Top 15 Things You Can Do to Survive Extreme Cold — Tips from a Panel of Experts

How can a Southern girl survive a deep freeze?

I still remember the advice I was given as I moved to Oklahoma for college. I was told to be sure I had a good coat. It wasn’t what you would think was brilliant advice, but as someone who had lived in a place where you make short moves from your warm car to a warm building, coats were something I had thought of as fashionable outerwear more than a defense against harsh wind and deep cold. It was a good tip to help me survive extreme cold.

I didn’t think much about layering either. But the first winter in Oklahoma, I came to see clearly why I was being told to have a good coat. I learned a lot those three years I lived on the High Plains, I learned some more a few years later when I lived in New York and learned what nor’easters were.

I really enjoyed the years of being back down south but the last couple of years in St. Louis have reminded me of what I’d consider the “best management practices” for surviving extreme cold temperatures like the ones people throughout the Midwest are facing this week.

So cold I'm freezing!

Today, as I headed out to work, I shared this photo on Instagram, Facebook & Twitter. Knowing I have friends in places where this temperature look like a welcome relief, I made sure to caption it as a whine to point out 16 degree weather.

Having had 60 degree weather recently, I have to say that 16 degrees sort of hurts. And yet, my experience shows that as long as I am well prepared for the elements, I can keep a smile on my face and keep my sense of humor saying weather was bringing its A game this week. And you can see in the selfie below that I geared up & made it just fine.

So I wanted to take some time to put together my primary tips on how to survive a winter that my people have spent generations avoiding. I also asked some girlfriends (listed below) who are lifers in colder climates to help me add in tips from their experience! Since several of these ladies have to get out to do chores on their family farms, they really know their cold weather gear!

Top 15 Things to Do to Survive Extreme Cold

survive-extreme-cold1.  Get a good coat. For me, a good coat means one that can be closed by buttons or a zipper. It should be able to take wind (not breezes) without letting that in. And you want to be sure it can be snugged in around your neck.

2. Dress in layers. Frequently people (including me) find this really heavy sweater or whatever and decide it is a great defense. Maybe not. A single layer is more likely to let cold air in and hot air out. If you have a combination of layers, you are more likely to keep your body warmth in and cold out. Debbie Lyons-Blythe says layers are a must for her too as she works cattle!  Carolyn Olson who  lives in Minnesota gives me detail saying: “I use running tights for my base layer when I’m heading out in the cold for a while. They are breathable, easy to get pants over, and are better than waffle weave at keeping you warm.”

3. Keep your feet warm! Lord knows this is a top priority! Emily Zweber and I are both huge fans of SmartWool socks. And Kelly Rivard points to good winter boots — water-resistant, non-slip tread  & well-lined! It’s so important to me that I have a few pair and have become one of those people… people who wear Ugg boots! My girl friends tend to have other allegiances — Leah Beyer recommends North Face, Debbie lives by Arctic Muckboots and Katie Pinke likes UnderArmour ColdGear socks and Kamik snow boots! Oh and I have some shearling houseshoes that are awesome when I’m home!
dang it is cold!

4. Find a warm hat, something to keep the wind off your ears! My nephew got me thinking seriously about a warm hat recently & I asked my tweeps for tips for really warm hats and was blown away with the response! Hats with flaps to cover the ears were tops for many though a few suggested headbands can be effective too. I kept the backup I had gotten for my nephew & it came in handy Thursday!

5. Protect your hands. Even if it is just cool not cold, I’m a big fan of lots of prep in this one! And seriously, I have so many different weights of gloves made of various fibers. My basic gloves are leather with a thinsulate or cashmere lining. But when it is seriously cold out, I have a pair of lightweight Marmots I wear as liners in some fleece NorthFace gloves. Keeping your hands from drying out is also important — Deb Brown, Leah and Emily all agreed on that! My favorite is Carmex Healing Cream… dang that stuff feels good! Leah says she carries those “hot hands” packets that you can shake up and activate — I restocked on those just before Christmas!

6. Book a trip somewhere warm so you have a thaw on the horizon was Val’s first suggestion!

7. Stay hydrated. The constant barrage of heaters dry the air out so bad that you need to look at staying hydrated. Slathering up with lotion is a big piece for Deb and drinking water are both on the list. I have to say, having a whole home humidifer helps too!

8. Eat filling comfort foods that warm you from the inside! Debbie says keeping a big pot of soup on the stove helps her family get through the long ranching days working cattle. (Love her cows in the snow photo she let me borrow. 🙂 ) I have to admit red beans and rice or chili is more my style!

9. Learn how to use fireplaces & get supplies! When I bought a house in St. Louis, I looked at the realtor like she was nuts when we talked about the fireplace inspection, telling her I never lived in a place with one and couldn’t imagine being comfortable using it. Lord have mercy I learned quickly! The inspector walked me through things and I paid attention. I’m using that info these days! My favorite is the gas fireplace in the living room. A few weeks ago I was thrilled to realized I did indeed know how to safely light the pilot light! Nice to have multiple heat sources to survive extreme cold.

10. If you are going out, make sure you have your car well prepared! As I parked my car tonight, I looked at the gas gauge… I know I need to get gas before it goes down much more. What was I thinking? Anyway. The girls had me a long list of things to consider for the car!

  • Kelly  preps for drives with kitty litter and a spare coat or blanket in your trunk at all times.  Also, when snowy, make sure you clear off the front intake vent of your car. It seems funny to think of a car overheating in the window, but poor airflow can cause big problems.
  • Val tells you to be careful and never have the gas tank below half.   If you get stuck and can’t get out, run engine sporadically. Make sure the exhaust is free of snow.
  • Carolyn focused on how to make the interior livable if stranded — have water bottles with you. And a container to melt snow in if you get stranded in a snow storm. We can live without food longer than without water.
  • Emily says you should keep winter boots, mittens, hats, blanket in front seat of car (if you are not wearing them). If your car stalls you will want to wear them.
  • Deb says you should check tire pressure.
  • Leah  recommends one of those silly ice scrapers with a mitten. Auto start on your car. Ability to work from home (so you don’t have to drive)

11.  Relax with hot drinks… maybe alcohol or both! As I asked friends about tips to surviving the cold, it didn’t surprise me that Dairy Carrie Mess was the first to suggest booze, but I have to admit, the strong support for it was less than expected!  Pretty much everyone offered supportive words with Deb’s suggestion of warm alcoholic Tom & Jerrys  and spiked hot chocolate or tea doing well for the catch all. Carrie also has rumchata recipes!

12. Get a good snow shovel & some ice melt! When you are at the hardware store, check out the way various shovels grip and find something you think will work for you. I keep that and a broom at the front door along with some ice melt so I can get the front step cleared ASAP.

13. Prep your home well!  Remember power outages happen and you will want to prepare for that much like we do for tornado season!

  • Emily suggests you always have canned and boxed goods like tuna and Mac and cheese in house.
  • Debbie  says to get “a good generator! The last big ice storm knocked out our electricity for nearly 2 weeks. We could run the water pump or the heater in the house. Not both. We have since bought another generator. Water pump was for cattle waterers, by the way. And never run out of booze.”
  • Carolyn says if you are stuck at home, puzzles or other busy things for when the power goes out, candles, meals that don’t require heating (last year one supper was a clif bar and Fat Tire). Keep your phone charged as much as possible, and have a radio that works on battery back up for weather updates.
  • Kelly shows her agnerdness saying a portable phone charger battery will also save you in a pinch if you lose power. Pre-charge it when you know there’s a storm en-route. If you don’t have enough hookups to your generator or don’t have a generator, that extra battery life is a life-saver.
  • Deb reminds us to check on elderly neighbors. Close vents and doors to rooms you don’t use. Change the filters in your home heater. Heavy curtains. Double or triple panes
  • Leah says skip that shovel I recommend and get a bobcat to dig you out! (Spoken like a farm girl!)
  • Carrie says you need to remember to reverse your fans so they blow heat down.

14. Take good care of yourself! It’s a combination of things including Carrie’s tip that you keep moving & not lick any flagpoles, Deb’s suggestion to exercise more and Kelly’s focus on zinc & iron to help you recover from a cold! She suggests beef to give you the iron…. and its yummy too!

15.  Keep things in perspective. It truly is a first world problem the way we get to deal with these harsh temperatures. Having extreme cold sucks, sure it does. But homes are warm as are offices, restaurants, etc. Besides, there are benefits to extreme cold like fewer bugs in the spring!

What are we missing? What tip do you have we should know about?

About Janice Person

I'm Janice & this blog is about my passions -- photography, travel, agriculture & whatever else comes to mind. Putting all those things together is intriguing to me…. I can spend a lot of time soaking it up! It's almost always a colorful adventure!

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