Year after year, many Americans do not adequately prepare for winter. Without taking proper precautions with their homes and cars, extreme weather conditions can catch many people off guard.
Zee, who has covered nearly every major hurricane in the past decade (including Katrina, Sandy, and Michael), hopes Americans will better prepare for winter this year.
“I like to remind folks that even if you have a warmer than average winter, you can have two or three significant cold snaps that make it feel like it was a terrible winter,” she said. “In New York City, for example, we can have nearly no snow the entire season, but one or two big snowstorms help bring numbers up to average.”
Zee gathers her predictions for the season from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“While seasonal forecasting is far from perfect,” Zee said, “NOAA’s climate prediction center and forecasters, like me, pay special attention to El Niño southern oscillation (ENSO). It’s the interaction between the Pacific Ocean temperatures and the atmosphere. For this winter, it’s expected to remain in ENSO neutral, if anything edging into very minimal El Niño.”
According to Zee, the first thing most people overlook when preparing for winter is their car.
“If you live in a place that has ever had winter precipitation, you have to get your car prepped,” she said. “Most Americans spend so much time in their car and that’s when most weather emergencies happen.”
This prep work can be as simple as having additional clothing, such as boots and gloves, packed in case of a snowstorm.
“You need to be able to survive the extremes,” Zee said. “Be sure to have flares or something brightly colored to tie to a vehicle, which can help you get rescued if you are stuck in the snow and are getting buried.”
When it comes to the home, Zee has a checklist of items people should keep stocked in case of a blackout or extreme weather.
“Water for three days for each person, nonperishable foods (and make sure those are updated), and flashlights,” she said. “I think people should have headlamps, extra chargers, and an NOAA weather radio with batteries.
“Having fuel is critical and if you don’t want to live off of trail mix and canned beans. You should also have a way to easily access tools, too, in case you need to get to the roof or out an alternate way because an exit is blocked.”
Maximizing natural heat
Aside from keeping the home well-stocked, people should ensure their homes are properly insulated.
“We are fortunate to have a whole-house generator and a fireplace if things get really dire,” Zee said. “For environmental reasons, I am adamant about making sure our insulation is up to snuff, utilizing curtains and black out shades for insulation. I also make sure everyone is dressed for the winter so we can keep our energy use down.”
Winter weather conditions can turn dangerous quickly. Zee said people typically downplay risky weather conditions, especially when it comes to making (and cancelling) travel plans.
“If conditions are too bad visibility-wise, delay travel,” she said. “If you are already out and visibility goes down quickly, pull over at an exit or somewhere safe and let the worst pass. In lake effect — snow bands for example — they can move from clear skies, to no visibility, to clear skies again in a matter of 10-20 minutes.”
For people driving to work in bad conditions, Zee recommended getting a radar.
“That way when you are pulled over, you can see where it gets lighter or ends, and allow that time to pass,” she said. “Absolutely nothing is worth risking your life for. Especially a job.”