Depending on the meteorological conditions, any strong winter storm can suddenly turn into a blizzard without much warning. These conditions include sustained winds of over 35 mph (approximately 50 kph), near-zero visibility, and extremely heavy snowfall. It's not unheard of for people to venture outside during a severe winter storm, only to become bogged down in an unexpected blizzard. Travel during such conditions is often hazardous or simply impossible. City-sponsored snow crews rarely attempt to salt or plow streets at such times, and power outages are common.
In an ideal world, surviving a blizzard should mean turning up a thermostat, finding a favorite book or movie, and watching weather reports from the safety of your own home. Most modern homes are built to withstand such conditions, so homeowners should heed official weather warnings and remain indoors if such weather is possible. Children and pets should be brought indoors for their own safety. There are very few things that warrant an outdoor visit during this type of weather. Vehicles and outbuildings may suffer damage during the storm, but any inspections can wait.
If staying indoors in a heated building is not possible, then you'll need to find other ways to survive. Your first concern should be finding shelter, since the high winds can drive the wind chill factor far below zero. A sturdy shelter should help to protect your skin from frostbite and keep the overall air temperature bearable. If you are in a city when the storm hits, look for shelter in stores, bus stops, or even plowed snowbanks.
A blizzard can last for several hours, so spend that time preparing for the aftermath. Look for an alternative source of light, such as flashlights or emergency candles. Turn on a battery-powered radio for weather alerts and news updates.
If your water supply has not been affected, fill up water jugs and your bathtub for emergency needs. You may not be able to reach a grocery store for several days after a major snowstorm. If your electricity goes out, store perishable foods in snow-filled coolers or even outside in a protected area.
Homeowners who live in areas prone to blizzards may want to consider investing in kerosene heaters or woodburning stoves for alternative heating. If a storm disrupts your electrical and gas utilities, temperatures inside your home can fall significantly within 24 hours. Makeshift sleeping arrangements around an alternative heat source may become necessary for your safety and comfort. Be sure to maintain proper ventilation when using kerosene or woodburning heaters.
Snow removal after the storm can seem like a priority, but use extreme caution. Digging a path to the street or a vehicle can be very stressful, so work in stages or recruit able-bodied assistants. After a severe blizzard, don't expect all public services such as mail delivery or street plowing to return quickly.
Before attempting to buy supplies, make an effort to contact stores about their status. Otherwise, you might make a treacherous drive or hike for no reason. Local media outlets may announce any store openings or returns to service, so listen to these reports frequently.
Surviving a major blizzard is much like surviving a major hurricane or tornado. Stay indoors during the event itself, avoid unnecessary travel until conditions improve, and then inspect your property for any signs of damage.