What to Do During a Winter Storm

The Definitive Guide to Protecting Your Home and Car

The winter season is getting longer, colder, and in some ways, more dangerous. Largely driven by major climate change, many parts of the US are experiencing much colder winters, a trend that’s likely to get worse over the next few years. These colder winters can have devastating effects on homes, cars, and even entire neighborhoods.

Texas’ power outage in early 2021 showed us what could happen when unprepared areas (and grids) faced extreme winter weather they weren’t prepared for. The outage lasted days, impacting millions and leading to hundreds of casualties.

While municipalities should take steps towards winterizing and upgrading their grids in the face of more extreme weather, individuals can also take crucial steps to protect themselves during brutal winter storms and to prevent any home and auto damage.

Here's a guide to protecting yourself and your home during a winter storm.

Frequently Asked Questions About Winter Storms

  • How do I know if my area will be impacted by a winter storm? Your local municipality will alert you that a winter storm is coming 12-48 hours before it comes in order to give you time to prepare.
  • How can a winter storm damage my home? Extreme cold weather can lead to frozen pipes, gutter, and roof damage, cracked caulk, damaged steps and doorways, and can even damage the foundation of your home.
  • How can I prevent winter weather from damaging my home? Insulating your home, preventing your pipes from freezing by keeping the home properly heated, sealing gaps and cracks, and upgrading old appliances can help keep your home damage-free. This includes most appliances that connect to the water system in your home (like washing machines and faucets), as well as temperature-related appliances (heaters, thermostats, refrigerators).
  • How can a winter storm damage my car? If you’re not careful, extremely cold weather can damage your cooling system, your wipers, the battery, affect fluids in your car such as oil, coolant, and wiper fluid, and can impact your tires which can lead to additional problems.
  • Does home insurance cover winter storm damage? Many issues caused by ice, snow, wind, and freezing temperatures are covered with a few exceptions. Flood damage (as a result of melted ice/snow) isn’t covered and you may find coverage difficult if the insurance company finds that you left the house unattended or failed to properly maintain the property.
  • Does my auto insurance cover storm-related damage to my car? Weather and non-collision coverage usually comes with comprehensive auto insurance which will cover storm-related damage.

What should I do to prepare for a winter storm?

If you’ve been sent an alert letting you know that a winter storm is coming, you can take some preventative measures and minimize the kinds of risks your home and car are susceptible to.

  • Tend to your tree branches: High winds and accumulated ice from tree branches can lead to damage. We recommend trimming your trees ahead of a storm.
  • Insulate your pipes: Frozen or burst pipes are some of the more common occurrences during a winter storm. Wrapping your pipes, insulating them, exposing them to warm air, and keeping a faucet dripping can stop pipes from freezing.
  • Seal gaps and cracks: To keep your pipes (and self) warm, seal all cracks and gaps with caulk and other forms of weatherstripping. This will also stop melted ice or snow from getting in your home, causing water damage that may not be covered by insurance.
  • Protect your gutters: Ice dams can build up in your gutters, which can be a physical hazard and may damage your home in various ways. In preparation for a storm, clear and clean your gutters, apply a de-icing agent, and consider using a heated gutter cable that will stop a dam from forming.
  • Cover your car or bring it inside: The best way to prevent winter damage to your car is to prevent the harsh weather from reaching it. If you can’t keep it indoors, try and use a cover or use a windshield cover, as the windshield is most prone to damage during a storm.
  • Apply a wax coat or sealant: Applying a wax coat or paint sealant on your car before a storm can help prevent damage ice, snow, and salt can do to a car’s body.

What should I do during a winter storm?

During a winter storm, you should focus on staying inside if at all possible, keeping warm and keeping flashlights handy in case you lose power. You should be able to find leaks or drafts while inside (you’ll be able to feel the cold air) so make sure they’re covered. For under door gaps, a draft snake can be useful and prevent colder air from running inside.

If you have a ceiling fan, run it backwards at low speeds so warm air circulates within your home. You should also keep an eye on your carbon monoxide detector and make sure it works. Carbon monoxide may leak from heating appliances, especially if they’re running at high performance, which can be deadly in a house without exterior circulation.

What should I do after a winter storm?

After the winter storm dies down, you can start clearing your roof and car to assess damage and prevent any further damage from occurring. Here’s a helpful checklist:

Clear out snow buildup: Check your windows, doorways, and other gaps to make sure there isn’t snow build up and clear it out so the melted water doesn’t damage your foundation.

Use de-icing agents on your steps and car: Be careful when removing ice from your car or steps. Hard-bladed shovels and rock salt may crack concrete during colder temperatures. As for cars, ice melting liquid should be used on top of the car instead of rock salt, as it can be corrosive to the car. You can, however, use rock salt on the roads and under your car.

Be careful with your windshield: Make sure you’re using an ice scraper to clear out snow and ice from your windshield (and don’t use the ice scraper anywhere else). When using de-icing liquid, make sure you aren’t letting any melted water sit or make its way into the car. Lastly, don’t use hot water to melt ice as quick temperature changes can affect glass and may cause it to shatter.

Protecting your car and home from winter storms

If you’re expecting to face winter storms often, you should take some preventative steps to keep your car and home safe. Winterize your appliances and home as much as possible (getting an expert to audit your home can help), and invest in snow tires, a back-up generator, and some of the tools mentioned above.

Inspect your car’s cooling system, tires, and your homes’ appliances often just to make sure they can handle the cold temperature. Taking the time well before a storm hits can help you spot any potential risks. 

Insurance works best with preparation

While insurance does cover a lot of damage and problems that can happen due to a winter storm, it’s always prudent to take precautionary measures. If you neglect your home and don’t keep it maintained or prepared for colder weather, an insurance company may find that there is no coverage for damage, citing negligence. Your premiums may also be lowered if you take the right steps to prevent damage during the winter storm. Make sure you check your policy to know what’s covered and what can help lower your premiums.

If you’re considering switching home or auto insurance or just want to make sure you have the right coverage (for the right price), check out Branch to see if it’s right for you.

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