For the vast majority of my life, (pretty much all of it), winter has been a novelty. A season spoken of wistfully, replete with tales of frigid temperatures and an odd white precipitation called “snow.”
Sure, there are plenty of areas in the South that experience winter and all of its natural wonders. But I’m from South-Central Texas, where just the suggestion of freezing rain – much less snow – incites a panicked run to the H-E-B before the world screeches to a halt and cities shut down.
Now, I live in Northern Virginia (NOVA), where winter, ice and snow are real things that happen fairly regularly. Truly, I’ve been looking forward to experiencing a real winter since the day we decided to move. So, when the first snowfall arrived, I squealed like a little kid. When snow flurries drifted past the window on Christmas morning, I stood there transfixed.
Just this week, as we watched the news of an impending winter storm warning, I learned that locals not only count on this weather, but also plan for it. What, the what?! Apparently, my years of experienced panic-shopping at the grocery store came nowhere close to preparing me for a NOVA winter. Luckily, my husband and a bestie know what to do. What I learned was invaluable, so I’m going to share it with you … in case you’re too Southern (Is there such a thing?!) to know how to plan appropriately.*
Planning for Your Vehicle
Learning what to have in a winter “car kit” was a huge eye-opener for me. I truly just hadn’t thought to be this prepared. I also now have a better understanding of the odd collection of stuff my grandpa and father-in-law kept in their cars.
1. Assemble a “car kit.” This goes well beyond your typical roadway emergency, jumper cables and flares kind of kit, which should be in your vehicle year-round. Rather, this is a tote/box/bag/whatever in which you have packed a warm blanket, an extra coat (and maybe gloves and a hat), bottled water, high-protein snacks, acetaminophen and a flashlight. Consider having a 10-lb bag of litter (to help with traction) and a small shovel. And did you know that you can put a lit candle inside a coffee can, and it will put out some heat as well as light? #lifehack
2. Keep your gas tank full. First, our dads and grandpas were right: Never let the gas tank fall below ¼ of a tank. It won’t just keep you from getting stranded, a full or close-to-full tank will also help protect your vehicle from issues caused by freezing temperatures.
3. Don’t water the windshield. Not quite a planning-ahead tip, but one I would never have guessed: Don’t use warm water to melt ice off of your windshield. It can shatter. Use a scraper for that purpose or cold water.
Planning for Home
For typical things to do – like wrapping exposed pipes, etc. – a quick Google will do. My list is less technical and pretty straight-forward. While nothing is likely to catch you unaware, I trust you’ll humor me.
1. Keep your shelves and your fridge full. Always keep whatever your family considers necessities (like milk, eggs, bread, wine, Milano cookies, etc.) on hand, and be sure that list covers snacks and foods you don’t have to cook in case your power goes out. This one piece of advice, which I’ve followed for decades, prevented household disaster during the 2020 Pandemic Toilet Tissue Crisis. If you have pets, be sure to remember their needs.
2. Own flashlights, batteries, candles and matches. Actually, don’t just own them, know where they are in your house. I tend to put things in “safe” places, only to forget where those places are. If that sounds like you, be sure others in your household know where those things are, too.
3. Stock your first aid cabinet. No, you’re not likely to have any urgent medical needs that can’t be handled normally. But, if you’re snowed in or the streets are icy and you’re out of migraine medicine, you’ll wish you heeded this tiny bit of advice. Always have a stock of common over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, and refill your prescriptions in a timely manner.
4. Have some fun. As in have a few board games and a deck of cards tucked away in a cabinet somewhere. Even grumpy teens will play when the power is out or they’ve exhausted their TikTok and Instagram feeds.
I’m told winter in NOVA extends into March. I’m skeptical of that since I’m used to 80+ temperatures and Spring Break that month. Nonetheless, my shopping cart has been filled and preparations should be complete in just two days. (Thanks, Amazon Prime!)
*This assumes that you have the means – financial or otherwise – to plan ahead and be prepared. I know not all families are fortunate to be in that position. If you need assistance, I encourage you to reach out to your area United Way organization for help.