By Terry Sheridan, FLASH Consumer Blogger
Arcing power lines that set houses ablaze. Six-foot snow drifts blocking doors and windows. No power or heat for days. A family trapped in their car for two days. Winds roaring at almost 80 miles per hour.
This was no movie. Winter Storm Atlas was the real thing, a snow-laden behemoth that pummeled South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana in October and blew home the importance of preparations.
Thing is, the more often that people face blizzard warnings but nothing happens, they stop taking it seriously, says State Farm agent Bill Graves in Hot Springs, S.D., a native of the hardest-hit areas. Then a monster like Atlas comes pounding on the door. And people learn what a big mistake complacency is.
Before the conveniences of four-wheel-drive vehicles and smart phones that could show you a storm’s projected path, people were more self-reliant, he says. They knew utilities were unreliable, and that they had to shore up on food and water.
Duh, you say? Well, Graves describes the plight of a family of four who lived only 30 miles outside of Hot Springs, S.D. They didn’t have the supplies they needed but figured a four-wheel-drive vehicle would get them safely to town to buy necessities. So they left their home without the proper clothing or food in their vehicle. They were stuck for two days after running into five-foot snow drifts. Luckily, they were OK – but they learned a big lesson, he says.
Folks, you are never, ever going to beat the forces of nature. Get that in your noggins right now. But you can lessen the impact by taking proper safeguards.
“The message here is that surviving a blizzard is not hard – it just takes preparation,” says Dave Carpenter, director of the National Weather Service in South Dakota and a veteran of dozens of blizzards.
Carpenter and Graves offer these survival tips:
- Even a storm that drops only a foot of snow can mean six- to 10-foot drifts that block doors and windows if there are strong winds, Carpenter says. Keep a shovel indoors and be prepared to tunnel your way out from the inside.
- Don’t travel.
- Protect pipes from freezing.
- Falling branches cause the most damage, Carpenter says. Make sure you trim trees and clear power lines long before a storm threatens.
- Have food that won’t need heating, batteries and water.
- Gas up the car. It can be an alternative heat source and you can use it to charge your cell phone.
- Stock up on medication and oxygen supplies.
- Don’t forget pet and baby needs.
- If you use alternative heat and cooking sources, make sure ventilation is adequate.
- Never have open flames (candles, cook stoves, barbeques) indoors – especially while the storm is raging outside.
- Make sure downed electrical lines connected to your outside service box aren’t arcing. If they are, call for emergency help right away.
Find out more about protecting your home from blizzards at greatwinterweatherparty.org.
Editor’s Note: Terry Sheridan is an award-winning journalist who has more than 30 years of experience in reporting and editing for newspapers in the Chicago and Miami areas. She covered the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992 in South Florida, and has experienced damage to her own homes from two hurricanes. She now lives in New Hampshire.