Published on 12/04/13

Prepare now for when winter storms blow into town

By Heather Kolich

It’s a Southern tradition. Whenever the forecast calls for snow, folks dash to the store and deplete the supply of bread and milk. But if you’re iced in for a few days, bread and milk won't keep your family going for long or do much to maintain the morale of snowbound children and adults.

So how do you make the average home a fully-stocked winter weather shelter? It doesn't take much, but the key is to prepare before winter storms arrive.

Before the storm

Emergencies don’t call ahead for reservations. Preparing for disruptive weather in advance means you’ll be ready whenever it comes. During good weather, University of Georgia Extension experts recommend winterizing your home by:

  • Insulating walls and attics
  • Sealing air leaks around windows and doors with caulk or weather-stripping
  • Installing storm doors and windows, or covering windows with plastic

UGA Extension specialists encourage Georgians to build an emergency food supply for emergencies ranging from winter storms to spring floods. As you routinely grocery shop, purchase one or two extra shelf-stable, ready-to-eat canned goods, like non-condensed soup, canned chicken breast and tuna, pasta meals and vegetables. This will build an emergency food supply without adding too much to your grocery bill each week. Unlike frozen foods, canned foods won’t be damaged by a long power outage.

Make sure you have a manual can opener, too. Avoid dry foods like pasta and rice. They are stable, but they require water and cooking, luxuries that may be in short supply during a storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends stocking at least a three-day supply of adequate nutrition, water and prescription medications for each family member, including pets and livestock.

Why three days? That’s how long it may take to restore electricity and clear roads of ice, fallen trees and other hazards. In recent U.S. natural disasters, actual restoration of electricity, water and transportation can take much longer.

To get through disruptive storms or other emergencies, also store the following items:

  • Water – one gallon per person per day for drinking and hygiene
  • An alternate heat source and fuel, like a hefty supply of firewood for the fireplace or wood-burning stove
  • Flashlights with extra batteries
  • NOAA weather radio Entertainment – There's a lot of idle waiting time when you’re storm-stuck. Books, cards, board games and energy-releasing activities (besides hauling firewood) can keep cabin fever at bay.

During the storm

Use foods from the refrigerator first, then frozen foods, then canned foods. If the oven isn’t working, use coals from the fireplace to heat food or cook outside on your grill. Don’t bring the grill indoors as this can cause deadly carbon monoxide to build up inside.

Long term food storage

Canned foods keep for months, but oxygen inside the packaging causes food quality to decline over time.

Working with a grant from NASA, food scientists at the University of Georgia are working on a process that squeezes so much oxygen out of food it can retain just-picked quality for years. The idea is to make comfort foods like macaroni and cheese available to astronauts on multi-year journeys to Mars, but it’s also applicable to long-term food storage here on Earth. The researchers have brought oxygen levels down to parts-per-million, but they’re aiming for parts-per-billion.

Until then, it's best to periodically use and replace items in your emergency food supply to keep them fresh.

Car kits

While most Southerners avoid driving whenever ice and snow threatens, it's also prudent to store a few supplies in you car. Collect the following items for your vehicle's emergency supply kit:

  • Ready-to-eat foods
  • Bottled water
  • Blanket
  • Candles and matches
  • Whistle
  • Hand-crank flashlight and radio
  • Warm clothes and boots
  • Heavy work gloves
  • Toiletry items

It’s a good idea to have a similar kit in your work place in case conditions prevent you from getting home.

For more information on emergency preparedness, download UGA Extension's Home Emergency Preparedness Handbook from or visit

Heather Kolich is an Agricultural and Natural Resources Extension agent with the Forsyth County UGA Extension Office.

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