Winter Is Coming... Seven Tips to Prepare for the Worst

Imagine looking at the position of Venus and using that to predict how much snow you'll get for the next decade.

It sounds ludicrous, but that's exactly what the Farmer's Almanac does. In 1792, the publication first used the mathematical formula for weather predictions created by Robert B. Thomas. Thomas looked at variables like sun spots, tidal patterns, and yes, the position of the planets. He even gave tips on counting things like persimmon seeds and colors on a wooly caterpillar.

Today, his publication (now called the Old Farmer's Almanac) uses a bit more sophisticated data, including weather trends, events, and historical averages provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But all those predictions are just that... predictions. They aren't reliable as facts. And they're usually broad enough that they're considered "accurate" even if they're wildly off for certain areas.

Take last winter here in Maryland. The Almanac predicted the Mid-Atlantic region would get hit with a wet, snowy winter. But we experienced relatively little snowfall here. According to the Baltimore Sun, the official snowfall for the season was just 18.2 inches... a good 2.5 inches less than the historical average. More noticeable – we didn't have any significant snowstorms like the nor'easters that usually pound our state each winter.

As we head into fall, folks are already talking about the winter. We're wondering if we're going to really get the "polar coaster" the Almanac promises for the 2019 to 2020 season. It's calling for rises and falls in extreme temperatures, including several colder-than-average days for the East Coast.

We'll see about that.

Regardless of how much snow or ice we do or don't get, there's something everyone reading this needs to do... prepare for the worst.

As I always say, "hope for the best but prepare for the worst." That's very true when the seasons change. Winterizing your home now before the real cold creeps in will save you time and money.

Here are some of my best tips for getting your house in shape for the winter season...

1. Buy a snow shovel now. I know, it's hard to remember to do this while the weather is still nice, but once the first snow hits, stores will sell out quickly. You don't want to be left without one.

2. Clean your gutters. As we move into fall, gutters clog with leaves, sticks, acorns, and the like. Be sure to clear these out so when the snow and sleet start, the water can run off your roof effectively. If you're gutter is cleared, it's less likely to fall off and causing damage.

3. Check your heater. Change or clean the filter in your home's heating system. If you have radiators, make sure you bleed them to get out any excess air. If you have a chimney, consider sealing it if you don't plan to use it. If you do want to use it, get it properly cleaned. If you have oil heat, check all of the parts of the unit and make sure any lines that may be exposed to the outdoors are insulated. Consider filling the tank too, so you can avoid any delays when the weather gets cold and demand rises.

No matter what type of heating you have, be sure to give it a test run now. You don't want to face the surprise of needing it and finding it broken.

4. Plug up the drafts. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, drafts account for up to 30% of your home's energy use. A tube of sealant caulk costs about $5 and can seal up those drafts around windows and doors. Adding a rolled-up towel or a stuffed draft blocker at the base of your door also helps block out the cold air.

5. Lower your thermostat. For every 24 hours the temperature is set one degree lower, you can save 2% off your energy bill. My assistant Laura recently installed a programmable thermostat in her own home to offset some of the higher expense of heating her home. She has the thermostat set at 62 degrees while no one's at home.

6. Check your hot water heater. It's a good idea to flush your water heater to rid it of any sediment that has settled over time. Flushing the heater makes it more efficient, which will save you money as you use more hot water over the winter. If you don't have any immune system issues, you can consider lowering the temperature, too. The ideal water temperature for a hot water heater is 120 degrees Fahrenheit... But many manufacturers set theirs to 140 degrees. Lowering your heater by 20 degrees can cut 6%-10% off your bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

7. Prepare for a disaster. Regardless of what the Almanac says, keep a few essentials ready just in case. That means water, food, and a source of power. A good rule for water is about a gallon a day per person.

For food, canned goods last a good long while. Just be sure to have a non-electric can opener handy. And I love to stock up on peanut butter. It lasts a long time and is a good source of protein and fat.

As far as power goes, consider a generator, but remember never to run it inside. If you get trapped by several feet of snow, you might not be able to use it. Consider battery-operated options where possible. And if you need power for a medical device (like an oxygen unit), contact your power company to be placed on the high-priority list. If there's a major outage, they'll make sure you're one of the first homes to get your power back.

Using these seven tips will keep your home comfortable no matter the weather this winter... And preparing now before demand rises will save your wallet. Are you making plans for winter yet? Tell us about them right here: [email protected].

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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
September 5, 2019