Here Comes Winter!, by Peter H.

My brother wrote me recently to ask what we do to prepare for our winters here in the inland Pacific Northwest. He lives in a warmer climate but has been reading about the global cooling underway. For the last two years our area has been colder longer and this last winter we had the most snow in over 100 years.

Remembering that Boy Scout slogan, “Be prepared,” prudent people are already looking ahead for the winter soon to come. Here are my odds and ends to get your thinking processes going:

Dress to Save Your Life
Our heaviest coats are rarely used, unless the temps get below about 20. Important that they shed snow (slick, synthetic outside layer). Whether its actually snowing, or snow falls on you from the trees, or you get snow on you from scraping the car or the roof of your house you’re going to get snow on you.

Knit caps keep your head comfortable. If you are working outdoors and wear a really heavy fur Russian-type hat your head will probably sweat. Our winters aren’t usually very cold, so something moderate is all we need. I keep my cap, gloves, Gargoyles (folding ear muffs), Yaktrax traction cleats (in a ZipLoc bag), and scarf (rarely used) all tucked away in my heavy coat at all times, and I can add them or put them away in the pockets as needed (your coat needs to have lots of pockets). I look like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, but I’m comfortable.

The cap I keep in my heavy coat has a nylon shell and ear flaps that can snap down. And it has a brim, to help keep snow out of my eyes and glasses.

When it’s snowing hard you’re going to want some kind of eye protection. Ski goggles would be great (all I have are some polycarbonate eye protection glasses). Try to avoid working outdoors while it’s snowing, but you can’t avoid it all the time. Be sure they’re fog-proof (double-layer, vented). I’ve done without goggles all these years, but they sure would have been nice.

Mostly we layer up: shirt, sweatshirt, windbreaker or shell. My really expensive jacket that Joy bought for me turns out to not be warm, but to be a good outer layer (breathable and all that). Not particularly durable, but otherwise good. (I’m looking to buy a denim insulated work coat this winter to replace mine that has holes.)

Warm socks are a must. I’ve been buying GI-style socks from the local General store so I have enough for a whole week. They’re quite thick. The warm socks I bought last year (not the GI-style) wore holes that I still need to darn. You can’t have too many durable, warm socks.

Warm gloves are a must, but they have to be waterproof. I use insulated leather work gloves that I’ve treated with SnowSeal or something like that (paraffin or seal oil) to protect the leather (I wouldn’t use anything that sprays on). The “ski gloves” I have are warm and shed snow, but many of them aren’t waterproof and the ones I’ve tried are definitely not durable. If you’re going to ski they’re fine. If you’re going to work you need leather or an insulated synthetic that is durable.

You’ll also want glove liners (so get your gloves big enough). I bought some cheapo military-surplus-type wool liners. They give my gloves extra warmth and I can pull them out of the gloves to help them dry quicker. I have some really warm mittens, but I can’t work in them. Putting liners in my regular insulated work gloves works better.

Waterproof, high boots are essential. I used cheapo $9 rubber boots most of the winter. They’re tall, taller than the snow usually, and absolutely waterproof. And they have really aggressive treads. I don’t think breathable fabric is all that important. With each step the boots breathe up your pant leg… I also don’t do a lot of walking in them, but working around the homestead, around fences and barbed wire, and turkey manure the inexpensive boots work great.

Snow bibs (look like farmer’s bib overalls) are cheap. You wear them under your coat. They’re not so much warm as they are slick and the snow doesn’t stick. They’re not waterproof, so you CAN get them wet (which is bad) if you’re not careful. But the snow falls off and keeps your legs dry, and they’re an extra layer on your legs. I think I wore mine once or twice last year. I can easily tolerate cooler legs when my core is warm.

I don’t have leggings or whatever they’re called. I just pull my pants over the tops of the boots, or pull the snow bib legs over my boots. YakTrax are essential. Falls are devastating.

Working in cold weather, unless you keep changing clothes as your chores change, you’re probably going to get at least a little sweaty. Some chores make you hot, some don’t. Unless you’re going to be going in and out (which would not be energy efficient) to continuously change clothes, then at some point your clothes are going to get wet and / or sweaty. You must have a plan for hanging the clothes over or near some heat source to dry them. Having a second set of socks and gloves and pants is important in case you have to go outside before everything’s dry.

You have to plan your excursions outside. Take all the tools you need, etc. so you’re not going in and out. You also have to have a plan to time yourself outside. You’ll be warm but wet and not realize it. An hour of chores outside is probably plenty, then come in to hydrate and dry out. Plan to hydrate while you’re outdoors too if you’re working hard (don’t eat the snow – it lowers your core temp).

With thick socks the rubber boots are comfortable, not very heavy, absolutely waterproof, have great tread, durable, and quick to get on and off when I do have to go in and out of the house (very nice). I have a pair of very heavy winter boots, rated to below zero. But they’re heavy and hard to lace on. I’ve got them if I ever need to climb Mount Everest…

We keep the boots in a little plastic “boot tray” near the door so that the melting snow doesn’t get everywhere and make a mess.

The rubber boots are also essential in the spring melt-off when there’s four inches of slush everywhere… Regular snow boots with tiny holes that doesn’t matter in snow will spring leaks in slush…

I Sno Seal my gloves and my work boots (cheapo Big 5 high-tops). You rub the stuff all over them and put them in a warm oven or run a hair dryer over them to melt the sealant into the leather. Just rubbing it in isn’t enough. Read the instructions!

You should be able to find wool socks and glove liners at many Internet shops. I reserve my wool gear for the really cold weather.

I also have a full heavy rain suit (in case we ever get monsoon-type weather – which happened once! – and I have to care for the livestock). You could put on some fairly warm clothes and the rain suit over it and be great in the snow. The biggest issue with snow is not having it melt on you and get you wet. And the rain suit would be an extra insulating layer.

I have a set of YakTrax that I leave on my rubber boots (extra large), and a set I keep in my jacket I wear to the office if the ground gets treacherous. The deluxe Yaktrax have a strap over the top that definitely helps keep them on in heavy snow. You can improvise a strap like that with baling wire or cord or velcro. You probably need more than one strap over the top. A second strap that goes from the heel up and around the top of the foot will help in the back.

Have the Right Tools Ready
You need to have a snow shovel for the house and one for each vehicle. I’d go by the local feed store and buy a 50 pound sack of poultry grit and use that instead of the stupid sand. The weight will help with traction and if you have to sprinkle it under your tires or on your driveway it will grip better than sand. Price isn’t too bad.

I strongly recommend having a hoe with a shortened handle in each vehicle. Vehicles get in trouble two ways – slide-offs and high-centering. You can’t effectively dig the snow out from under your vehicle with a snow shovel. You have to lay on your side and dig it out with the hoe. It works and it doesn’t take too long.

If you slide off into a ditch you’re just going to need a tow. If you have a winch you might be able to winch yourself out.

If you slide off and you have a good tow strap (not a chain) you might be able to get pulled out. The strap is springy and allows the towing vehicle to get a little inertia going before the strap pulls tight. They may not be able to get enough traction to pull you out, but that bit of inertia might be enough to do the job. I would never try a questionable tow unless I did my best to dig the car out first. Even a tow truck might have trouble pulling a vehicle out of a snow-filled ditch unless the car was dug out first. Compacted snow is very hard and heavy.

You really never know when a really bad snowstorm is going to hit. The weather service is terrible about being accurate, especially regards timing. We’ve been warned that bad weather was coming and it is often early or late by 8 or more hours. We pack a winter survival bag with extra coats, a blanket, food, water, and a small catalytic heater and extra propane canisters. We carry water in a mylar bag (old wine bag) packed in a box so it can expand and contract as it freezes and thaws.

We’ve never had to use chains, but we have a set of cable chains if we need them. Only one of our cars is fully equipped and we stop using the other car unless the roads are clear.

I’ve seen traction strips that look like plastic trellis that you put under your tires to get traction. I fabbed up something like that and it helped once or twice when I got stuck.

With your hill you might consider parking somewhere else nearby. Unless you can keep your driveway ice-free you might not like sliding down the driveway and into the street uncontrollably. Have a good supply of de-ice in advance (which was hard to find around here when all the trouble started). Some are better than others.

We use a lot of plain unscented clay cat litter on the steps and sidewalk. It works very well. Better than de-ice for concrete and wood. And cheap!

We buy windshield wiper fluid that also contains de-ice. It works really well unless the temps are very low. You should keep a spray bottle of it in the house and take it outside to spray any vehicle windows that got snow or ice on them.

If you think there could be lots of snow then you might want to consider the rating of your home’s roof. I’m guessing that no homes in your area can take much snow (why should they?). Getting on the roof to shovel it off is bloody dangerous. It’s not worth dying for, or being crippled for. If you’ve got the money, buy a Snow Razor from MinnSnowta ($150) – they’ll last forever.

We mainly use plastic snow shovels with straight handles. Snow gets to be very heavy and the fancy curved handles fail sooner (I think). The plastic blade is strong enough for most uses. We use a little plastic snow shovel (probably made for kids) to shovel the stairs because a regular shovel is too big.

Get a plastic sled so you can drag the snow away from your driveway and house. Many years we started with a snow pile by the driveway, but by the end of winter it was huge and in the way! Just drag it a little distance, and it won’t be in your way or the snowplow’s way if you have to get your driveway plowed.

We also have steel square tip shovels (2 sizes) to dig up the ice that inevitably forms in places when the snow gets too deep. We also use the mattock to break up ice on the ground (you should have a mattock anyway, good for lots of things). Many years we’ve had 2 – 4″ of hard ice that forms under the snow from cycles of melting and snowing…

|We keep a big coffee can of cat litter and a can of deice in the house by the front door. Many days we couldn’t safely get out of the house or get to the garage to spread the cat litter. We also have some car lock de-icer sprays, but have only needed them once or twice in 21 years.

If the forecast is for heavy snow, you can park your car at the end of your driveway. You’ll only need to shovel maybe 6 feet of driveway, instead of 40 or 50 (or 250 in our case). It’s also a good way to avoid having to pay to have your driveway plowed (it’s $50 for a long driveway like ours, every time). You’ll want to have your plastic sled on hand so that you can sled your groceries up to the house or the garbage out to the road.

Parking your vehicle in your garage has a lot of benefits when it comes to not having to scrape windows (oh, yea, have more than one good ice scraper…). But in heavy snow your wheel wells will be full of compacted snow (the whole undercarriage, grill, bumpers, etc., actually). When you drive into your garage you’ll be bringing maybe 3 – 5 gallons of water into the garage. The warm engine then slowly warms the room and much of the ice melts. Each time you drive in.

Five gallons maybe you can handle, but over and over and you start to get a moisture problem in the garage. We’ve actually had it rain inside – the moisture condensed on the Tyvek lining of the roof and rained out on everything – not just where the car was, but all over the inside of the garage.

Our “solution” is to only drive one car in the winter when the weather’s really bad and to use a floor squeegee to push the water and slush back outside. (While we’re on the subject, one winter the ice formed a dam on both sides of the driveway in front of the garage and the water level of melting snow actually started to come in the garage. I had to take the mattock and dig a trench – in the cold and snow after work – down one side of the garage to drain the water away! Try that with a regular steel shovel!)

Shovel the snow early and often. Better 10 minutes several times a day than to try to dig out from an 8 inch accumulation.

Snow blowers around here are generally too small for our use with a 250′-long driveway. And they take gas and oil to run. A capable snow blower is expensive.

When we’ve had a bunch of snow, with more on the way, I often drive up and down the driveway compacting it. I drive to the left, to the right, and in the center to make as wide of a compacted area as possible (taking maybe 10 minutes). Our front wheel drive cars can drive in snow up to the undercarriage. You can drive on compacted snow, but if you’ve got snow that is deeper than your undercarriage it tends to build up in front of your vehicle while you’re trying to get to the road and will probably high-center you. You can shovel / snow blow it out of the way or compact it down so you can drive on it. The next time your driveway’s plowed they’ll get most of the ice that forms from the compacting so it won’t get too deep.

If you start to slide on ice let off the brake. You won’t be able to slow yourself down anyway, and with the front wheels turning you might actually have a bit of steering control and be able to miss the really expensive / dangerous things on the road. (Hit something cheap.) Turns in the road are bad. Shaded areas are bad. The key is to slow down. That’s all you usually need to do. (I’ve slide nearly a mile down a hill. I’ve spun around in the middle of our road and not left the roadway. I’ve slid to a stop just inches from the car ahead of me. I’ve also lost control and crossed the oncoming lanes and onto the opposite shoulder. Going slow is the secret to avoiding these events.)

Everything Else
Needless to say we have over a month’s supply of food and water stored. If we’re snowed in, or have the sniffles (or worse) we can ride it out at home. And of course, as Christians we pray early and often. We want to be in a position to help others, but we also realize it’s prudent to prepare for “such a time as this.”

Be Prepared. Trust God. We can do both. – Peter H.