Blizzard prep: 10 steps to prepare for winter weather

Plus how to handle damages with your insurance

Author profile picture

The Zebra

The nation's leading independent insurance comparison site

The Zebra is an independent insurance advisor and quote comparison site with headquarters in Austin, Texas. Utilizing its real-time quote comparison …

Regardless of the weather where you live, get the best car and home insurance rates in minutes!

Location pin icon
No junk mail. No spam calls. Free quotes.

Polar Vortex. Nor’easter. Bomb Cyclone. Clipper. While there are a variety of colorful names given to winter storms, they all have something in common: It’s frightening – and potentially life-altering – to get caught in one. 

This is especially true if that storm causes damage to your home or car. But the more you can do ahead of time to prepare for inclement weather, the better off you’ll be if and when the snow starts falling.

Even if you’re expecting a milder winter, chances are you’ll still have to deal with some sort of seasonal storm. Knowing that, here’s what you can do to properly prep your home and car – no matter the weather forecast.

1. Stay informed

In order to truly be ready for a winter storm, you need to know when it’s coming. This means regularly checking weather reports and signing up for your community’s warning system.[1] The Emergency Alert System (EAS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio also provide emergency alerts.

2. Salt now, shovel less later

Make arrangements for your abode. When winter weather comes a-raging, make sure your home is safe and fully stocked. Start by prepping the outside of your house with salt, which will help melt snow more quickly and keep ice from forming on sidewalks. Course sand is also a good option, but make sure to store it inside, as it can freeze.

3. Check your snowblower

If you have a snowblower, make sure it’s out of storage and functioning properly, or consider renting one for the season. If you use a plowing service, give them a call to understand timing and logistics for getting your driveway cleared.

4. Clean your gutters

Fall leaves can build up in gutters and clog your downspouts. This can make it difficult for melting snow to drain and cause ice damming. An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow from draining from the roof. It can lead to leaks into your home.

5. Test your sump pump

When the snow melts, you’re going to have a lot of water on your hands. Make sure your home is ready. If you have a basement and sump pump, now is the time to test it. Dump several gallons of water around it to make sure it activates.

6. Cover exterior faucets

First disconnect any hoses attached to your outdoor faucets. Next, cover any faucets outside with outdoor faucet covers. This will help insulate them during a hard freeze and prevent them from breaking when water freezes and expands inside them.

7. Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors

Now that you’re ready on the outside, there are still steps to take to prepare the inside of your house. Test all of your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors to ensure they’re in working order. When you have a fire, heater or generator going, it can lead to smoke and carbon monoxide in the house. You want to make sure to keep your family safe. (Note: Never run a generator inside or leave a fire going while you sleep.)

8. Stock up on essentials

In case you are snowed or iced in and unable to restock, you want to make sure you have everything you need to ride out the storm in comfort. Stock up on essentials, such as firewood, water bottles, non-perishable food, a portable radio and a first-aid kit, should you find yourself stranded or without power.

9. Set up your car emergency kit

Get your car in gear. In a perfect world, weather warnings should give you enough time to get to a safe place before a blizzard hits. But we all know weather is unpredictable. So, if you get caught in your car during a storm, make sure you’re prepared to ride it out. Create an emergency supply kit that includes everything from jumper cables, sand and a flashlight, to warm clothes, blankets and nourishment. And don’t forget to fill your tank regularly so you aren’t left without gas.

10. Check your insurance policies

While hopefully you endure the storm without incurring damage, you need to be equipped in case destruction does happen. This starts by making sure you’re properly insured. The good news is most standard homeowners policies cover typical winter-weather related damage. Auto damages might also be covered depending on what type of insurance you carry. More on both below. 

Winter weather insurance

As mentioned above, most standard homeowners policies cover typical winter-weather related damage. This includes wind, wind-driven rain, trees or other falling objects and the collapse of a structure due to weight of ice or snow. If you’re wondering whether you need Hazard Insurance, the answer is you likely already have it – it actually refers to the part of your policy that protects the structure of your home from natural disasters.

Note that some insurance companies assign additional deductibles for wind and hail damage, plus a deductible for other covered perils. This is designed to keep your homeowners policy affordable.

While most common blizzard-related damage is covered, it’s important to know that issues such as interior water damage from a storm (when there isn’t damage to the roof or walls), flood damage and water damage from backed-up drains or sewers aren’t covered automatically, but can be added to your policy for an additional premium.

Evaluating your auto insurance. Comprehensive insurance (often purchased with collision insurance) is optional coverage that covers damage related to winter weather. A comprehensive claim will raise your premium by about $31 every six months, but it’s worth it if you live in an area with frequent winter storms–collision claims are more common during snowy or icy weather because of slick roads.

When disaster strikes

Hopefully you’ll follow the advice given above, so if and when a blizzard blows your way, you’re in a good position to recover quickly. Yet, you can’t anticipate all of the consequences resulting from a winter storm. Here’s how to ensure you stay safe and minimize the headaches of potential damage. 

Securing your most important asset – you. If you find yourself on the road during a storm, seek shelter somewhere close by. If you get trapped in your car, pull over and remain in the vehicle until the storm subsides. If you’re inside your home, stay inside to avoid frostbite or hypothermia. Also, be cautious of anything that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning, like generators or grills. And if an injury occurs, call 911 and wait for them to help you – don’t try to get anywhere on your own. Throughout the storm, be sure to monitor local news and alerts for emergency information and instructions. 

Once the storm subsides. When the worst of it is over you may think you’re in the clear, but you must continue to be cautious when venturing outside. Dress warmly and cover all extremities to prevent frostbite. Also, avoid overexertion from shoveling or snow plowing, which could potentially cause a medical emergency.

What’s next with insurance?

If there has been damage to your home or car, you need to act quickly.

  1. Begin by taking photos and videos for documentation.
  2. Next, it’s time to call your insurance company or agent with your policy number and other relevant information.
  3. Your insurance company will let you know what other documents, forms and data you’ll need to file your claim.
  4. Before making any permanent repairs, ensure your insurance company has inspected your property and you’ve agreed on costs.
  5. If necessary to avoid additional damage, investigate temporary repair options.
  6. Save all of your receipts so you get sufficiently reimbursed.

After a major disaster, those without insurance (or whose insurance companies have denied their claims) may qualify for federal assistance. (Being reimbursed for the same damages by your insurance provider and a federal agency is considered insurance fraud.) Call the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and share a few details about your situation to see if you qualify.

Winter weather is unpredictable, and it’s often unavoidable depending on where you live. And while snow storms can wreak havoc on your home and your car, proper preparation will allow you to confidently handle whatever the weather throws – or blows – your way.