How I survived winter snowstorms after growing up in a warm climate

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Growing up in Southern California, snowstorms weren’t something we had to worry about.

Oddly, despite the constant summer weather and close proximity to the beach, I never wanted to stay on the west coast. It was my dream, from an early age, to head off and start my life on the east coast. 

I’ll never forget my first snowstorm in New York City. My best friend and I went to a local bar for a trivia night and emerged a few hours later into a blizzard. Rather than run home to the warmth,  we danced in the empty streets and took photos of the snow. 

While I still find the first snowfall of the year somewhat magical, winter storms get progressively more annoying the longer you live in cold climates. I’ve lived in areas where I have to drive and where I don’t. Where it’s possible to get snowed in and where I can still go about my daily life. But no matter what, there are always lessons to be learned along the way.

This is how I’ve learned to survive the worst of the worst when it comes to snow. 

Actually pay attention to the news

Pay attention to the news

Here’s something Californians don’t grow up doing — paying attention to the weather. Since it’s so consistent, we just kind of leave our house assuming it’s going to be the same as it was yesterday.

When there’s a storm coming, watching the news can help you stayed clued in on what you need to do. Need chains on your tires? Avoid the roads altogether? Are you about to get snowed in? 

The news will probably tell you all of that. Turn it on, listen up, and pay attention.

Stock up on what you really need

You never know what could happen in a snowstorm. One cold January in Tennessee, I got snowed in on my birthday. I didn’t think the snow was going to be that bad, so I didn’t think to buy any wine or birthday cake or anything to celebrate with my roommate.

We ended up hitching a ride with a neighbor that had 4 wheel drive to the store and walking the mile back to our apartment through tons of snow.

If there’s even a chance the snowstorm is going to force you to stay home, make sure you stock up on food, water, candles, and that there are plenty of blankets in the house. If the electricity goes out or your pipes freeze, being without water and blankets will be miserable (and dangerous). 

You never know how long you’ll be stuck, so prepare for everything. 

Buy an ice pick for your car — and keep it there

The very first time I came outside to find my car covered in ice, I had no idea what to do. Real talk, I started slamming my fists against the window shield, blasting the heat in the car, and even using a hairbrush to try and break up the ice. 

Eventually, after a lot of work, sore, and freezing hands, I got the ice off and headed to work. It was only there that a co-worker told me to buy an ice pick. 

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even know an ice pick existed. 

I ran right to the automotive store to buy one. It stayed in my car even in the summers and became a real lifesaver throughout those long winters. Though I won’t lie, ice picking your car is NEVER FUN. 

Err on the side of caution

stay inside if you can

If the news is telling people to stay off the roads, it’s better that you listen. I’ve been in some scary situations where I slid through red lights and backward down a steep hill. It’s not fun, and I was lucky to come out of it without crashing into anyone else or hurting myself. 

If you have zero experience driving on snowy roads, just don’t do it. If you’re in a spot where you have to drive to work or school, let them know that the road conditions are unsafe and you can’t make it in. In most cases, people will understand. And in severe cases, classes and work might be canceled anyway. 

If you live in a walking city, get snow boots

They seem hardcore in a place like New York City where the snow melts within hours, but they’re worth it.

One of the first big snow storms after moving to the city left the buses canceled and the subway packed with people. Rather than feel trapped in the subway waiting for trains that were so full, I couldn’t get on them. I decide to walk. Over 40 blocks.

The snow was high, it was freezing, but I managed to make it if only because a gracious friend had gifted me warm snow boots for my birthday that year. A word of advice? Buy your snow boots at the tail end of winter when they’re on sale or from discount stores like Nordstroms Rack and TJ Maxx. 

Learn to layer — it’ll save your life

A lot of friends ask me how I can possibly live in the cold after growing up in SoCal. Truthfully, the weather by the beach prepares you for cold weather in a unique way. You learn to layer because you know the temperatures your body starts to get cold and hot. The nightly dips by the ocean can be very chilly, and I went nearly everywhere with a sweatshirt when I lived there.

In cold climates, it’s kind of the same thing. I wear a tank top, a sweater, and if it’s freezing, my jacket. In the fall, I can usually make it out with a tank or long-sleeved shirt under a sweater, with the addition of a scarf, and feel totally comfortable. 

Everybody’s body temperature reacts differently to weather changes. I tend to get hot easily, especially if I’m doing a lot of walking, so my layers are relatively light. Start to learn if you run hot or cold, and experiment with the layers that work for you. 

Most importantly, have fun

If you’ve never lived in a climate with a real winter before, there are a lot of firsts to be had. I actually find winter really fun (but I haven’t had to deal with it my entire life). The important thing is to be prepared and have fun with it.

Even days being stuck inside are an adventure if you’re prepared for the chaos.