The 1962 Columbus Day Windstorm. The 2016 Cold Snap. The 2019 Snowmageddon.

Whatever the winter weather event, some outcomes are relatively predictable in the Seattle area: Power outages due to downed trees. Slick, icy sidewalks. Impassable side streets. Household pipes that freeze, then burst. 

We may not be able to predict precisely when these extreme events will occur, but we do know the best time to prepare for one.


“You need to get ready, because you are part of the system,” says Chad Buechler, who has worked in emergency management and response at Seattle Public Utilities for 15 years. 

The city starts prepping long before a multiday snowstorm hits, and Buechler says homeowners, landlords and renters need to do their part, as well. Here are some important steps to take before, during and after an extreme weather event to ensure you and your home are ready to take on Snowmageddon 2.0.

Things to do now

Start your all-around winter prep by weatherproofing and insulating. Add caulk and weatherstripping to your home’s doors and windows, and consider upgrading windows with storm or thermal panes. (A lower-cost alternative is the simple plastic sheeting that you can apply to a window’s interior.) Ensure there’s enough insulation covering your attic.

Insulate waterlines that are running along your home’s exterior walls, as well as pipes in unheated areas such as the garage, basement and crawl space. Remove and drain your garden hoses, then insulate outdoor spigots with faucet covers. Caulk around pipes entering the house as needed. 


It’s important for homeowners to know where the main shutoffs for water, electricity and gas are located. Take time to find them, and learn how they operate. 

Have your fireplace, chimney and flue professionally inspected. Test all smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, and make sure those that require backup batteries have a working set.

Outside the home, trim or remove weakened trees or dangling branches that may be hazards during a windstorm, or that won’t withstand the weight of snow or ice. Buy and store de-icer, rock salt or sand, and a heavy-duty snow shovel. If you wait until you need them, you may discover they’re sold out.

Buechler suggests signing up now for AlertSeattle, the city’s emergency alert system that delivers texts, emails and voice calls about power outages, missed garbage pickups and water-service issues. 

“Emergency information can be just as important as emergency supplies, and this alerting system is a great way to keep in touch,” he says. 

1–2 days before the storm

Another way to stay ahead of storms is by checking if the National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch, advisory or warning. These advisories predict snow accumulations, as well as freezing rain and ice storms. Local news services also follow developing weather patterns closely.


Meanwhile, take time to review the city of Seattle’s preparedness kit suggestions, and ensure you have enough emergency supplies to last for three days. 

Before the storm hits, a run to the grocery store is advisable while driving conditions are normal and shelves are still stocked. 

Gather blankets, sleeping bags and cold-weather clothing that can be worn in layers, along with mittens, wool caps and socks.

The city of Seattle pretreats many of its roads before big storms to cut down on ice and snow buildup — especially on elevated roadways and bridges that can ice over more easily. Buechler says residents can do their part by pretreating their sidewalks and walkways with de-icer, which he says can help manage many “run-of-the-mill, smaller storms.” 

If you don’t park your car in a garage or carport, consider covering it to avoid ice and snow buildup. And no matter where you park, fill up the gas tank if you think bad weather is on the way. 

During the storm

It’s time to hunker down with a mug of hot chocolate, a battery-operated or hand-cranking radio, a phone and recharging device, and a blanket (or four). But you’ll also need to check for wind damage, frozen pipes and any loss of water, electricity or heat.


Pipes are more likely to freeze when outdoor temperatures fall below 20 degrees. You can help prevent waterlines along exterior walls from freezing by opening the cabinet doors beneath bathroom and kitchen sinks. In addition, locate the interior faucet that’s furthest from your front door or the water shutoff valve and allow it to slowly drip cold water. 

Despite these efforts, pipes can still freeze in Seattle’s coldest weather. If little or no water comes out when turning on a faucet and you fear you may have a frozen pipe, do some sleuthing right away to determine if the pipe has burst. Pipes typically freeze along exterior walls or where water enters the home. If a pipe has burst, close the main shutoff valve to prevent flooding and call a plumber for repair or replacement right away. 

In the event that you need an emergency water supply, Buechler advises against boiling snow for drinking water — which he says can be “pretty gross” — and opt instead for stored drinking water. Consider using a rain barrel’s contents for flushing the toilet, he says.

Set your furnace thermostat to no lower than 55 degrees, even if you’re leaving the house. Keep doors and windows covered and close off unused rooms to conserve heat.

If your home loses power, Buechler says, use flashlights or lanterns to illuminate dark rooms rather than candles, which create the potential for fires. Maintain a stable body temperature by wearing your stash of warm clothes, slipping into a sleeping bag or cozying up in bed under blankets. 

Try to keep refrigerators and freezers closed to preserve your food supply as long as possible. 


Never turn on a gas stove to generate heat, or use any gas, charcoal or propane devices to heat your home or cook meals indoors. And don’t use a portable generator inside the house or in a garage or carport. They should be placed at least 20 feet away from the house and kept well-protected from rain and snow. 

After the storm

Once it’s safe to venture outside, clear ice-covered sidewalks, porches, steps and driveways using sand, rock salt or another de-icing product, along with some old-fashioned shoveling. (Cold weather adds strain to the heart, so be sure work slowly and take any health conditions into account.) Seattle’s municipal code states homeowners are responsible for maintaining clear sidewalks abutting their property. Not removing snow and ice in a timely fashion could lead to fines or lawsuits, Buechler says. 

Clear away any storm debris from your sidewalk, but call your city’s emergency services if a tree has fallen on electrical wires or is blocking a street. After the ice melts, clear nearby storm drains to prevent flooding, and remove left-behind de-icer so it doesn’t end up in the regional watershed.

If you’re without power or heat for multiple days, consider visiting one of Seattle’s warming centers. Check on neighbors who might be at higher risk in difficult conditions, or who may need help with shoveling or other matters.