Illinois State Water Survey - University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

State Climatologist Office for Illinois

Preparing for Winter - Some Common Sense Suggestions

Dr. Jim Angel, State Climatologist

The inconvenience and hardship that often result from a winter storm can be lessened if you take the time to be prepared. Most of these preparations should be made in the late fall or early winter, before the first heavy snowfall. Consider these activities:

At Winter's Start:

Make sure you have a snow shovel and a supply of salt or sand before the first storm.

Have your furnace checked for proper and safe operations. If your furnace breaks down after a heavy snow, service personnel may not be able to reach you.

Winterize your car. Make sure it is in top running condition for the long winter ahead. Check the following items:

  • Anti-freeze
  • Battery and ignition system
  • Exhaust system
  • Heater and defroster
  • Wiper blades
  • Winter weight oil in crankcase (will permit easier starts)
  • Good tires on car (snow tires or radials work best)
  • All lights in working order
  • Know which radio stations broadcast your school closings. Avoid calling radio stations during storms as they are extremely busy trying to gather and broadcast storm-related information.

When A Storm Is Forecast

Again, the watchword is be prepared. When a winter storm is forecast to hit your area, keep the following rules in mind.

  • Check battery-powered equipment before the storm arrives. Make sure radios and flashlights are in working order in case the power goes out.
  • If you heat with wood, oil, or bottled gas, check your fuel supply. Fuel carriers may not be able to make deliveries if a winter storm dumps a large amount of snow or ice on your area.
  • Check your food and stock an extra supply. Include plenty of food that requires no refrigeration or cooking.
  • Make trips for supplies before the storm develops.
  • Check your home to prevent fire hazards due to overheated stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, or portable heaters.
  • Stay indoors during the storm unless you are in excellent physical condition.
  • Don't kill yourself shoveling snow! It is difficult and heavy work and not a job for someone in poor physical shape. Heart attacks while shoveling snow are a major cause of death during and after winter storms.
  • Dress properly. Layers of protective clothing are more effective and efficient in keeping the body warm than one heavy garment. The entrapped insulating air warmed by body heat is the best type of protection against cold. Remove layers of clothing as necessary to prevent perspiring and possible chill.
  • Keep abreast of the latest storm information by TV or radio. The National Weather Service operates radio stations in or around Illinois that provide continuous weather information. Special radios that receive these broadcasts can be purchased for as little as $10 to $15.

If Traveling by Car:

  • If storm conditions have worsened to the point that you doubt your ability to continue traveling, seek refuge immediately.
  • Plan ahead and select alternate routes.
  • Check latest weather and road conditions
  • Try not to travel alone. Two or more persons to a vehicle are preferable.
  • Travel in a convoy with another vehicle if possible.
  • Always have a full tank of fuel before entering open country, even for a short distance.
  • Carry a winter storm car kit consisting of the following as a minimum: blanket, shovel, bag of sand, flashlight, booster cables, windshield scraper. Also, carry a small supply of high-calorie, non-perishable food such as nuts or candy bars.
  • Always dress as if you were going to be in a non-heated car. If you become stranded in a storm, a light jacket or sweater will not be enough to keep you warm!

If A Storm Traps You in Your Car ...

Despite any precautions you may take, it is still possible to be caught in the middle of a bad storm.

  • Stay in your vehicle. Do no attempt to walk out in a storm. Disorientation comes quickly in blowing and drifting snow. Being lost in open country during a snow storm is almost certain death. You are more likely to be found and more likely to be sheltered in your car.
  • If you have a CB radio, try to obtain help by contacting the State Police on Channel 9, the emergency channel.
  • Keep fresh air in your car. Freezing wet snow and wind-driven snow can completely seal the passenger compartment.
  • Beware of carbon monoxide - run the engine and heater sparingly. Open only the "downwind" window for ventilation.
  • Exercise by clapping hands and moving arms and legs vigorously from time to time. Don't stay in one position for too long.
  • Avoid over exertion and exposure trying to shovel snow or push your car out of a drift.
  • Turn on an interior light at night. Your vehicle will be more visible.
  • Keep watch - don't permit all occupants of your car to sleep at the same time.