Are you prepared for a winter storm? Here's what the American Red Cross recommends — plus how to stay safe in extreme cold.

A woman clears snow off a sidewalk
A woman clears snow off a sidewalk in Des Moines, Iowa. (Abbie Parr/AP)

Much of the United States is bracing for more extreme winter weather, with a bomb cyclone and polar vortex set to wallop the Midwest, severe thunderstorms forecast in the South and snow expected along the East Coast.

Jay Bonafede, communications director for the American Red Cross, spoke to Yahoo News about how people should prepare for extreme winter weather.

Items to have ready in your home

“You want to be prepared in case you can’t get out or don’t want to go out,” Bonafede said, “I think the most important thing is to have that food, water and medicine available before the storm in case the stores close or it’s unsafe for you to travel.”

Bonafede suggested stocking up on the following items.

  • Non-perishable food: In the event of a power outage, food can be kept safe in the refrigerator for consumption for up to four hours, while keeping the door closed as much as possible. Food in the freezer can last for 24 to 48 hours, depending on how full the freezer is, according to

  • Drinking water: Set aside at least one gallon of drinking water per person in the household, per day.

  • Medications: It’s good to have a one-month supply on hand, if possible.

  • Blankets and warm clothing: Have on hand enough blankets and layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing for everyone in the household. This includes mittens, hats and coats.

  • Charged cellphones and electronic devices: With the possibility of power outages, you should have cellphones and other electronic devices charged, including battery-powered lanterns and flashlights.

Power and heat loss

“If you lose power, you lose your ability to heat the house and that cold air is coming in. You need to stay warm, and you need to stay warm safely,” Bonafede told Yahoo News. Here are some things the American Red Cross advises if you lose power and your main heat source:

  • Only use generators, grills and camp stoves that are placed outdoors and away from windows in order to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Never use a cooking oven or stove to heat your home to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning and home fires.

  • Use battery-powered lanterns or flashlights instead of candles due to the fire risk.

  • Close off any rooms you don’t need.

  • Use care when using fireplaces and space heaters. Keep anything that could catch fire at least 3 feet away from the heat source.

Staying safe if you have to go outdoors

“If you have to go outside, or if your house gets so cold that it becomes an issue inside the home, try and keep as much of your skin covered as you can,” Bonafede said.

Wear layers of loose-fitting, warm clothing, a hat, and mittens snug at the wrist are better than gloves, he added. Wear a ski mask or a scarf to help cover your face and water-resistant boots, if possible, to keep your feet dry.

Avoid overexertion, which could bring on a heart attack or other serious medical condition.

Items you’ll need if you’re stranded in your car

“You want to be prepared in case you get stranded, and we've seen that a lot here in Buffalo, where maybe the New York State Thruway closes and you're stranded for a while in the car,” Bonafede told Yahoo News. He recommends that those who live in areas where severe winter weather is a possibility have an emergency kit for the car.

This might be a backpack-sized bag that includes non-perishable canned food, high-energy snacks, drinking water, a first-aid kit, car cellphone chargers, blankets, extra dry clothes, and plastic bags for sanitation.

What to do if you do get stranded

Before heading out on a wintertime car trip, check weather reports for all areas of your travel route and tell someone of your plans ahead of time.

If the weather takes an unexpected turn and you get stranded, stay in your vehicle, Bonafede said, unless help is within, say, 100 yards of your vehicle.

Turn on your flashers, and hang a bright cloth on the antenna where it can be seen to let people know you have an issue.

Make sure the exhaust pipe of the vehicle is clear to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, and only run the engine for about 10 minutes every hour to heat up the vehicle.

What to know about carbon monoxide poisoning, hypothermia and frostbite

Carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Just like gas-powered cars, gas-powered generators produce carbon monoxide, which is colorless and odorless, and is deadly when breathed in high enough concentrations.

  • If you feel sick, dizzy or weak, get fresh air immediately.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends calling 911 or a poison control center at 800-222-1222 if carbon monoxide poisoning is suspected.


  • Prolonged exposure to very low temperatures causes the body to lose heat faster than it can produce it, a potentially deadly condition known as hypothermia.

  • Shivering is the first sign of hypothermia, and can be followed by signs of confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech.

  • If any of those signs are present, seek emergency help right away and move to a warm place. Remove any wet clothing and slowly warm the body.


  • The nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers and toes are the first to be affected by frostbite, which occurs when a part of your body freezes.

  • Signs may include pain, numbness and a change of skin color.

  • If you experience frostbite symptoms, move to a warm place if possible. Gently soak the affected area in warm, not hot, water, until the skin feels warm to the touch and appears normal, then seek emergency medical care.