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

  1. Val - Corn, Beans, Pigs & Kids January 3, 2014 at 7:55 am #

    Great collaborative post Janice full of great tips! For me I have to agree about dressing in layers. When I’m outside for a long period of time I make sure to wear long underware, jeans and Carhartt bibs to cover my bottom half plus long underware, a sweat shirt and my Carhartt jacket on top plus a good pair of gloves, stocking hat and warm boots. I need to get a better pair on winter boots – I’ll have to check out some of the recommendations! Stay warm Janice!

    • Janice Person January 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

      Thanks Val! I did have some bibs back in the day when I lived in NY… maybe I should consider a pair again!

  2. Jenny Schweigert January 3, 2014 at 9:05 am #

    Great post Janice! I rely heavily upon my heating pad which goes with me all over our drafty old farmhouse…at my desk, in the lazy boy, in bed, etc… Couldn’t survive without it!

    • Janice Person January 3, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

      Really? I haven’t ever used one. Do you mean the kind that plugs in or one you fill with hot water?

  3. Emily @ Zweber Farms January 3, 2014 at 9:33 am #

    LOVE the hat Janice!! I need one of those!
    If people are curious, I wrote a post last year about farming in extreme cold.
    We are finally above zero here (MN) today and tomorrow, but we are back in the deep freeze all next week. I don’t ever remember a winter this cold, this long, and this early in the winter. Usually late January and February are our coldest months. I hope you stay warm!!

    • Janice Person January 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

      I’m doing fine. Am glad to be staying close to the house and office. We will be a bit warmer tomorrow so I will be refilling the car’s gas tank & maybe considering a purchase or two based on all these great recs you guys came up with. I wasn’t sure I’d wear that hat but today I even had the clasp done at my chin! LOL

  4. Jamie Rhoades January 3, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

    Love this post! I agree with the alcohol comment – takes your mind off the weather and keeps you warm as well, win/win! This year for Christmas the hubs and I both gifted each other really nice Underarmour long underwear – worth the investment if you can afford it if you will be outside for a decent amount of time. I’ve also been know to use a headband plus a hat – and couldn’t live without our insulated coveralls. I tend to use handwarmer a lot too when we are hunting – nothing like putting your hands in your pockets and feeling toasty warm heat!

    • Janice Person January 3, 2014 at 2:38 pm #

      Love it! A headband would have been good under that hat, but getting it clasped today was about enough. Is the UA the cold gear stuff that helps your body retain heat? I saw that in a store the other day & have been wishing I’d bought it but hadn’t had any first-hand confirmation on its effectiveness. Maybe I need to pick some up this weekend!

  5. Trish Jordan January 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

    Heh Janice. You want to learn how to stay warm? Best advice is to come visit the Monsanto Canada office in Winnipeg. Has been -39C with windchills and snow since Dec 27th so they say it “feels like” – 49C. Today it did warm up to -11C (feels like -14C). Still walking the crazy dog in this twice a day! I keep no skin exposed and wear my flannel PJs with my golf wind pants over top. A good pair of LL Bean boots, then layers under the parka, scarf and hat. Then you just walk really fast. Sweating in no time!

    • Janice Person January 3, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

      When the news said Winnipeg was as cold as the surface of Mars I thought of you! I just wouldn’t dare bring it up! LOL! Stay warm and know now, I bare to your ability to withstand those temps. I’m a proud cold weather wimp!

  6. Danielle Lee (@deleeag) January 3, 2014 at 11:17 pm #

    For someone to is used to the cold (but doesn’t necessarily like it) these are all very good tips. When its cold (like -30C or so) and you have to be outside to do chores and feed cows, my best advice is to layer up. Long underwear, Carhartt coveralls, Carhartt Arctic jacket, a warm toque, insulated gloves, and my arctic Muckboots keep me warm. I always just remember that it could be worse. And sometimes when I need a reminder, I think of my family and the others who settled this area a hundred years or more ago and how they survived, especially because we have so, so, so many more conveniences that they didn’t have. (And I’m also one of those people who wear Ugg boots…but only in town). Stay warm!

    • Janice Person January 3, 2014 at 11:46 pm #

      Love all the tips and have to LOL Danielle! I actually had the whole convo with a coworker about the fact people like me would have seriously died in this weather a couple of generations ago. I am too spoiled or too weak! However you want to put it but double-paned windows, well insulated homes, etc make it easy for us to get through this weather if we think and act.

  7. John January 28, 2014 at 12:39 am #

    16 degrees is extreme cold? It was -56 here this morning…

    • Janice Person January 28, 2014 at 7:27 am #

      It has warmed up to 3 here today. But temps are all relative. Is -56 cold to you? Is your house built to insulate you from it? Wind chills have been wicked and I wish I was somewhere warm but that leaves out most of the US these days!

  8. IowaMeetsMaui January 5, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    I tried to love the cold. I really did, but the only thing I found to work – move to Maui. I get brain freeze every time my husband says, “So my boss just called…” No, I’m not ready to move back yet.

  9. January 5, 2015 at 8:46 pm #

    Underarmor cold gear is great. Amazing!

  10. Zoe September 9, 2015 at 9:37 pm #

    This is super useful Janice. I will be moving from Singapore to Ohio shortly and am nervous about all the lessons I have yet to learn about living where it snows. This has made me feel a lot more prepared, thank you!!

    • Janice Person September 9, 2015 at 10:12 pm #

      Glad to hear this helped! I have been trying to get back to Singapore on vacation…. Really love that part of the world, especially in the winter months!

      If you think of questions and need an ear, comments and the contact form on here will get email to me. Glad to help where I can!

    • Janice Person September 9, 2015 at 10:13 pm #

      Not sure if you saw this post too Winter Storm Ion Hits St. Louis — Preparation & Digging In

      • Zoe September 9, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

        I missed that post. I’ll definitely have a read, thank you!


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