What you should have in stock when preparing for a winter storm

You should have at least three days' worth of food and water for everyone in your household

ByChristina Maxouris, CNN, CNNWire
Thursday, January 4, 2024
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Powerful storms can be dangerous, in some instances cutting off heat, power and communication services for days - and sometimes even longer.

To make sure you're best prepared, start with some basics: Learn how to keep your pipes from freezing (for example, you can open cabinets under sinks to let heat in or let faucets drip), test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, have extra batteries for radios and flashlights, charge electronics and consider specific needs of everyone at home, like medication.

You should have at least three days' worth of food and water for everyone in your household, according to Joann Sands, a clinical assistant professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Buffalo.

Choose groceries that have a long shelf life, don't require cooking and are not too salty or spicy, because those foods mean you'll likely drink more water, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

Here's what to stock up on.

High-protein and non-perishable foods

Choose foods like energy bars and protein and fruit bars that don't need to be refrigerated or frozen, said Sands, who trains students in disaster and emergency preparedness.

Dry cereal, granola, peanut butter, dried fruit and non-perishable pasteurized milk are also good to have as you hunker down.

Though not essential, experts recommend you have comfort and stress foods on hand as you weather a storm.

Canned goods

Remember that the power may go out in harsh weather conditions, so it's good to have ready-to-eat canned meats, fruits, vegetables and canned juices as well as a manual can opener, according to Ready.gov.

Canned dietetic foods, juices and soups may be especially helpful for elderly or ill people, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

If a can is swollen, dented or corroded, do not eat from it.

Water

Store at least three days' worth of water supply for each person in your household and for each pet, the CDC recommends. FEMA recommends storing at least one gallon of water for each person in your household for each day.

Unopened, commercially bottled water is the safest and most reliable water supply, the agency says. If it's store-bought water, make sure you check the expiration date.

Plastic bags and containers

Make sure you also have plastic bags on hand, as you can wrap perishable foods - such as cookies - in there, and place them in sealed containers, according to FEMA.

Paper plates, cups and disposable utensils

If you're out of electricity and water, having paper plates and utensils can help you prepare and eat your meals safely, the CDC says.

Think of babies - and pets

When preparing, don't forget about babies and pets in the house.

Make sure you have enough supply of baby formula, as well as anything else an infant may need, including diapers, said Sands.

Be sure to also have several days' worth of supplies for pets, such as medications and non-perishable foods.

(And maybe some treats, as storms can be stressful for them as well.)

Hygiene products

Check that you have the hygiene products you need - including feminine supplies, toilet paper, wet wipes, paper towels and hand sanitizer.

Have an emergency kit

It's always good to have a disaster kit at the ready that's in a portable container near your home's exit.

That should include: non-perishable foods and a three-day supply of water, a battery-powered radio and flashlight, extra batteries, a first-aid kit with a manual, sanitation items, matches in a waterproof container, a whistle to signal for help if you need to, clothing, blankets and sleeping bags, identification cards, credit cards and cash, paper and pencil, items to cover baby and pet needs and any special items like medications, contact lenses, glasses, hearing aids and activities for younger children.

You should also pack face masks, to keep you safe from seasonal viruses and Covid-19.

Know this about items in the fridge

It's important that you don't panic-buy and try and fill your fridge, Sands said.

"How are you going to be able to store this food if you don't have power?" Sands said, adding that stocking up on extra groceries can not only lead to wasted food but could hurt others that may not be able to find what they're looking for.

If your power goes out, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as you can, to avoid letting the cool air out. If unopened, your fridge will be able to keep food cold for about four hours, according to Ready.gov.

Throw out any perishable food - meat, poultry, eggs or leftovers - that's been left in temperatures over 40 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours.

Prepare your car, too

While in a winter storm you should try to avoid traveling. Make sure that if you do have to go out, you have a full tank of gas, Sands said.

And try to have some key items in your car should you get stranded, including a charged phone and a charged phone battery pack, blankets, food and extra clothing, Sands said. Make sure to also keep the exhaust pipe clear to avoid carbon monoxide dangers, she added.

Here's more on what to pack in your car to stay safe.

Tips to keep in mind

  • Have important documents readily available in case of an evacuation, including home or renter's insurance, Social Security cards, birth certificates and passports, Sands said.
  • Create a family communications plan on how you'll be able to get in touch if you are separated during the storm.
  • Do not bring portable generators, camp stoves and grills inside your home. Keep them at least 20 feet away from your windows, doors and vents, to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite and hypothermia. Here is what those could look like.
  • Plan to check on your elderly or disabled neighbors and friends.