Winter survival guide

Fasten your seatbelts, kids; it's gonna be a snowy ride

With apologies to Bette Davis, you’ll forgive us for feeling a bit snow-shy after the horrendous winter we had just 12 months (eight months, really) ago. But winters in Indiana are predictably unpredictable. As we go to press, we’ve seen a bit of snow here and there, but, remember, the horrible winter of 2014 didn’t start until Jan. 6.

So maybe we’ll have another Ice Age winter like last year, or maybe we’ll have a milder one as we have enjoyed in the past. Regardless, living in Hoosierland means you’d better be prepared.

Without further ado, then, let us offer up this handy Winter Survival Guide. And may Mother Nature smile upon us and gift us an early spring. Failing that, we’ll take a one-way ticket to Orlando.


The key to surviving winter is being prepared. We can’t stress that enough. And while it’s probably impossible to be prepared for every contingency, there are some actions you can take to head off disaster. The following tips come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.


Make sure your car is ready for winter. That means antifreeze and winter-weight windshield fluids are topped up, wipers are working properly and tires are properly inflated and have sufficient tread. You’ll need a mechanic to check brakes, battery levels and fuel and air filters, and while you car is being checked over, have them do a quick check of all your lights – both headlights and fog lights, plus hazard flashers and brake lights. Make sure the engine oil level and weight are correct for winter driving. Keep a full or nearly full gas tank, plus a bag of kitty litter (the non-clumping kind) in your car. The kitty litter weight in the trunk helps stabilize the rear wheels and the litter can be used to provide traction if you get stuck. Make sure your windshield scraper is working, and stash a small broom to remove snow from car surfaces.

Create (or update) a car emergency kit: Store a warm blanket, extra hats and gloves and even a pair of snow boots in the trunk. A flashlight will help at night, and a battery-powered radio (with extra batteries, please) will provide emergency information. A first-aid kit with a pocketknife should be part of your year-round car kit, along with jumper cables, a large piece of brightly colored cloth and a tow chain or rope.

If you’re caught in a blizzard and can’t get out of the car, tie your brightly colored cloth to your antenna and run the engine for 10 minutes every hour to keep warm. Make sure there’s no snow blocking the tail pipe, and, if you can, crack a window to prevent carbon monoxide build-up, which can be deadly. It wouldn’t hurt to keep emergency flares, a small shovel and an assortment of non-perishable food (crackers, raisins, energy bars, etc.) in the car as well. A reader suggests keeping a collection of pinecones in the car to provide traction on slippery roadways. A lighter, kept in purse or briefcase, can help thaw frozen locks.

Wear winter-appropriate clothing when you travel. If you must wear heels and a skirt, make sure you have a stash of warmer clothes and snow boots in the car to put on if you get stuck. Silky long underwear and wool socks are a must.

Stash a car charger for your cell phone in the car, and make sure you’re fully charged before you start driving. Also make sure someone knows the route you’re traveling and when you are expected to arrive.


Winterizing your home BEFORE snow and cold strike will protect you and help keep winter heating bills lower. Weather-stripping doors and windows, putting storm windows in and clearing gutters and errant tree limbs that could damage the house are musts. Stuff old towels in the cracks under doors, or make a “snake” with a tube of cloth filled with dried rice or dried beans.

Have your heating system serviced before it’s called into service to prevent costly late-night repairs. Call a chimney sweep to check your fireplace and chimney before using the fireplace. That’s something you should do annually. Keep a seasoned pile of fireplace wood on hand, just in case, and ensure that you have a fully charged fire extinguisher handy and make sure your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors have fresh batteries. House fires rise in the winter as people use alternate heating sources, such as electric or space heaters. If you use them, make sure you keep the units clear of paper, curtains, clothing and other flammables. FEMA reports that more than 900 people die in winter house fires each year, and those fires do more than $2 billion in damage annually. If you need emergency lighting, use a flashlight, not a candle.

Disconnect all hoses and cover spigots with foam insulating kits. Learn where your water valves, are and make sure you know how to turn off the water in the event of a pipe bursting. Leaving a trickle of warm water running will help prevent pipes from freezing. Make sure fire hydrants in your neighborhood are clear from snow and ice.

Keep a supply of ice-melt by the door (use pet-friendly ones so Fido can safely go outside for a brief bathroom trip). If you have animals that stay outside, make sure their shelter is winterized. Bring dogs inside during cold spells. If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them.

Buy an ergonomically correct snow shovel that fits your size. A too-big shovel might seem like it will clear your sidewalks more efficiently, but you’ll end up in pain. Find one that is appropriate for your size, and your back will thank you. (Pro tip: if you live a sedentary lifestyle or are at risk of a heart attack, pay the neighbor kid to shovel for you, if possible. And make getting fit a New Year’s resolution you’ll actually keep!) If the days of snow shoveling are behind you, contact NeighborLink at (260) 710-7611 or There, you can seek free volunteer help with household problems.


Recognize that winter is here, and dress appropriately. Emergency workers know layering is the key. But those of us who work in offices know business attire is not always the right choice for braving the cold. Throwing a pair of warm pants and a sweatshirt in the car before traveling can protect you in case you get stuck somewhere. Ditto for snow boots, mittens or gloves (which ones really keep you warmer, anyway?), a scarf and hat.

Winter’s low humidity means skin dries out quickly. Keep moisturizer and lip balm on hand to ward off chapping. Static hair can be tamed with a quick pat-down with freshly moisturized hands, and you can de-static your clothes by rubbing anything metal over them, such as a wire clothes hanger or a large safety pin. Hairspray or a used dryer sheet work in a pinch, too. Stay hydrated by drinking water or sipping green tea throughout the day.

Don’t forgo crucial scalp warmth because of a fear of “hat head.” The hair-flattening effects of a winter hat can be quickly remedied by a trip to the bathroom: dampen your hands, then rework your hair into your preferred style. A dab of pomade can wake up your style in an instant. Finish with a touch of the hairspray you’ve stashed in a drawer or locker.


It’s not too late to get winterized. Put down this magazine (you can pick it up again later when you’re snowed in) and head over to your friendly neighborhood hardware store. There, pick up weather-stripping for doors and windows and foam insulation for pipes. You can also find clear plastic you can tape over your windows and unused doors to reduce drafts. Stuff old towels under door cracks or make “snakes” from cloth tubes filled with dried beans or rice to reduce wind drafts.

Next, put together a winter survival kit for your home. Include foods that need no cooking or refrigeration, in event of a power loss. These can include bread, crackers, protein bars, canned food and dried fruit and a non-electric can opener. Include baby food and formula if necessary. Store water in clean containers or buy bottled water, enough for five gallons per person, in case pipes freeze and break. Don’t forget to refill medical prescriptions and buy diapers as needed BEFORE a storm hits.

Prepare alternate sources of heat, in case of power failure, such as bringing in dry firewood for a fireplace or wood stove, or keeping a supply of propane for a propane heater. Make sure flashlights are working and that you have extra batteries.

And in case you don’t have one yet, get a decent snow shovel. The City of Fort Wayne prefers (by law) that you have your sidewalks cleared of snow by 9 a.m. after a storm and that you keep them clear thereafter. There’s a $2,500 maximum fine per day. Now that will really frost your wallet!


One of the most distressing aspects of last winter’s hellishly long winter was the epidemic of cabin fever. Those first few storms were kind of fun (if you were a kid who was thrilled with snow days, that is), but by mid-January, most of us were sick of the white stuff. So combat cabin fever by facing the cold and snow head on: Get out in it!

Opportunities thrive for outdoor winter fun in Northeast Indiana. From cross-country skiing at Fox Island or Metea county parks to ice skating at Headwaters Park or tobogganing at Pokagon State Park, there are plenty of ways to combat cabin fever. Heck, even building a snowman in the yard with the kids is fun. How about building your own igloo? Now that’s cool. Here’s how, courtesy of

1. Choose and prep a circular area about seven feet wide (large enough for two people). Draw a circle to form the outside outline.

2. Make snow bricks. You’ll need about 150 well-packed bricks. Use sturdy square buckets (such as an empty plastic kitty litter container), and pack them with snow tightly. Turn upside down to empty the snow, and let stand for 10-30 minutes to solidify. Line your circle with a layer of snow bricks to create the base of the igloo, and then continue wrapping bricks in a layered circle, like a coiled snake. Offset the bricks in each layer to provide a more stable wall. Pack loose snow in cracks and angle the bricks inward as your igloo grows. Have one person inside to ensure the bricks are placed correctly and to trim away excess to make smooth walls and ceiling, and one person outside to do the heavy lifting.

3. Let the tallest person in the group add the top bricks to form the ceiling, then use a snow saw or serrated knife to cut out a doorway just large enough to crawl in and out. Do not form the door first, or your igloo will collapse.


Winter storm advisories from the National Weather Service

Winter Weather Advisory: Winter weather conditions are expected to cause significant inconveniences and may be hazardous. When caution is used, these situations should not be life threatening.

Winter Storm Watch: A watch is issued when conditions are favorable for a specific hazardous weather event to occur. NWS issues a Winter Storm Watch when conditions are favorable for dangerous winter weather. It does not mean the weather will occur, but it is possible and you should start making preparations such as checking on isolated family members or friends, bringing in firewood, etc.

Winter Storm Warning: A warning is issued when a winter storm is imminent or occurring. If you hear a warning, immediately go home or shelter in place until it is safe to travel again. If you are home, bring in pets and plan to stay inside until you are told it is safe to go out again. Blizzards, extreme cold and windchill can quickly become deadly outside.

Indiana Travel Advisories: By state law, these advisories apply to all Indiana counties

ADVISORY: Lowest level of local travel advisory. It means that routine travel or activities may be restricted in areas because of a hazardous situation, and individuals should use caution or avoid these areas.

WATCH: Conditions are threatening to the public’s safety. During a “watch,” only essential travel, such as to and from work or in emergency situations, is recommended and emergency action plans should be implemented by businesses, schools, government agencies and other organizations.

WARNING: Highest level of local travel advisory, it means that travel may be restricted to emergency management workers only. During a “warning” local travel advisory, individuals are directed to:

A. Refrain from all travel;
B. Comply with necessary emergency measures;
C. Cooperate with public officials and disaster services forced in executing emergency operations plans;
D. Obey and comply with the lawful directions of properly identified officers.

Further and more specific restrictions, including parking restrictions, may be included in a “warning” local travel advisory.

First appeared in the January 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.


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