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Preparing for Winter

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

By Shirley

If you are new to the area, here are things you should know about living in Michigan during Winter.

First, if you don’t already have one, download a weather app to your phone or device and allow notifications. Then, pay attention to your notifications:

A Storm Watch is issued between 12 and 48 hours before a storm is predicted to reach us. The notification will specify what kind of storm we should be watching for: Ice storm? Snow storm? Sleet? Blizzard?

In practical terms, a Storm Watch gives you time enough to prepare for the storm. Check your pantry and refrigerator for food, beverages or medications you might need during the potential storm. Make sure you have a flashlight (in case of power failure) with extra batteries.

After an ice storm

A Storm Warning means a storm or inclement weather is close by.

For example, you might get a Blizzard Warning. A blizzard is a snow storm with high winds and lots of snow. The wind carries the snow, potentially leading to snow drifting over the road and reducing visibility, which makes driving dangerous. This type of warning means you should only drive if absolutely necessary and be very careful.

An Ice Storm Warning also means driving may be dangerous. Roads may be slippery. There’s also a danger of black ice, which means that ice has formed on top of asphalt paving; the patch appears black so the danger is difficult to see. An ice storm might also cause damage to trees and power lines which could cause power failure.

A Winter Weather Advisory means, in lower Michigan, that up to 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) of snow is expected in the next 12 hours.

A Winter Storm Warning generally means that at least 8 inches (20 cm) of snow is expected. In this case, there are practical things you should know. During a winter storm warning or a snow storm warning, you should move your car to your garage, your house driveway or a parking lot. Do not park in the street! Trucks will come to snowplow your street. They start cleaning the more heavily used roads first (like the freeway) and will move into residential areas last. Moving the cars away from the street will make their job easier, but it might also save your car from damage. The trucks plowing the streets go fast, moving the snow along the street and piling it somewhere down the road. The extra snow (and any stones that were on the road) which is over to the side or too heavy will be shoved to the side of the road, which could present a problem if your car is on the street; your car could be damaged or even buried in the snow!

Second, in case of snow accumulation, you should be aware that, by law, you are expected to clean the sidewalk in front of your home if you own or rent it. Although the snow police will probably not come to check if you cleaned the snow on the sidewalk, if someone falls on your uncleaned sidewalk and gets injured, you might be found at fault because that area of the sidewalk was not safe for pedestrians. For those of you living in an apartment building or a condominium, cleaning walkways, sidewalks and the parking lot is included in the fees you pay and are the responsibility of management.

To clean the snow, you will need a snow shovel, which you can buy at any hardware store. I highly recommend a metal snow shovel because they can cut through snow and most of the ice. The more ice and snow you clean from the sidewalk, the less you will need to use rock salt (or another environmentally friendly chemical) to melt the ice. However, wide use of salt will eventually deteriorate the cement in your sidewalk or driveway, so I recommend only using it when it is strictly necessary. You can use sand to help with traction.

My husband cleaning the sidewalk

Inside your Home

Third, if you own your home, you should have your furnace checked every year to make sure it is in working order. Make sure to familiarize yourself with the furnace. A furnace has an air filter that should be either cleaned or exchanged periodically (in most cases every month). This is important because, during the winter you will very seldom open the windows. Since you will be breathing the air coming out of the furnace, it is important to make sure the air filter is clean. You can buy an air filter replacement at your local hardware store.

The temperature in your home can be pre-programed or changed at will, but you should be aware that you shouldn’t change the temperature by more than 2 or 3 degrees. It is not really good for the machine to be forced to blow heat for an extended period.

If you are going for a trip at the end of the year, make sure to NOT turn off the furnace. You don’t want to freeze the water pipes in the house. If a water pipe freezes, it might burst and cause water damage to your home.

Fourth, I’m lucky that in my home we have a humidifier connected directly to the central heating. If your furnace does not have one, you might have to buy a humidifier if you start to experience static shocks, dryness of skin, a sharp feeling while breathing through your nose, or nose bleeds. You can get some immediate relief by breathing shower steam or by having a pan of water boiling on the stove.

Moisturize! Your skin needs to be moisturized during winter if you don’t want to have itchy skin. Make sure to also drink a lot of water/liquids.

After a snow storm

I’m sure by now you are enjoying all of the end-of-year sales. If you need some guidance on how to dress warmly, check out this article from our IN Newsletter archive:

If you haven’t gotten your car ready for winter, check out “Driving in the Winter in Ann Arbor” by Robyn.

Here are other sources about winter preparedness:

All photos courtesy of the author.

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