how to prepare for a winter storm: 10 simple steps

Storm warnings don't have to get in the way of your winter-weather festivities — but it's important to take all the safety precautions you can to help keep your family, home, and belongings protected if a winter storm is on the way.

From ripped-up roofs to water damage, wintertime's inclement weather can wreak major havoc on your home. Insured losses from winter storms reached a whopping $3.5 billion in the U.S. in 2015 alone — an increase from 2014, which saw $2.6 billion in damages. Luckily, we have 10 easy tips on preparing for a winter storm to help you stay on top of things during bad winter weather.

1. inspect your roof

As a homeowner, maintaining your roof is your responsibility (and an important one at that). It's key to inspect it for leaks and other damage both before and after a major storm comes through. Not only can it help prevent your home and belongings from suffering serious damage, but it can also help date any damage the storm does end up causing to your roof (which is important for making homeowners insurance claims).

If you don't feel comfortable going up on your roof, call a professional to come and check it out for you — they'll know exactly what to look for and how to fix any problems. Since your roof is your home's first line of defense against winter storm damage, it's imperative to fix any loose shingles or other weaknesses that could lead to leaks or worse. Clean out your gutters, too, to help prevent blockages from becoming bigger issues.

2. check windows and doors for leaks

Be sure to check your home's windows and doors for leaks that could let water and cold air into your home. Inspect the weather stripping around your doors' frames to make sure it's in good shape and replace sections as needed.

For leaks and cracks in windows, you can buy patches and other reinforcements from your local hardware store if you don't have time to replace the damaged panes before a storm.

3. reinforce your home’s entry points

If a serious winter storm is headed your way — like large hailstones or high winds, for example — it may be wise to reinforce your home's windows, doors, and even your garage door.

While putting slats of plywood over windows and doors can help them stand up to harsh weather conditions, a retrofit kit from your local hardware store can be used to reinforce your garage door (unless you have time to replace it altogether with a more wind-resistant model).

Home safety features like storm shutters and high-impact glass can also help protect your place — and may even score you some savings with your home insurer.

4. protect your pipes

If winter storms lead to frozen pipes in your house, a whole host of mishaps could happen — including burst pipes that wreak havoc on your home's interior. Luckily, insulating exposed pipes with foam wrap or temperature-control tape can help prevent them from freezing in the first place. Running your faucets at a trickle can also help prevent frozen pipes.

5. inspect trees on your property

Since bad winter weather could easily send a rogue tree branch through your roof or bedroom window, it's important to check your property's trees for loose and damaged branches. This home maintenance task should be done on a regular basis, but it's especially key before inclement weather arrives. If it's unsafe for you to remove damaged tree branches yourself, hire a professional.

Protect your garden

Be sure to put away any garden tools that may be laying around your yard, as they can present a hazard during a violent winter storm. If you want to help protect your beloved garden plants, purchase a tarp (with anchors) that you can lay over them to help safeguard them from snowfall, wind, and other wintertime weather.

6. stock up on essential supplies

It's always good to have an emergency supply kit in case outdoor conditions prevent you from safely leaving your house. Some items to include in your storm preparedness kit include:

  • Rock salt or other agent to help melt ice on walkways and driveways, and sand to improve traction
  • Snow shovel, flashlight, local maps, and a whistle
  • Warm clothing and extra blankets (including an electric blanket, if possible)
  • A battery-powered radio and walkie-talkies
  • 3 days' worth of water for each family member (1 gallon per person, per day)
  • 3 days' worth of nonperishable food with a manual can opener
  • Firewood, if you have a fireplace
  • First-aid kit and any necessary medications
  • Solar chargers for cell phones and other electronics
  • Pet food

7. establish a communication plan with family members

In case disaster strikes unexpectedly and your family is separated, it's important to establish a communication plan so that all members of your family can reach each other. Practice this safety plan at least once a month to keep it fresh in everyone's minds. It's also wise to create an emergency escape route in case a disaster forces you to evacuate your home. Always keep a battery-powered radio in your storm preparedness kit so that you can regularly check in on the latest word from local authorities.

8. become familiar with common weather terms

Knowing the difference between specific storm advisories and terminologies can help you determine how quickly you need to act to keep your home and family safe from winter weather.

Freeze warning: Also called a frost warning, this means below-freezing temperatures are expected.

Wind chill: The perceived temperature it is outside (i.e. when it feels colder outside than it actually is because of windy conditions, for example).

Freezing rain: Rain that freezes upon hitting the ground, often creating a dangerous layer of ice on roadways, walkways, power lines, and more.

Sleet: Rain that freezes into small ice pellets before hitting the ground.

Winter weather advisory: Issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) when conditions may be hazardous and are expected to cause major inconvenience. The situation isn't typically life-threatening (as long as you take reasonable precautions).

Winter storm watch: Issued by the NWS 12 to 36 hours before a potential storm, a winter storm watch means severe conditions (like heavy snowfall) may affect your area, but the exact timing and location aren't yet certain. It's important to tune in to a weather radio station for updates.

Winter storm warning: A winter storm is occurring or will make landfall in your area very soon.

Blizzard warning: According to the Department of Homeland Security, "sustained winds or frequent gusts of 35 mph or greater, and considerable amounts of falling or blowing snow (reducing visibility to less than a quarter-mile), are expected to prevail for a period of 3 hours or longer."

9. make sure your home inventory is up to date

If you haven't made a home inventory yet, it's time. In addition to winter storms, an up-to-date inventory can come to the rescue after many covered incidents like fire, theft, vandalism, and more. Carefully documenting your home and belongings can significantly expedite the claims process after you experiences a loss — so you can get your house feeling like home again sooner than later.

Be sure to check out our super handy guide on how to create a home inventory.

10. double check your homeowners insurance

If you haven't checked out your homeowners insurance coverages in a while, it's a good idea to speak with your insurance company before winter storm season arrives so that you're adequately financially protected in the event of catastrophe.

While dwelling coverage can help pay for repair or replacement of your home after it suffers damage, the personal property coverage on your policy can help replace valued belongings like furniture, clothing, electronics, appliances, and much more.

It's important to carry homeowners insurance coverage limits high enough to pay for any and all damages caused by covered risks like windstorms, lightning, hail, and the weight of ice, snow, or sleet. If you're an Esurance policyholder, you can speak with one of our agents at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262).

Get dependable, affordable homeowners coverage from Esurance

If your house suffers from wintertime's worst behavior, you want a homeowners insurance policy that has your back (at a price you can afford). Cue Esurance — a proud member of the Allstate family with round-the-clock claims service, a plethora of convenient online tools and apps so you can manage your policy anytime, and an A+ financial stability rating from A.M. Best* so you know we'll be there when you need us most.

Be sure to get a quick, free homeowners insurance quote online, or by giving us a call at 1-866-439-5633.

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Learn more about how the average home insurer treats claims regarding natural disasters.

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