How to Survive Extreme Cold Weather

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

By the time I post this, the polar vortex has already caused damage to the northern parts of the Midwest and East Coast. Businesses and even the Postal Service ground to a halt.  The dangerously cold weather even caused multiple deaths.  Utilities were warning that they were overburdened.  Even cities that are accustomed to cold weather had not seen the likes of this historic cold.  Fortunately, temperatures are expected to steadily warm up.

Can the polar vortex happen again?

According to the National Weather Service, the polar vortex is a “large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles.”  When it expands and sends cold air via the jet stream, the polar vortex reaches many areas in the United States, Europe, and Asia.  It is not a new thing, any time the polar vortex is mentioned, it means it’s about to get very cold.  It’s happened before and it’s likely to happen again.  If you felt less than prepared, now is the time to reassess and restock before another one comes along.

How to keep your space warm

You can always turn up the heat, but that may not be enough or what if utilities are down?  You need alternate ways to warm up your apartment:

Add layers to your walls

Back in the middle ages, the ancient castles were notoriously drafty.  To add warmth, they used large, heavy tapestries on the walls.  You can hang blankets, quilts or anything you can get your hands on to add insulation to the walls.

Cover your floors

Add blankets and rugs to your floors to add an extra layer of warmth.

Add insulation to your windows

I’ve personally used bubble wrap to cover my apartment windows, but trash bags or plastic film would work too.

One year we were out of bubble wrap, we used white paper and taped them all over the glass windows.  It looked fine from the outside and no one was the wiser.

Use a space heater

The Buddy Heater is a pretty reliable propane space heater.  Anytime you use a space heater, make sure you have air flow, you may need to crack open a window to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning.

Designate a warm room

Instead of being spread out, gather the family together in one room for utmost warmth.

Layer your bed

Pile on blankets and comforters or even old clothes.  The layers trap the heat, keeping you toasty in bed.

Make a warming rice pad

It is super easy to make one, and you may already have the materials on hand.  I posted instructions here:  DIY Hand and Foot Warmer

This video shows you how to make the hot pack.

Use a hot water bottle

Get one of those old fashioned hot water bottles, and fill with warm water.  Seal it tightly to avoid leakage.  You can quickly warm up your bed this way.

Dress in layers

You’ve heard this before:  wear thermal underwear, a couple of shirts, a sweater and a jacket.  Keep your head, hands and feet covered.  If you are going outdoors, cover everything to ensure your skin is not exposed.

Avoid cotton, and instead, use wool.  Wool socks with a liner will keep your feet warm.

If you are indoors, wear socks and slippers to keep your feet insulated.

Don’t forget your pets

Bring your animals indoors.  Stock up on pet potty pads in case it is too cold to take them out.

Drink warm liquids

Make soup, drink hot cocoa, coffee or tea.

Alcohol may feel warm going down but it does not make your warmer.  Instead, it lowers your core body temperature so the warmth you feel is actually short-lived.

Do your baking

If you have power, now is a good time to bake bread, cakes or cookies.  The oven will raise the temperature in the house and will make your space smell heavenly.

Learn the signs of frostbite

This recent polar vortex was said to cause frostbite within 10 minutes of being exposed.  Several frostbite victims ended up in hospitals.  According to the Centers for Disease Control, frostbite often affects the nose, ears, cheeks, chin, fingers, or toes.  Signs include:

  • Skin that feels unnaturally firm and waxy
  • White or grayish skin
  • Numbness

It can be easy to miss frostbite, as the person may not notice it until someone points it out or the area starts to feel numb.  At the first sign, protect the exposed area, get out of the cold and seek medical care as soon as possible.  Frostbite causes permanent damage and possibly amputation of limbs if it is severe enough.

Check for hypothermia

Hypothermia is another dangerous condition resulting from exposure to extreme cold.  The body loses heat faster than it can produce it.  The person afflicted becomes unable to think straight or move very well, as low body temperature affects the brain.  According to the CDC, symptoms include:


  • shivering, exhaustion
  • confusion, fumbling hands
  • memory loss, slurred speech drowsiness


  • bright red, cold skin
  • very low energy

If you suspect hypothermia, take the person’s temperature right away.  If it’s below 95° F the person needs medical attention.  If medical attention is unavailable, start first aid procedures including:

Get the person to a warm room. Warm up the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck. (from

Check on your neighbors

The elderly are vulnerable to extreme weather, especially if they live alone.

Avoid going out

This is where your preps come in.  If you don’t have to go outside, then stay indoors.  Use your stored food and restock when the weather is cooperating.

Stock up on emergency supplies

Make sure you have enough water and food to last for several days.  Two weeks worth of easily prepared food would be a good amount to have on hand if you are starting out.  Get your power outage supplies as well.  It’s also a good idea to have some entertainment for an emergency as phones and gadgets can fail in extremely cold weather.



© Apartment Prepper 2019






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  1. insulate your pipes to keep your water from freezing as well as keeping your cabinets open. Living in the midwest our windchill was -50

  2. Very good article, I have had to wear layers of clothes to stay warm during a power failure, good thing I had my kerosene heaters! For cooking when the power is out I built an earthen oven attached to a outdoor cook shed that has a raised hearth, all this uses wood as there is no electricity going to this building. Here is a link on the earth oven-

    1. TheSouthernNationalist, That’s great you have an earthen oven you can cook with when the power is out. Thanks for the comment and link!

  3. Just got to try this out being stuck at home by a nasty PNW storm. After the third day we put cardboard up in the windows cut to just stand up on the window sill. Made a huge difference, so we’re going to keep it in the closet, labelled for which windows.

    Before it storms, get tension rods that fit in your hallway, kitchen doorway, entryway, whereever you have two walls to stretch them between. Get old blankets or sheets at Goodwill and use them to block off one area to keep warm. It also keeps the cold blast out when someone has to go in or out.

    A 2 liter soda bottles works great as a hot water bottle. If it’s under the covers it will stay warm all night, and so will you. I’ve actually kicked one of these out of bed and it didn’t leak. I’m thinking of crocheting a cover for a few before the next storm 🙂

    As someone stuck indoors for a week since I can’t walk on ice, I can tell you life will be much better if you have a safe indoor means of heating water with the power out. Prep yourself two weeks of instant oatmeal, instant coffee, instant soup mix and some dried fruit, nuts, jerky and cookies.

    This and your good suggestions made what would have been a dangerous situation actually enjoyable in a “we-got-this” kind of way. Good luck everyone, and hope we all thaw out soon!

    1. Hi Aunt Mary, Thanks for sharing your recent experience. Your tips about the tension rods and 2 liter bottle warmers are awesome, adding them to my tip arsenal. Crocheting a cover would be great for when this happens again. Glad ya’ll sailed through no problem. I appreciate your comment and thanks for visiting! 🙂

    2. Hey! Nice to find someone else using the 2 litre bottle trick! I mix 1/4 room temp water with 3/4 boiling, and it stays warm all night! My family discovered this in Albania when we spent 18 months there.
      A tube sock makes a great cover, or if you have odd socks, you could cut the leg parts off and sew them together to make a bag for it.
      I re-use the same water so it doesn’t cut into my supply- just reboil 3/4 of it , mix it with the 1/4 saved out and snuggle down for a toasty toed night!

      1. Hi Diana, I like your idea of reusing the same water for the 2 litre bottle.I used it to water indoor plants, but they don’t always need watering. Will also save those odd socks as a cover. Thanks for the tips!

  4. For -45 to -50 wind-chill, prepare to bake for several hours. It may take that much baking to warm up your home. Plus, if you lose electricity,you will have cooked good to eat.

    You can also layer by wearing wool socks with slippers over them. If you really get cold, wash your boots well and wear the inside.

    Soup is definitely helpful. A huge thermos of tea would stay warm for a while, make the tea stronger, and make best use of your tea bags. When it’s super cold outside, you may want to wrap the thermos in a blanket.

    1. Hi survived the freeze, Baking is a great way to warm the house! You might as well have good stuff to eat. Wool socks with slippers or even the cleaned up boots indoors are helpful too. We’ve been using our thermos a lot this winter, but it does cool after a while. Will try wrapping it. Thanks for the great additions.

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