10 Tips for Winter Storm Prep (or, I Should’ve Known Better)

This post may contain affiliate links for your convenience. Read my full disclosure policy here.

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

With winter weather on the way, it’s the perfect time for these 10 tips to prepare for storms and potential power outages. From what you’ll need for a generator to fridges to sump pumps, here’s what we learned about how to prepare for a winter storm!

It’s a tad ironic my daughter’s favorite movie is Frozen, considering that’s how we’ve been spending the last three months here in the mid-atlantic– FROZEN. And we were especially Frozen when the latest winter ice storm came through and knocked out our power for days. As you can tell from Instagram, I’ve been surviving most of the snow storms by cooking and baking. But last week we got walloped with 12 inches of snow, then an ice storm a few days later that covered everything with half an inch of ice and knocked out power to over 700,000 people. 700,00 people, can you imagine?!

my typical storm prep: haul out the crockpot and bread machine!

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

It’s amazing how I can go from working on designing my master bedroom one day to hand-bailing our sump pump in a 40 degree basement for hours on end in order to save our furnace, water heater, and washer dryer the next. Dodging limbs the size of pickup trucks and watching power lines crash down wasn’t so fun either, and considering this is just the latest in a string of winter weather (two more storms predicted this week, actually) I was morose.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d break in my new Hunter boots by actually mucking out a basement; this makes them more authentic, right? The water came in so fast we were filling each of these tubs in under a minute!

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

What made me especially angry was that I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER. After Superstorm Sandy knocked out our power for almost a week last year, I wrote a detailed natural disaster prep list of all the things we should have done. And yet, I did none of those things because I assumed we wouldn’t have to deal with THAT again for awhile. As a result, we were left bailing never ending water in our basement while my kids were by entertaining themselves without electronics for hours upstairs in jackets, hats, and mittens in a freezing cold house with a power restoration estimate from the power company predicted for FIVE DAYS LATER. I snagged the last hotel room in the area at about 10AM, as hotels were booked solid for days on end. No generators could be found either, my husband chased rumors of them but that first day we could not find one. As the water poured into our basement, we bailed 2 HUGE tubs every 5 minutes while staring at the water seeping under our furnace and water heater. This went on for five hours.  If a neighbor hadn’t come over and offered to plug our sump pump into his generator we would have sustained upwards of $10K in damages. Thank goodness for kind neighbors!

this was our yard BEFORE the ice storm; now imagine a half inch of ice covering this and you can see why trees and power lines fell like crazy!

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

Needless to say, we learned a lot. From how to use a generator to the fact you need an electrician to install a transfer switch to having a backup plan, we’ve already made steps to prevent this from happening again! Perhaps it was setting up our generator outside in the 20 degree temperatures or that hand bailing that’s left us sore for days, but we don’t want to deal with this in the future. And I don’t want YOU to have to deal with it either. I have friends still without power five days later. I’m not sure you can imagine what that’s like, especially with kids and pets, in these temperatures, until you’ve gone through it. I certainly don’t want you to find out how it feels!

we found the last hotel room in the area– exhausted but finally warm and able to watch t.v., it’s the little things!

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

Here’s what I learned this time around about how to prepare for storms, and winter storms in particular. I hope this helps you avoid our mistakes!

  • GET A GENERATOR. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. JUST GET ONE. We were trying to decide which type to get (propane vs. gas), which size, etc.  It paralyzed us. You know what? A generator in hand is better than two on the store shelves. Just get one. We were lucky that this storm was localized within the region and they were able to quickly ship in generators for stores just outside the storm area. If this had been a larger sized storm we would have been totally out of luck in terms of getting a generator quickly.
  • KNOW HOW YOU’LL USE THE GENERATOR. As I mentioned, we set up our generator in 20 degree weather with the manual in one hand. We’re clueless with stuff like this, but managed to get it up and running and did all the high-fives and maybe I did a victory dance. But then I was like, hey, how do you hook this up to the house? Sure, you can plug in space heaters, sump pump and fridge but you can’t exactly plug in your furnace. So we had to call in an electrician who was totally overworked and didn’t arrive until after dark on day two. He hardwired the generator to our furnace so we at least had heat, and then came back to install a transfer switch the next day.  YOU NEED TO INSTALL A TRANSFER SWITCH.  It’s much better to get that installed well in advance of an emergency than trying to find an electrician when everyone is attempting to do the same thing. I bet you’ll pay way less, too.
  • BE SURE TO HAVE A GAS CAN. And gas, too. Here’s what they don’t tell you– trying to locate a large gas can to fill the generator turned out to be an adventure. It took over an hour to find one in a store. Then finding a place to fill it was equally challenging because many of the gas stations didn’t have power or were blocked by downed trees! Again, we were extremely fortunate that this was a localized storm and could drive out to find help, but if this had impacted more of the region we would have been screwed.
  • MORE GAS ADVICE: MAKE SURE YOUR CAR’S TANK IS FULL. This is for several reasons: if you lose power, you’ll need your car to charge your phone. Also, if you need to drive outside your region in an emergency or to find shelter, mostly likely local gas stations will be closed/ out of gas/ have long lines (don’t believe me? Google ‘Sandy’ and ‘gas shortages’).
  • GET A CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTOR.  Please. Just do it. With generators going and trying to find different sources for heat, you’ll have peace of mind if you have a detector. We use the Kidde Nighthawk Carbon Monoxide Detector (affiliate link, thanks!) and find it works great, but there’s many to choose from. I won’t go into details, but this is such an important part of staying safe and hits close to home. Please, get one if you don’t have one already.
  • IF IT’S FREEZING OUTSIDE YOU CAN PUT YOUR FOOD OUT THERE SO IT WON’T SPOIL. If it’s not below freezing, have a few coolers and ice ready.  In all the chaos, I didn’t think to move the $150 in groceries I’d just purchased outside. I mean, the temps were in the 20’s so it would have been the perfect outdoor fridge. The freezer was okay because we didn’t open it the entire time. TIP: I also keep a baggie of ice cubes in the freezer for this purpose– if the power goes out and the freezer un-freezes, the ice will melt. If they stay in cube form I know everything stayed frozen.

Our only fridge survivors of PA Ice Storm 2014 were beer and kale. PRIORITIES.

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

  • HAVE BOTTLES OF WATER ON HAND.  I was thankful to have bottled water for both home and the hotel. I wasn’t sure if our water supply was compromised and the kids were thirsty, so it was nice to have water bottles. I also took them along to the hotel and they were VERY handy! We saved money and didn’t have to pay high prices for each bottle. In fact, this whole 6-pack was $1 total whereas the hotel water bottles were upwards of $2 each.

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

  • SPEAKING OF WATER– GET A SUMP PUMP BACKUP.  Do you have a sump pump? It’s a pump in your basement that keeps it dry by pumping water that may seep in. As mentioned, the dripping ice created so much water we were filling massive buckets every minute then having to haul them outside and immediately start again. Our next investment will be a water activated sump pump that kicks in if the power fails. It doesn’t need to charge, it’s activated by water! Why are we doing this even though we have a generator? Because if we lose power and we’re not home or my husband is traveling, this will buy us time and peace of mind to get the generator up and running.  Imagine you’re on vacation and the power fails- you’re not home to hook up the generator, so you’re likely to come home to a flooded basement if you don’t have a sump pump backup. Having it water activated means you don’t have to charge it or worry it will run out of battery power, either. We’re shopping around for one, but here’s my affiliate link to a water activated sump pump backup I found on Amazon if you want to learn more.
  • KEEP YOUR TREES TRIMMED AND TAKE CARE OF LOOSE BRANCHES IN GOOD WEATHER, because once bad weather hits you will not have control. Case in point: here’s a four story evergreen in our yard after the ice storm. The ice treated limbs thicker than my thigh like toothpicks. I’m guessing that’s going to take about $1000 in tree work just for this tree (not to mention the others), and we need to do it ASAP so those branches don’t crash into our neighbor’s car. If we’d kept it trimmed we may have avoided the rush fees and extra time needed to do this in the snow. I also should have shaken heavy snow from our forsythia, cypress, and other bushes before we got hit with ice because the extra weight destroyed them. Spring is going to be a little less pretty in our yard.

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

  • IF YOU HAVE PETS, HAVE A PLAN TO SHELTER THEM. Another snafu was our sweet new kitty, Charlie. We didn’t want him to freeze in our home but we couldn’t find a hotel with vacancies that’s pet friendly. We also had cords running to the generator through our doors and the thought of him running out was constantly on my mind. And, oh, we learned he can open bedroom doors when we locked him inside them. Stinker. 🙂 Many of my friends also lost fish, frogs, and other small animals due to the freezing temps; it’s not easy to move a tank! My current plan of action is to make a list of local pet-friendly hotels and have a pet sitter on speed dial so next time we can shelter Charlie and not have to worry about his safety.

Yup, I’ve been playing with the new app Waterlogue. It’s all kinds of awesome!

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

  • FRIENDS ARE AWESOME. What I didn’t mention was that all this happened on my birthday. We had so many offers of shelter from both near and far, even our friends on a generator offered their home to us! It was great peace of mind to know we had somewhere to go. When our power came on, we made sure to invite our still powerless friends over– and by a stroke of luck two separate families (on two different days) had their power restored over dinner at our home. That’s the power of hospitality, people!

Here’s some tips on how to prepare for a natural disaster (including favorite products like flashlights and emergency radios) that I learned after Hurricane Sandy last year. I learned so much more after this recent storm, and hope you don’t have to go through what we’re experiencing here in Pennsylvania.  But if you DO, you’ll be so much more prepared if you take the steps outlined above now instead of later. Consider sharing with your friends and family too, they may not know about transfer switches and sump pumps either!

Between the generator, electrician, hotel room, lost groceries, eating out, and the tree work we’ll need done I estimate this storm will cost us over $4,000 in damages- a number that could have been greatly reduced had we JUST. PLANNED. AHEAD.

Hopefully later this week I’ll be back on track with bedroom design boards and DIY ideas. But the kids have not had more than 5 days of school together since mid-December due to snow days, so we’re all going a bit bonkers trying to keep busy indoors and me trying to keep the blog going with two active kiddos who (rightfully) demand my attention! Priorities, priorities. 🙂

Did you lose power this winter?  Give me your best winter storm prep tips and share your stories!

How to prepare for winter storms and power outages- great tips from www.makinglemonadeblog.com

Share This Post With Friends!
Pin on Pinterest
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this on Twitter
Email this to someone
Print this page

Similar Posts


  1. Oh geez. What an ordeal! I’m glad you’re all safe and sound now.

    Why does the thought of you bailing water out of your basement make me think of Lady Mary mucking around in the pig sty? 🙂 Two stylish ladies not afraid of some hard work. She could have used those Hunter boots.

    1. HOW DID YOU KNOW?! I seriously had Mary flashbacks, minus rolling in the mud. But it was SO muddy, I kept thinking of those pigs and Lady Mary!

  2. Thank you for this list! It’s great. I’ll admit, we are lucky – separate grid, no trees – my power where I live now has not gone out since I’ve lived here, but your suggestions make a lot of sense for everyone. So sharing it. And beer and kale, not much else you need right? 🙂

  3. Oh Carrie! What a nightmare! Such good information that you shared though. In the event of another crazy storm, our house is always open!!

  4. You guys had it worse than us. We lost power for about 28 hours. On Wednesday morning I ordered a generator from Amazon and paid an extra $25 to have it delivered the very next day (thinking we would be without power until 11pm Sunday per Peco). The generator was delivered on time but it came an hour after our power came back on. So now we are prepared for this storm that is coming for us this week. My husband told me we needed a snowblower and generator after Sandy and I told him it was a waste of money because I thought that was just a freak thing that happened. I admit I was WRONG! I bought the last snowblower from Lowes yesterday. I hope your family stays safe during this next storm. Thanks for a great post on preparedness.

    1. So funny Bonnie, our power came on minutes after we got our generator installed too! Such is life. At least we have it for the future (and by future, I mean probably today with this Nor’Easter). I had it on my to-do list after Sandy and just like you thought, ‘nah, that won’t happen again’. LOL. Hope you guys are warm and safe this week!

  5. Hey – just started following you – I saw your doing the hometalk pinterest party at michaels in Collegeville on Sunday – crazy I live right in Schwenksville! Blogger neighbors! Lots of great tips in this post – we were fortunate to keep power borth with Sandy and this last storm – hoping that remains the same for this coming storm!!!

    1. Rebecca, I hope you’re staying warm in Schwenksville with all this snow and terrible weather today. And I’d love to meet you on Sunday at the Michaels in Collegeville, hope you’ll come!

  6. Pingback: Save the Date: Join me for a Pinterest Party! | Making Lemonade
  7. What great tips!! These are a little more than I have needed here in Atlanta lately but I had no clue what to do if the power went out this past week. I spent the last 30 years in Florida and these tips are perfect for hurricanes too! Except in Florida when you lost power you were hot and your best bet was to just go outside and sweat it out. Here I was trying to figure out how to keep a 1 year old and a 3 year old warm and get them to sleep! Cold babies do not sleep! Luckily we didn’t lose power, but now I have a few more ideas. Thanks!

    1. I know you guys got hit badly in Atlanta, so glad you’re okay! Ice is extremely scary. I learned a lot of these lessons during Hurricane Sandy too and really wanted to pass along the tips so others didn’t have to suffer like we did. You’re so right, cold babies don’t sleep well so figuring out a plan of action is important. I cranked up the heat in anticipation of the ice storm, I figured it might give an extra hour or two of heat and I’m so glad I did that!

  8. These are great tips. Superstorm Sandy knocked us for a loop too. Luckily my IL’s had power, so we at least had some place to go. This year, I made sure we had plenty of bottled water, granola/breakfast bars, extra batteries and flashlights, and an updated medical kit.

  9. We’re in the mid Atlantic as well. A few years back a snow storm brought town a HUGE pine tree. It was so big that when it came down it shook our entire house. I never really realized that pine trees are the first to come down in a storm. It’s true though cause around here they’re the first ones to come down. We’ve already started preparing for this winter & getting everything together. There’s never a dull moment on a homestead! lol

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.