As temperatures drop and weather forecasts begin to bring the chance for severe weather, it’s important to make sure you’re ready for the worst. Winter storms mean the threat of freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall and icy roads. All of these things can cause real problems — damage to your house or car and injury to you — if you don’t take the right steps ahead of time. Spending just a few moments to prepare for these bad situations will have you thanking yourself later should things go awry. Here are some important things to consider when bracing yourself for the heart of winter.

Prepare yourself for going outdoors

Venturing outside in the winter comes with its own set of hurdles. Remember to walk carefully on snowy or icy walkways, making sure that you have sure footing before taking another step. Dress for the elements with a heavy coat in freezing temperatures and waterproof later for snowy or rainy conditions. Wet clothing loses its ability to retain heat, leaving you in a cold and potentially hypothermic situation. Know the symptoms of hypothermia (shivering, memory loss, incoherent speech and exhaustion) and frostbite (loss of feeling in your extremities). If there’s a winter storm outside, or one on the horizon, the safest move is to stay indoors.

Protect your home from the elements

When it comes to winterizing your home, one of the easiest precautions to take involves your pipes. To ward off a frozen pipe, which can burst and flood your house, all you have to do is wrap an insulated sleeve around your water pipes. Clean your gutters and ventilate your attic to avoid building an ice dam in your gutters during a freeze. Formed by snow or water buildup that re-freezes, these ice dams can cause melting water to seep into your roof and walls, which will be an expensive repair later. Fires are also a big concern in the winter, so make sure to stay mindful of your fireplace and keep the flu closed when you’re not using it. Take a moment to make sure your furniture isn’t blocking any heating vents and remember to never leave a candle unattended.

Get prepared for winter driving

A fair number of crashes occur due to severe weather conditions — 22 percent according the US Department of Transportation. So, the first thing to do to stay safe on the road is to only drive if necessary. Prepare your car by topping up on gas, oil and other fluids such as antifreeze. Carry chains or consider traction tires if you plan to drive in snowy or icy conditions. Also, put an emergency kit in your trunk, with gear for worst-case scenarios. Include items such as jumper cables, a shovel, a blanket, first aid kit, flashlight and food and water.

When driving, avoid taking side roads as they are less likely to be maintained and will have less passersby in an emergency. If the conditions are bad, drive slowly, giving yourself several car lengths between your vehicle and the vehicles around you. Before leaving, check the conditions of the driving route and take note of any hazards.

Even stored vehicles will need attention

Even if you’re not planning on driving at all this winter, you still need to spend some time worrying about your vehicle. If you don’t plan to drive for an extended period of time and can’t store your vehicle indoors, you should take steps to prepare it for harsh weather. Unhook the battery, take off the parking brake to avoid damage to the rotors, increase your tire pressure and take steps to keep liquid out, such as keeping a box of baking soda in the trunk. All of this will make your vehicle easier to start back up when warm weather returns.

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