How to prepare your family—and your home—for extreme weather

When disaster strikes, you don't need to be left in the dark

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At Reviewed, we’ve done a lot of research over the years. We thrive on testing products and solving the struggles and dilemmas of the day to day. However, we’re also here to help you on scarier days—when natural disasters strike.

Whether it’s stocking your car with essentials that can keep you safe in a blizzard, testing flashlights in extreme conditions to see which ones will last through the worst weather, or knowing how to treat your fridge and freezer if the power goes out, we’re committed to doing the research that not only makes everyday life easier, but can help keep you safe in a crisis.

No matter if it’s a hurricane or a blizzard or anything in between, it’s imperative to learn how to deal with extreme weather. Whatever elements might be heading your way, we've done the research to help you prepare as best you can. That being said, we're not weather experts—if you're in the path of a major disaster, please pay close attention to government-issued warnings and heed evacuation notices.

1. Check the state of your bug out bag

Emergency preparedness plan
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Whether you call it an a bug out bag, or a go bag, or anything else, your emergency preparedness kit should be filled with over-the-counter medications like anti-inflammatories and antacids, as well as a week’s worth of any prescription drugs you, your family, or your pets take regularly.

Aside from food and water, you will also need a long-lasting flashlight that can stand up to the elements, a back-stock of batteries, and first aid supplies like gauze, antibacterial ointment, and bandages. We also recommend stocking up on warm blankets if you need to shelter in place, extra toilet paper, and a good tool kit for last-minute emergencies, like boarding up windows.

A full list of what you'll need in your go bag

2. Stock up on batteries

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If the power goes out during a storm, your life—and your connection to the outside world—will be completely battery-powered. Ready.gov, a public service campaign designed to educate citizens on how to prepare for, respond to, and mitigate emergencies, recommends you “turn on your TV/radio or check your city/county website every 30 minutes in order to get the latest weather updates and emergency instructions.”

In order to do this, you’ll need to have a reliable, battery-powered radio on-hand in case of a power outage, and invest in several rechargeable batteries. These are better than single-use AAs—the good ones can run up to 11 hours at a time, and be recharged up to 1,200 times before requiring replacement. You’ll also need batteries for flashlights and emergency flares, so it’s best to buy extra—just in case

3. Keep your car well-equipped for emergencies

Emergency preparedness plan
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If you need to evacuate, your car might be your saving grace—Ready.gov recommends to “keep your car in good working condition, and keep the gas tank full; stock your vehicle with emergency supplies and a change of clothes.”

We also recommend in our guide for emergency roadside tools keeping your car stocked with an everyday pocket knife that’s easy to use and can get you out of a sticky situation, LED emergency flares that are bright, rugged, waterproof, and can run for up to 38 hours off of three AAA batteries, and a lightweight, durable emergency blanket that can keep you warm or patch a missing window.

More items you should keep in your car in case of emergency

4. Make sure your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors are in working order

Emergency preparedness plan
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If a winter storm is headed your way, Ready.gov advises that you “install and test smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors with battery backups.” A good, working carbon monoxide and smoke detector is crucial during a storm—especially if you’re using a generator, which can be a leading source of death in cold winter months when used incorrectly.

The Red Cross advises to keep your generator outside on a dry surface under an open canopy. “Never use a generator indoors, and keep it away from doors, windows and vents” that may lead inside. A dependable fire extinguisher is also crucial.

5. Make a plan with your loved ones

Emergency preparedness plan
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In the midst of a crisis, it's easy to lose your head and panic. Making a set plan with loved ones well ahead of time can help you keep your cool if things go awry. The Red Cross suggests that you "discuss how to prepare and respond to the types of emergencies that are most likely to happen where you live, learn, work and play; identify responsibilities for each member of your household and how you will work together as a team; and practice as many elements of your plan as possible."

You can download their free template for preparedness planning. Ready.gov also suggests in its checklist for emergency preparedness that you nail down a shelter plan, as well as an evacuation plan that considers the different ages of members within your household, responsibilities for assisting others, dietary needs, and mobility restrictions.

6. Don’t rely on regular phone communication

Emergency preparedness plan
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In a disaster, Ready.gov recommends communicating via text messages or social media, which “is usually reliable and faster than making phone calls, because phone lines are often overloaded.” Before and during the storm, be sure to keep your phone plugged into an outlet and fully-charged in case of a power outage.

If you do lose power, use your phone sparingly and rely on a fully-charged external battery pack to recharge your devices when they run low—a good one can recharge a dead smartphone two or three times, and has multiple USB ports. Be sure to check in with your family and household members per your evacuation plan to prevent additional stress or panic.

7. Crank your fridge and freezer to their coldest settings

Emergency preparedness plan
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When you still have power, turn your refrigerator or freezer to the coldest setting to keep food colder longer. The FDA recommends to keep food safe for consumption by freezing containers of drinkable water and perishable foods that you won't need right away—if you lose power, they’ll eventually thaw, buying you more time to safely eat in case of emergency.

"Take your small water bottles [and] just stuff the freezer with those," says James Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council, about safely storing food during an outage. Once the bottles of water thaw, you can use them for drinking and bathing. Frozen water bottles can also be used as ice packs for coolers, and will help keep food cold longer.

8. Rethink what you consider as storm-essential food

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Don’t make the rookie mistake of stocking up on milk, eggs, and bread when a storm is on the horizon—these grocery staples spoil quickly. Instead, stock up on shelf-stable essentials, like trail mix, canned goods, and jerky. Opt for low-sodium options whenever possible, and avoid alcohol and salty foods that dehydrate you. Don’t forget to get a surplus of pet food for your animals, too. And, for Fido’s sake and yours, do not forget a manual can opener.

9. Make sure all of your food is stored safely

Emergency preparedness plan
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Store non-perishables and bottled water on shelves to keep it away from potential flood waters. Invest in an inexpensive fridge thermometer and float it in a glass of water to approximate the temperature of food as opposed to the air that surrounds it. Keep in mind that if the temperature in your fridge or freezer creeps above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you'll have to toss your food. Learn more about food safety in a power outage.

10. If the power goes out, keep your fridge and freezer closed

Emergency preparedness
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Once the power goes out, the FDA warns that your refrigerator will only stay cold for four hours and your freezer for 48 hours under ideal conditions—which means, sealed shut. Every time you open the fridge door door, you let cold air out and warm air in. During a power outage, you're better off opening your fridge sparingly, or better yet, using a cooler stuffed with frozen bottles and ice packs for storm food.

Keep in mind that if the temperature in your fridge or freezer gets above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, you'll have to get rid of your perishable food. These handy charts from foodsafety.gov for fridges and freezers will tell you exactly what can be kept and what should be thrown away.

Learn more about food safety in a power outage

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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