Eight Lessons Learned From the Polar Vortex Plunge

The recent plunge of the Polar Vortex deep into the American Midwest should serve as a wake-up call for those who are preparedness-minded. Here are some recent headlines:

Briefly, I’ve observed eight lessons from these recent weather events:

1.) Cold kills. Quietly. When traveling any substantial distance in winter, you should carry a sleeping bag for every passenger of your vehicle.

2.) Severe weather can create huge, multi-hour of even multi-day traffic snarls. Keep your vehicles’ fuel tanks at least 3/4ths full, as a matter of habit. (Most preppers already do so, year-round.)

3.) Slow down. Ice-slick roads can put you in a ditch so fast that you’ll find yourself asking: “What the heck just happened?” If you don’t have studded snow tires, then carry chains. Also: Carry a tow strap/chain, jumper cables, a snow shovel, and a bag of traction sand.

4.) Folks living at 30 degrees latitude and northward should seriously consider installing engine block heaters. These are already pretty much standard for folks living in the American Redoubt. Folks living in Indiana and Arkansas night equip their most winter road-worthy vehicle with one of these, of they don’t have a heated garage.

5.) The wind chill factor makes a huge difference. With a 30 mile per hour wind, a temperature of 0 degrees F has the same physiological effect as  -26 degrees F in still air.  If there is substantial wind chill, then do not go outdoors unless it is absolutely necessary. Frostbite of any exposed skin can develop in just a few minutes.

6.) Extreme weather can drastically affect public transportation. There were plenty of flight delays and cancellations. Some train and bus systems simply ground to a halt. Plan accordingly.

7.) Desperate people will rob you of your warm clothing, at gunpoint. It happened last week in Chicago. I’m certain that it could happen in the suburbs, in really hard times.

8.) The motto of “Have a Plan B, and a Plan C” also applies to sources of heat. Many people were without heat when local grid power failed. Their natural gas or propane whole-house heaters were essentially useless when there was no electricity to operate their fans to push hot air through their house HVAC ducts. So always have a second source of heat and store plenty of fuel for it.


As preppers, we should use this recent weather event as a “teachable moment” for discussions with family, friends, co-workers, and a fellow church congregants. Urge them to prepare for the next big weather event. If something like this doesn’t convince them to take steps to prepare their families, then we must conclude that they are beyond convincing! – JWR







  1. Kinda guessing #7 is a non-issue.Just a thief being a thief.Status symbol or financial gain.Like 500$ nikes.When they target a set of Carhartt bibs and coat,I’ll worry.

    1. I had a friend up in Minnesota, in a pretty big city, that had his car battery stole during one of those nights when it was deep in the negatives and he doesn’t live in a “bad neighborhood.”

      So its not just designer items that the heathens were pilfering.

  2. Timely article, JWR.

    To ad to your useful comments, a layer system for clothing works great.

    Base-layer – smart wool
    Out-layer – windproof, be sure to consider one size larger than normal to account for the layers underneath.

    Lastly, in recent years I have been using a wool neck cover which can me worn several different ways. I never realized how useful and warm a neck cover can be.

  3. Watch your propane fuel gauge … anticipate what an impassable driveway could mean for fuel delivery.
    I brought a couple days worth of wood closer to my front door just in case. Fireplace works great for thermal mass, but having the wood supply ” closer ” was really helpful. Pushing a wheelbarrow through 8 inches of snow is no fun – best to stack a supply closer to the house. Worst case scenario – having to take it back to the woodshed in ” warm ” weather
    Additionally carried extra buckets of coal for our coal stove closer as well.

      1. yes, as we age – me, 75 – it becomes more necessary to make things less effort. Used to carry two full buckets of coal, now it’s two 3/4 buckets ( as an example )

        Wheelbarrow load of wood isn’t pile as high
        But, so glad to still be independent compared to the vast majority of people

    1. Not just the driveway but the roads as well. For about a day, the snow plows were pulled off the roads due to the cold and sent back to the base. Due to the cold and winds, roads had drifted some and since it was so cold, the ice and snow on the roads would not melt. The salt would just sit on the road without melting anything.

  4. Snow can be very useful as insulation. I accept large bags of leaves in the fall, and stack them where I have plumbing that tends to freeze during severe cold snaps. Once it starts snowing for the season, I shovel snow against the bags – this makes all the difference in the world. I also bank snow against an outer wall of a chicken coop to help keep them warm.

  5. If you have an older car battery that works in warm weather, the extreme cold will cause it to fail. Jumper cables are fine, but I’ve found the rechargeable jumper boxes to be indispensable. You can jump yourself. I have used mine many times, and a couple of times last week. Once your car is started the first time for the day you’re usually good for starting for the rest of the day. Make sure to keep the jumper box fully charged.

  6. Here in Connecticut, for Christmas 2017 we gave our relatives who commute to work, and can get stuck for hours in snow on our Interstates (or have car trouble), a car kit consisting of : large METAL not too deep coffee cans that would hold 6 tea lights, kitchen matches, hand warmers, mylar aluminum solar blankets the size of a deck of cards, a small ABC fire extinguisher, small bags of water, FLARES, and WOOL blankets. Suggested they keep on the floor of the front passenger seat for easy access, and NOT in the trunk. Also, suggested they have 5 lb bag of PLAIN CLAY CAT LITTER in the front of car in event of seeing ice patches when trying to exit vehicle. Works well. They could get stuck in a snow drift and not be able to get out of their car. I have NOT inquired if they have them in their cars, especially during our cold snap this past week, though I think one or two of them might think their “weird” old relative worries too much. Like Dad said, “you cannot put an old head on young shoulders”, and I have learned a few life lessons in my 70+ years. I try not to make the same mistake twice!

  7. POLAR VOTEX. The new crazy liberal buzz word. I have lived in the Midwest for 61 years and never heard of the term until two years ago. It’s the new buzz word to crank up the drama for the mainstream media to raise the hysteria level. We used to call it a cold spell or cold front and just went about business.

    We hit -33 actual temp here a couple days ago, coldest on record, the old record low was -28. Other than our road being drifted in and closed for three days there were no problems. All the above 8 lessons are common sense and just a part of life around here every winter, I mean c’mon it is winter after all. I’m not surprised that in this era many people need to be told what to do when it gets cold outside. Sign of the times, crank up the drama, we gotta have the shock value.

    1. Amen, hl and Brooksy. Keep the pot stirred!

      There was a disaster movie over a decade ago called The Day After Tomorrow (Dennis Quade, Jake Gyllenhaal, 20th Century Fox, 2004) blaming global warming (now interestingly altered to “climate change”) that more or less introduced the concept to the sheeple.

      We’ve thrown another log in the stove, poured another cup of my famous Navy Coffee and settled down to watch the snow. It seems to happen about this time every year, so we, I dunno….PLAN for it.

      As for old heads on young shoulders, I never bother anymore. Mr. Experience is a much better teacher. As Jack Kilpatrick said to Shana Alexander on Point-Counterpoint: “They knew what they were getting into when they bought their tickets. I say, Let ‘Em Crash!”

      1. I added an “over the head” fleece to my truck go bag during the winter. I use one while feeding the cattle when it dips below 20 especially with a stiff breeze. We were lucky in the northeast as temps dipped low but not as bad as the midwest got hit.

    2. Yeah, they just used to me known as cold fronts. But I guess polar vortex sounds more scary or ominous. That’s the MSM for you. Trying to scare people at every turn of the screw.

  8. I like to look at these situations as training experiences. With the recent arctic temps, I theorized how we would do if we lost electricity as well; especially since we do not (yet) have a generator. We would have been OK, but are adjusting slightly so we would thrive!

  9. I’ve lived in Michigan, Detroit suburb, for 46 years. Big news! It gets COLD here in the winter. This is not the worst it’s been. My wife was born here, it’s still not the worst it’s been. I lived in the Chicago area during the winter of ’62-’63. I remember my mother getting up several times a night to start the cars so they wouldn’t freeze. Guess what, the old ’57 Ford still ended up with a cracked engine block. We moved from southern Missouri to northern Illinois, summer of “62, what a difference 400 plus miles makes. We weren’t prepared for that kind of weather change.

    I watch the weather and pay attention to the historical weather data. It seems the coldest years around here were in the 1880’s and 90’s. The warmest years seem to start around 1928 running through 1935. When the local weather talking heads start claiming we’re setting new records, hot or cold, I look to the past, lying seems to be in these talking heads DNA.

  10. One thing in addition for your car kit is a good e-tool or shovel. My preference is a Cold Steel Spetznatz model and a sharpener in case it needs to be used as a field-expedient brush chopper for fire or self-rescue. It is light, compact, surprisingly useful and affordable on sale. If you can spend more, the Glock e-tool is lighter and more packable.

  11. There is an old saying for pilots; “dress for the weather of the country you are flying over”. I always prep my truck for winter with a full compliment of clothing I would need to hike back if I got stuck or to stay put without heat.

  12. Living in Wyoming at 5000 feet in the Redoubt for 24 years and 3 years in Montana before that, I experienced three critical lessons at temps from -44 F to -10 F which are yours for free:

    1. Make sure to run burnable alcohol through your fuel, so your fuel line doesn’t keep freezing and stopping your vehicle several times while driving down I-90 after 10pm

    2. Use a double outlet box with extension cord to plug in BOTH a battery heater and a block heater for your vehicle while parked

    3. Get the most powerful Cold Cranking battery that fits your vehicle

    Okay, and bonus number 4 is to check your tranny fluid rating, some of which is only warranteed to -29 F. Folks with a new Toyota AWD had their tranny break when they tried to drive at -38 F. No coverage.

    Keeping the stove stoked up warm here, God Bless

  13. The only problem we had was the pipe in the well house froze. Not enough insulation, apparently. The heat tape couldn’t keep up.
    And our low was 7* above.
    Truck gets plugged in below about 20*. Diesels (at least mine) don’t like cold weather. Gets a little sluggish, but always starts.
    We haven’t seen below zero temps around here in a few years.
    (And I want to move to Idaho)

  14. Friends,
    When my father retired from the US Army, our family returned to Minnesota. The first October, Dad bought large duffle bags for each member of the family. We spread them out on the floor and gathered our winter survival gear for each bag. “People die in blizzards when they fail to prepare. Prepare!” Each of us put a complete winter outfit, from head to toe, surplus sleeping bags, food and hand warmers. For winter trips, we added either snow shoes or cross country skis. The bags went into the car trunk and stayed there until April 1st.
    My advice to my children and grandchildren differs slightly. “People die in blizzards, especially old people. Retire to Texas.”
    Best to all.

  15. I am now 77 years old and I’ve seen a lot of weather, from hurricanes in the East to the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens and the aftermath of that when the ash was rained on and the electrical outages that caused. Living here in Idaho now I know to expect a cold snap every year any time from mid-November to mid-December. That has come now every year for 20 years and then I get out the cattle water heater to put into my aquascape so it doesn’t freeze solid. People are just crazy and the media plays into the scare tactics to make more money. People are just not prepared any more thinking that UNCLE will take care of them. Yea! just like they did at Ruby Ridge.

Comments are closed.