Braving the Blizzard: How to Prepare for a Severe Snowstorm

As fall approaches, this is the perfect time to winterize your home and car, especially considering that polar vortex that hit Chicago in 2016. Trust us — the last thing anyone needs during the coldest time of year is a burst pipe or a car that won’t start. To make sure you’re ready for Jack Frost, here are some useful tips to help you weather a snowstorm of any size.

Before the snowstorm hits

Winterize your home and car

Ideally, you winterized your home and vehicle in the fall, but if you didn’t, now’s a good time to:

  • Remove dead leaves and debris from your rain gutters to keep melted snow from building up, refreezing, and creating ice dams.
  • Insulate the water pipes in unheated areas of your home to help prevent them from freezing and bursting.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors near your furnace and water heater (or change the batteries if they’re already installed).
  • Check your car’s coolant system to ensure it has the proper mix of anti-freeze and water.
    Change your oil (make sure it’s the right weight for your engine to keep it from congealing in cold temperatures).
  • Fill up your gas tank — a full tank will help prevent fuel line freeze-up and will also help keep you from getting stranded if you’re driving when the storm hits.

Stock up on supplies

In a severe storm, it may be several days before you can safely leave your home. Be sure you have on hand:

  • At least a 3-day supply of food and water (one gallon per person per day)
  • At least a 7-day supply of prescription medications
  • Hand-cranked, battery-powered, or solar-powered cell-phone charger, flashlight, and radio
  • Toiletries and hygienic supplies such as toilet paper, diapers, and hand sanitizer
  • Enough warm clothing and blankets for everyone in the house
  • Eco-friendly products to help melt ice and provide traction on slippery walkways
  • Dry wood for your fireplace / wood-burning stove and extra fuel for portable heaters (ask your local fire department if kerosene heaters are allowed in your area)

You should also ensure your car emergency kit is properly stocked for winter.

Know how to stay informed

  • Make a storm communication plan with your family so everyone knows what to do and how to contact each other in case of emergency.
  • Find out how your local community broadcasts storm warnings (radio? sirens?) and listen for them.
  • Tune in to the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, which provides local weather information 24/7.
  • Bring pets inside when severe weather is expected.
  • Know the different terms used to describe weather conditions and how to take action:
    • Winter weather advisory: Weather conditions are expected that may cause major inconvenience and could be hazardous.
    • Winter storm watch: A severe storm may affect your area within the next twelve to thirty-six hours, but the timing and location are not yet known. Listen to the NOAA radio station or your local news station for updates.
    • Winter storm warning: Heavy snow, ice, or sleet will be occurring in your area soon. Stay indoors and keep driving to a minimum.
    • Blizzard warning: A sustained period of deep snowdrifts, high winds, low visibility, and dangerous wind chill is forecast or imminent. Take shelter immediately.

During the snowstorm

The best thing to do is stay inside and keep warm and dry. Some other safety pointers:

  • Conserve fuel by closing off unused rooms of your house.
  • Use kerosene heaters only in well-ventilated areas. Keep all portable heaters away from furniture and drapes.
  • Never use a propane stove or charcoal grill indoors.
  • Turn on water faucets slightly to keep a trickle of water running through the pipes. If your pipes do freeze, open the tap fully, remove insulation from the frozen section, and use a hairdryer or hot water to thaw the pipes.
  • Use caution (and the proper tools) when shoveling snow to prevent overexertion.
  • If the power goes out, the temperature in your home may drop quickly — dress warmly in layers. Avoid using candles (and never leave them unattended).
  • Watch for the warning signs of hypothermia.

If you must go outside:
Wear several layers of lightweight, loose-fitting clothing, covered by a water-repellent outer layer, and use mittens instead of gloves. Be sure to wear a hat to prevent body heat loss and cover your mouth with a scarf.

After the snowstorm has passed

If you were away from home when the storm hit and had to take shelter elsewhere, check with the local transportation department to determine your safest route home. Use caution when driving and be careful on snowy walkways.

  • If your home is without power or heat for more than several hours, or you are running out of the necessary supplies to stay warm, consider going to a designated public shelter. To find the closest location, text SHELTER + your ZIP Code to 43362 (4FEMA).
  • Remove snow from your roof with a long-handled rake to prevent a buildup of snow and ice.

And, of course, one of the best ways to prepare for severe weather of any kind is to make sure your homeowners and auto insurance coverage is the best it can be.


5 African-American Inventors to Celebrate During Black History Month

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of smart, innovative technology here at Esurance. And, in honor of Black History Month, we’re celebrating 5 African-American innovators who’ve helped shape the technology we rely on every day.

5 African-American inventors who modernized the world

1. Granville T. Woods

Long before automobiles came on the scene, Granville T. Woods was making train travel safer and more efficient. With his invention of the induction telegraph system, train conductors were able to communicate with each other, reducing collisions and allowing them to provide up-to-date locations to dispatchers.

Woods registered almost 60 patents during his life, making a meaningful contribution to the transformation of telecommunications and travel.

2. Garrett Augustus Morgan Sr.

Without Garrett Augustus Morgan Sr., traffic intersections today would probably be much more treacherous. Before him, signals consisted only of “Stop” and “Go,” giving no warning or break between traffic flows. Morgan introduced a signal that included an intermediary stage, which stopped traffic in all directions and was the precursor to our current red-yellow-green light system.

3. Elijah McCoy

Despite being a certified mechanical engineer, Elijah McCoy was unable to find engineering work in 1850s Detroit, so he joined the Michigan Central Railroad.

While performing his duties as an oilman, McCoy realized that trains frequently had to stop in order for him to lubricate the engine systems. In search of a more efficient method, McCoy designed an automatic lubrication cup that allowed engines to be oiled more evenly and effectively, which kept them running for longer periods of time.

Some even say McCoy’s innovation is at the root of the saying, “The real McCoy,” since so many lesser-quality impersonators popped up after his invention.

4. Sarah Goode

Sarah Goode was one of the first female African-Americans to receive a patent in the U.S. Living in a small Chicago apartment at the time, Goode understood the need for multi-purpose furniture in small spaces. Her invention of the “cabinet bed” (known today as a “hideaway bed”) maximized space by functioning as a desk or table before folding out into a bed, making her the original tiny-home hero. Efficiency at its finest.

5. Frederick Jones

Frederick Jones was a self-educated mechanical whiz who got his start working in film and radio technology. His most notable invention came later in life, however, when he transformed the shipping industry by designing portable refrigeration units that could transport produce and perishables nationwide. So whenever you enjoy a Florida orange or some Wisconsin cheese outside your home state, you’ve got Frederick Jones to thank.

These African-American pioneers helped shape our modern world. Could you imagine where we’d be without them?

It’s National Random Acts of Kindness Day: 7 Ways You (and Your Ride) Can Help Pay It Forward

Being kind and doing nice things for other people feels good for a reason — it’s actually beneficial to your health, according to a study published in Clinical Psychological Science.

Researchers found that when study participants engaged in acts of kindness, they were less likely to report negative emotions in response to events that stressed them out. And when participants didn’t perform kind acts, they actually reported feeling fewer positive emotions.

Paired with the fact that it’s simply nice to be, well, nice, that’s a good enough reason to celebrate National Random Acts of Kindness Day today, February 17.

Whether you offer a friend a ride to work so they don’t have to take the bus or you pay for the person behind you in the drive-through, there are plenty of ways you and your car can pay it forward on National Random Acts of Kindness Day. Here are 7 more ideas to get you started.

1. Fill someone’s parking meter

Isn’t it the worst when you rush to refill your parking meter only to find you’re being ticketed or your car’s being towed (or both)? It doesn’t take much to help someone else avoid that very situation and commit an act of kindness in the process. If you notice someone’s meter is about to expire or already has, throw a quarter in there for them (as long as it’s not against the rules in your area). It’s only pocket change and could really help brighten that person’s day.

2. Pay for a stranger’s gas

We’re not saying you should walk up to someone standing at a pump and ask to swipe your debit card to pay for their gas … that could get pretty awkward. But what you can do is offer to pre-pay a particular pump (even just 5 bucks!) so that the next person who walks in asking to fill up their car can get some gas on your dime. It’s a guaranteed smile-inducer, no matter how much money you choose to offer up.

3. Help someone jump-start their car

You’ve likely been stranded in a parking lot with a dead car battery at some point, hoping a Good Samaritan would come along and help you jump-start your ride. Here’s your chance to be that Good Samaritan — by offering someone (who isn’t acting suspiciously) a quick jump to get their car running again. Besides, it’s always a good idea to keep jumper cables in your car for your own sake too.

4. Offer to carpool for your office’s lunch meeting

Not only does offering to carpool your coworkers to a work gathering relieve them of an extra commute that day, but it’s also kind to the environment. You were likely planning on driving to the function anyway, so why not invite your cubemates to join in? Added bonus: it’s a great opportunity to catch up on conversation or get to know someone better.

5. Volunteer to be the designated driver

If you and loved ones are really celebrating National Random Acts of Kindness Day (or any other occasion for that matter), offer up your sober driving services for the evening. It may mean you miss out on a couple of drinks, but the payoff is always worth it. Plus, kindness is contagious — and next time, another friend will likely offer to drive.

6. Wash someone’s car

Everyone loves the feeling of a freshly-washed ride, but not everyone loves the elbow grease it requires to make their car squeaky-clean. Want to put an instant smile on a friend or family member’s face? Offer to wash their car for them. Or better yet, surprise them with a newly shiny ride. It’ll likely leave you smiling too.

7. Shovel a neighbor’s snowy driveway

Plenty of places are still buried in snow and it can be a major hassle to clear your driveway every morning just to leave your house. But you can earn some major good-neighbor points by shoveling your neighbor’s driveway (or at least their walkway) for them.

No matter how you choose to celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day, remember you can practice being kind year-round too. It doesn’t take much effort on your part, but it can make a big difference. From Esurance’s Week of Service to our Recycled Rides program and beyond, you can see how we’re doing good in our ‘hood too.

Related links

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Five Tips for Bike to Work Day

It’s National Preparedness Month – Are You Ready?

7 Memorable Things to Do on a Snow Day

As a kid in Minnesota, few things could top waking up to a snow day. No school, no homework, no limit to the possibilities. (Heck, no long underwear if you were really feeling wild.)

Yet, for all their promise, snow days were too often squandered on halfhearted snowmen, mindless TV, and a hot-cocoa coma by noon. Sound familiar?

It’s time to end the cycle. Whether your kids need a more memorable day off or you want ideas for yourself when El Niño’s nasty weather leaves you bored stiff, here are 7 worthwhile things to do on a snow day.

1. Get cooking

You’ve got all day, so why not put your kitchen to good use? Let your kids help mix up a giant batch of warm cookies or a delicious pot of homemade soup. They might just pick up some valuable skills for later. Or, at the very least, they’ll have something warm to hit the spot on a chilly day.

2. Put on a show

Instead of having your kids zombie-stare at the TV for the next 10 hours, help them put on some entertainment of their own. Together, you can write and act out a short movie, create a puppet show, have a karaoke concert or dance party — whatever you’re into. Just get that imagination working.

3. Visit a park

If you’re going to brave the elements, do it right. Get out of the yard and head to your nearest park to truly make the most of your winter wonderland. Beside seasonal favorites like sledding or building a fort, try some activities your kids might not have done before — think snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snow golfing, snow tic-tac-toe, building a bird feeder, or creating a maze out of your tracks.

Snow day activities just for you

Snow days are few and far between for adults, but it’s nice to be prepared with something memorable to do when the weather does keep you home.

1. Do a marathon (no, not that kind)

I’ll admit, sometimes a snow day is all about vegging out in front of the tube. But you can still make that worthwhile. As fondly as I think of old game shows, soap operas, and other treasures of daytime TV, they’re an instantly forgettable way to fill the hours.

An unexpected day off deserves better. So why not tackle an epic movie marathon you’d never have time for otherwise? The Lord of the Rings and The Godfather trilogies are classics for any film buff. You could also pick your favorite era of Star Wars films or knock off as many Rocky Roman numerals as you remember how to count. Point is, if you’re going to sit around all day, then by golly sit around you like mean it!   

2. Complete (or at least start) the DIY project of your dreams

You’ve talked about building that coffee table for years. Well, now’s the chance to make it a reality. Same for that stylish wine rack or handsome bookcase — they’re both just a healthy dollop of elbow grease away. And DIY projects don’t have to be exotic to be memorable. You could also use this free time to finally fix that leaky sink or upgrade the lighting around the house. You might be shocked by how satisfied it’d make you feel.

3. Indulge your creative side

Starting that epic novel is probably the first idea that comes to mind. But, in case the vast white emptiness outside your window and the clicketyclack of your keyboard take things down a Shining-esque road, there are other creative options. You could start learning the basics of graphic design, begin picking up a new language, check out a photography tutorial, or take your first piano lesson. Assuming your internet is up and running, there’s almost no skill out of reach. (And if your connection is lost, well, there’s always cabin fever, which is its own kind of fun).

4. Learn how to stormproof your home

It may not scream “good times,” but reading up on home security is definitely important. Check out our list of storm prep do’s and don’ts, as well as other El Niño survival tips, and do a scan of your home to see where improvements could be made. You’ll remember this snow day as the last one you were ever unprepared for.

Get a snow day quote from Esurance

Here’s one more for your list of things to do on a snow day: take care of your insurance.

Having the right auto or homeowners policy can make all the difference when recovering from a major storm. And while insurance shopping may not be a blast, exactly, at least it can be fast and easy with Esurance’s modern tools and intuitive site. Get a free quote and see how much you could save.

4 Insurance Terms of Love [Quiz]

It’s officially the month of love, full of chocolate, flowers, and marriage proposals. Which begs the question: Are you preparing to embark on a “life event,” acquire a new “family member,” or perhaps even “obtain an insurance rider” for new “scheduled items?”

Or, in regular-life terms, are you about to get married? If so, there are a few insurance terms you’ll soon become acquainted with. And to test your knowledge of them, we’ve created a lighthearted quiz. See just how much you know when it comes to love, marriage, and, of course, insurance.

How does marriage affect your insurance?