Updated Jan 12, 2024 - Energy & Environment

How to prepare for the polar-vortex related cold snap

Source: National Weather Service. Graphic: Brendan Lynch/Axios
Source: National Weather Service. Graphic: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The imminent cold snap related to the polar vortex is set to feature bitterly cold temperatures across the U.S. in the coming days.

Why it matters: Taking certain measures and precautions could help keep you better prepared against any health risks during the frigid temperatures.

Catch up quick: A bomb cyclone that will bring "life-threatening blizzard conditions" to Iowa was beginning to form in the Southwest on Thursday, and is set to move across the Plains before dramatically intensifying over the Midwest, Axios Generate's Andrew Freedman reports.

  • There have been several major storms that have rocked the U.S. in the past several days, and the bomb cyclone is set to usher in the coldest air of the winter so far.

Here's how you can prepare for this polar-vortex related event, which is tied to an area of low pressure high above the Arctic during the winter and is set to break off from its Arctic origins and blast southward:

Preparing your home

  • Under any winter storm warning, you should take shelter immediately, per Ready.gov. This can help people avoid weather-related health emergencies, such as frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Extreme winter weather can compromise many parts of your home, including your pipes.
  • If your home gets too cold, have a backup plan for where to go, such as a friend's house or warming center, per the American Red Cross.

To help avoid freezing pipes, keep garage doors closed, open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors for more air circulation, let cold water drip from the faucets and try setting one thermostat temperature for the whole day, Consumer Reports recommends.

  • Make sure you have installed a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector and that you have extra batteries on hand, as winter storms can create a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, per Ready.gov.

Emergency supplies

  • Winter storms lead to unsafe travel conditions, so having essential items on hand can help you avoid that one quick grocery trip.
  • Medications: The American Red Cross recommends you have one month's worth of medication and medical supplies in your home.
  • Food and water: Make sure to gather enough food and water to last throughout the storm. This should include at least one gallon of water per person per day, per the Red Cross.
  • Warm clothing: Have layers, hats, mittens, gloves — any articles of clothing made for warmth — ready to go in case needed.
  • Emergency supplies kit: The American Red Cross recommends two separate kits, one for at home and one for if travel is necessary.
    • Go-kit: The organization recommends at least three days of supplies to take with you elsewhere. This should include "critical backup batteries and chargers for your devices (cell phone, CPAP, wheelchair, etc.)," they note.
    • Stay-at-home kit: Have at least two weeks of supplies for your home.

Preparing your car

  • Though you should avoid driving on roads as much as you possibly can during a storm, it will help to have an emergency kit ready to go inside your vehicle.
  • That should include, aside from a full tank of gas, "jumper cables, sand, a flashlight, warm clothes, blankets, bottled water and non-perishable snacks," according to Ready.gov.

What about my pets?

  • Pets should stay inside as much as possible during any severe winter weather.
  • Protect pets' paws from the salt and chemicals for snow and ice melting, which can irritate their paws, by using a damp towel prior to them licking their paws, per the Red Cross.

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