Surviving a Winter Storm with a Cardboard Box

winter-storm Rob Karosis, Clearing Winter Storm, 2000, Giclée, Courtesy of the artist and McGowan Fine Art, Concord, New Hampshire

During this time of year, winter snow storms are a large reality. Winter snow storms can cause major power outages in your home. If you aren’t lucky enough to have an alternative power source, having an extended power outage can be dangerous.

Hypothermia is a major concern for peoples exposed to cold temperatures during a winter storm. Over 700 deaths from hypothermia are recorded each year in the United States.

Here are a few tips to beat a winter storm. You'll be surprised how much help a simple cardboard box can be to keep you warm:

Keep core warm
You’ll need to start by keeping your core body warm. Try to insulate against  the cold, putting on extra layers to ensure that your body stays warm and your internal organs continue to function.

In extreme situations, even items like plastic bags or pieces of cardboard can be stuffed in your clothing to protect against the cold. (Please do not choose this option over a nice winter coat.)

Try not to work up a sweat
You might be tempted to move around a lot to work up a sweat. However, in the cold, your body will be using more calories to generate heat. Working up a sweat can throw that balance off and make the situation worse.

Be smart in the activities you’re doing in the cold too. There are often reports of people who have heart attacks when shoveling snow.

This happens when people who are more used to channel surfing than exercise, leap from their couches and start lifting 40-pound heaps of snow. This kind of sudden increase in activity isn't a good thing if you aren't in shape. If you need to clear your driveway, get help from a young neighbor. If not, go slow and steady, taking breaks as often as you need. 1

Frostbite and hypothermia can set in within minutes
If temperatures start to drop rapidly, you’ll need to move quickly to get a source of heat.

Take care to wear gloves, warm socks, hats, coats, etc. If you are exposed too long to cold temperatures, your extremities may be at risk for frostbite. Ice crystals form on the outside of y­our skin cells. This dehydrates the cell and eventually kills it.

The two main stages of frostbite and its symptoms are:

  • Superficial frostbite - numbness, tingling, burning, itching. The skin looks frozen white and retains firmness when pressed.
  • Deep frostbite - increased and eventual loss of sensation, swelling, blood blisters. The skin is yellowish and hard and can appear blackened and dead.

To treat frostbite, move to a warm area as soon as you can and elevate the affected area. Remove any restricted clothing or jewelry to keep from further inhibiting the flow of blood. Thawing should be performed by a doctor, so get to a hospital as soon as you can. If you can't get to a doctor warm the area quickly in water between 104-107 degrees Fahrenheit (40-42 degrees Celsius). This will be a painful process, but necessary to save your digits.2

Hypothermia sets in when the body temperature drops below normal, causing problems for the respiratory and circulatory systems. You have hypothermia if your body temperature drops below 95 F.There are a few signs of hypothermia including:

  • Cold skin to the touch
  • Hypothermics will shiver and then be cold with no shivering
  • They will be weak and slow moving with slow reflexes
  • Irritability and combativeness
  • Confused. Many hypothermics begin to hallucinate
  • Slow breathing
  • Slow, irregular, heartbeat4

In order to keep hypothermia from getting worse, you’ll need to warm the person. You might need to share your own body heat with the person.

Collect heat
If you don’t have power in your home, the extreme cold can start to set in quickly. If this occurs, it’s recommended that you try to stick your heating efforts to one or two rooms.

Stick to one room for heat and close off unnecessary rooms in the house. Make sure there are no air leaks in the room. Keep sunlight streaming through the windows in the day, but block all windows at night.3

If your home has more of an “open concept,” you might need to use cardboard boxes to trap heat in to a makeshift room. If the situation gets extremely desperate, you can use these cardboard boxes to trap the heat into a small confined area. Even the light of a flashlight might be able to help generate heat in such a small area.

Eat calories
In extreme cold temperatures your body will use calories to generate as much heat as it needs. You need to be sure to keep your caloric intake high when facing dipping temperatures.

These nutritional tips may help reduce symptoms of cold exposure:

  • Eat warming spices in your foods, such as basil, ginger, turmeric, garlic, and cayenne.
  • Eat antioxidant foods, including fruits (such as blueberries, cherries, and tomatoes), and vegetables (such as squash and bell peppers).
  • Eat more hot soups made with fresh vegetables.
  • Avoid coffee and other stimulants, alcohol, and especially tobacco. Tobacco causes blood vessels to constrict and may increase risk to hypothermia.
  • Drink 6 - 8 glasses of filtered water daily. Hydration is important in reducing problems from cold exposure.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.4

With a food supply for The Ready Store, you'll be rest-assured that your food is giving you enough calories and doesn't taste like a cardboard box.

Winter Storm Supplies
Besides a cardboard box, you could stock up on some other items.

1. A snow shovel
Don't skimp when it comes to getting yourself a nice snow shovel.  Make sure it's a medium size shovel.  Not too big and not too small.  Of course if you have the money, a good snow blower can be very handy as well. But if you can't justify a snow blower, make sure you at least have a couple of good snow shovels.

2. Chains for your tires, snow tires
If you have ever tried to drive on the ice you know that it doesn't make much of a difference to have 4 wheel drive when your vehicle can't get any traction!  You can pick up a good set of chains for not much money and save yourself a lot of hassle.  If you live in an area where it snows often, you might want to put some snow tires on.

3. An Auto Emergency kit
Picture this, you are driving in the snow, and then the road gets so bad that they have to close it.  Or even worse, you get stuck on a low traffic road in the snow.  What do you do?  You break out the Auto emergency kit!  This kit should include extra warm clothing, food, water, and light.  You may also want to include an emergency dynamo powered cell phone charger as well so you can keep the juice flowing through your cell phone.

4. Extra blankets, and layers of clothing
As stated above, you may not think you need it, but keep some extra warm clothes and blankets in your car.  Don't forget the gloves and hat!  Even if you don't need to use them, you might find yourself on the rescuing end of an emergency and it's nice to have these items on hand to help others that may be stuck on the snow.

5. An alternative heat source
So many times a big winter know will knock out access to the power.  How do you keep warm then?  You should invest in a generator, some wood for a fire, or at least some heavy blankets to keep your family warm.  Don't go on thinking that the power will always be on.  It's especially dangerous in a power outage to now have adequate heat, warmth and shelter.

6. Extra Food Storage
When the snow hits, you don't want to be on the icy, snowy roads.  Make sure you have enough food stored in your home to at least get you through the storm.  While snow doesn't last forever, it can sometimes hem you into your home for a while making it very important that you have plenty of food and water to get you through.

7. Ice melt
Ice is a tricky thing.  The last thing you want is to slip on the ice and break a bone.  Make sure you sprinkle ice on your walkways and driveway.  This will not only help you but keep you from being liable in the case a guest comes by the house and takes a fall.  Hips are often broke from an unexpected slip in the ice.

8. Communication device
Keep your cell phone charged, and also break out your Emergency radio for the latest news and emergency information.  Make sure this device can be powered through a hand crank (dynamo) because during a snowstorm solar power isn't going to help much.

9. Emergency Lighting
Keep extra candles, and emergency light on hand.  You can get light sticks, and dynamo powered flashlights at The Ready Store!

10. A Sled!
If you have enough warm clothing, take advantage of the snow and go sledding or skiing!  It's important to get out of the house and get some physical activity for both your physical and mental health!

1. Charles W. Bryant "10 Ways to Survive a Snowstorm" 11 February 2008. 25 May 2016
2. Charles W. Bryant "10 Ways to Survive a Snowstorm" 11 February 2008. 25 May 2016
3. Oblack, Rachelle. "How to Survive a Blizzard"
4. Complementary and Alternative Medicine Guide. Hypothermia.

15 thoughts on “Surviving a Winter Storm with a Cardboard Box”

  • Eugene Farley

    Taking an aspirin each day, even a baby aspirin will help keep the inflammation down. stocking up on candles beforehand will give you a heat source in a small area. If you are caught in the snow and cant move the vehicle a candle could save your life. Make sure that you leave the window cracked enough to keep the oxygen from being used up.

  • C Walter

    Good to be aware of. But! putting plastic bags in your clothing is a very bad idea and should be used as an absolute last resort before death due to exposure ocurrs. The body is always giving off heat and moisture from the skin. Any material that traps moisture on the inside with cold temps on the outside will result in condensation. Moisture will collect against the skin and soak into other clothing. This will greatly reduce any insulative value of the clothing and cause a much greater risk of cold injuries. This is why gortex was such a great invention. It allows moisture to escape but keeps falling water out. I have survived comfortably a lot of exposure to cold extremes in wet conditions outside thanks to gortex clothing coutesy of Uncle Sam :) Old rags, newspaper, towels etc will be much better for insulating in an emergency situation. The best situation is to have coldweather clothing on hand in the event of cold weather, including in each vehicle the family uses.

  • J Schlarb

    I don`t wear the plastic bags, I wod them up in little balls and place them inside my under clothes to create air pockets of warm air. You don`t want to stop the air from escapeing. So don`t wear them like a shirt. These small pockets will allow you to adjust your body temperature so as not to freeze.

  • C Caruthers

    I knew a homeless man who lived in his car for a couple of years. He said he kept warm using a metal coffee can stuffed with a roll of toilet paper for a wick. Then he poured enough rubbing alcohol in the can to soak the paper. He used a tin pie plate to put out the flame. Sounds dangerous, but in a survival situation I might try it.

  • Janet

    If there's no heat you might want to consider having everyone sleep in a tent in the living room. In addition, blankets could be put over the tent to add insulation. :)

  • Fred

    I talked to an old German soldier who survived on the Russian front by stuffing waded up newspaper in his uniform. It also gives air pockets and is easily found. Hope this info helps.
    They were deployed with summer uniforms.

  • Ellyn George

    My hubby makes 100% soy wax candles and we do not use paraffin. We used to do it as a biz on the web, but have cut back to word-of-mouth, family and friends. In our process of deciding how to make them, we decided on 100% soy wax for many reasons.

    One reason is that it is an all-natural product that burns very, very cleanly. You burn all your wax instead of creating a tunnel down the middle (as with paraffin jar candles). Paraffin is a petroleum-based product and, when you're in a smaller space, you don't want to breathe what amounts to car exhaust.

    You may want to consider an unfragranced 100% soy wax candle in your supplies (container candles) especially if you have someone with a breathing problem or young children. Just a thought.

  • Ellyn George

    If you live or visit a potentially heavy snow area, or if you are out skiing, snowmobiling, etc., put a bright orange flag in your survival bag. If your car goes off the road, you wind up lost, or even in a situation where you are covered by snow, this bright flag can save your life when your emergency signal fancy gadgets can't be heard or the battery goes out. These flags can be found in collapsible form and fit in any survival pack. In a car, it slips over your antenna or goes between your driver's door and the roof of your car.

  • RKM

    lots of interesting info but nothing about the advertised BOX.

  • kris

    Just took a wilderness survival class in Alaska. In case of hypothermia, do not help someone else get warm, as in hop in a sleeping bag with them. It will make the helper cold and the victim isn't helped much. And it can take 1-2 hours to recover even mild hypothermia.

  • Caroline

    Flatten big boxes and put them in your car with a roll of tape with a big pair of scissors or a knife. Then if you get stuck out in snow you can line part of the inside of the vehicle with cardboard. More than one layer of cardboard will be more insulating and take a wool blanket with you too.
    For inside the house, tape boxes together and/or layer the cardboard or put a smaller box space inside a bigger one, bit like a tent and fly sheet.
    To get hold of big box pieces, go to places that sell large furniture or kitchen units etc. they often throw big cardboard out.
    Another good insulator to collect is a sack full of shredded paper to put between layers of cardboard

  • Elliott

    The 105 degree water for thawing frost-bitten hands doen't sound real hot, but I had heard that room-temperature water is safer. Which is better?

  • Tom

    I saw something the other day that was take a clay flower pot..turn it upside down and under it you put some tea lights...they heat up the pot and provide some warmth just have to raise the pot above the tea lights so they have room to regards to the sleeping bag..there is something in the air force survival manual about stripping down as much as possible and two people getting inside of a sleeping bag...I would have to really think about who the other person was...they just might have to stay

  • NameJudy

    This is something I used years ago when we were in a situation and have used it since from time to time. I covered the windows in my bedroom with plastic garbage bags; which was all I had at the time , and then I taped aluminum foil to the plastic bags. This is all done on the inside of the room. It was amazing how the foil reflected the heat back into the room and the plastic kept the cold wind out. Since then I have used the emergency blankets to cover the windows and doorways. This works very well. Kept my family warm all winter one year.

  • Name edwin white
    Name edwin white December 11, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Great information very informative,thanks

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