and waterproof. Cover your nose and mouth with a ski mask or scarf to protect your lungs from cold and wind.
  • SEAL OFF UNUSED ROOMS- If you lose power stay in one room and hang sheets or blankets over the doorways to unused portions of the house. Cover windows at night.
  • STAY INFORMED- Use a battery powered radio to listen for local news and weather updates.


  • TRAVEL- The safest place to be during a blizzard is at home. If you absolutely must be out on the roads, do it during daylight hours, alert someone that you will be out and what time you expect to return. If possible, check in by phone during your trip. Always have and survival kit in the vehicle with you. This should include a small amount of food and water, a heat blanket, and a first aid kit. According to blizzard facts 70% of all deaths related to snow and ice occur in automobiles.

After the storm has passed it’s time to begin digging yourself out. Without a doubt this is going to be a lot of work, but you can let the sun help you with some of the snow removal. There are certain areas that you will want to uncover first in order to let the sun do its job.

  • STAIRS AND SIDEWALKS- Get out and shovel these areas as early as possible so the sun can help melt them off. Using some sidewalk salt will help the process along. After this is done check on your neighbors if possible, especially if they have young children or are elderly.
  • FIRE HYDRANT- If there is a hydrant near your home, clearing away the snow can make a big difference in an emergency.
  • SHOVEL IN SHIFTS- Don’t try to remove all the snow at once. Concentrate on one area at a time and then take a break. While there are no clear cut blizzard facts relating to shoveling, the NIH estimates that around 100 people die each year from heart attacks related to shoveling snow.

Once all the shoveling is done it may be a good time to address all those drafty spots that you noticed while the wind was howling outside. Apply new weather stripping to windows if necessary and make sure that there are no gaps around doorways. You should also restock all of your blizzard supplies and add any items that you found lacking.