Updated: Jan 30
Tomorrow, on 12/23/22, temperatures are supposed to plunge around 40 degrees in a single day to the lowest temperatures we've seen in many cities/counties of SE VA in years. Thankfully for homes in the area, no snow is projected in any of the cities/counties I checked, but it's a good idea to be on the lookout for any changes in that forecast.
In my time as a Realtor, I once performed a showing in Williamsburg where I was representing the buyer & I could hear something unusual as I approached a home with a buyer after dark. I feared the worst, and my fears were realized when I looked inside. The vacant property in one of the nicer homes in Williamsburg had one or more pipes burst. I contacted the listing agent, who quickly came to the home. Thankfully the owners had insurance, and that was a great thing, as I wouldn't be surprised if the bill came to over one hundred if not hundreds of thousands of dollars due to the size and quality of the home (which was priced around $500k I believe).
Beyond my time as a Realtor, I remember one occasion where my pipes froze when I hadn't prepared specifically to prevent frozen pipes. If I hadn't done anything after the fact to thaw them out, I wonder if my pipes might have burst.
In this article, I wanted to go over what's coming tomorrow, the ways you can still prepare for it for you, your vehicle, & your home, and the ways to do additional preparations in the future for the next time temperatures outside drop to extremes.
Current temperatures are around 58 degrees Fahrenheit in Virginia Beach now account to Weather.com, and the forecast doesn't seem so bad up to 11 PM, not dropping more than 1 degrees per hour in the forecast. Between 11 PM and 1 AM, it's supposed to drop 7 degrees. It again doesn't seem so bad for awhile until 10 AM. Then the temperatures again are projected to drop much faster. From a high of 51 projected from 9 AM-10AM, the temperatures are projected to drop down to 13 degrees by 5 AM the next morning, Christmas Eve.
Norfolk is similar, projected by Weather.com to get down to 15 degrees Fahrenheit at 5 AM on December 24.
If we look at the lowest temperature for each year as recorded at Norfolk International Airport, we see:
27 degrees Fahrenheit in 2021 (on Jan 29),
25 degrees Fahrenheit in 2020 (on Feb 22),
20 degrees Fahrenheit in 2019 (on Jan 22),
10 degrees Fahrenheit in 2018 (on Jan 08),
In Richmond, things are projected to take a turn for the worse at 8 AM, dropping down to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by 6 AM on Dec 24, Christmas Eve.
As of the afternoon on 12/23, Winter Storm Elliott has strengthened and is currently considered a "Bomb Cyclone." Flooding is possible in parts of the country including the Eastern Shore of VA.
Last Minute Preparations for Extreme Cold with or Without Snow Projected
With no snow projected, a power outage is much less likely, so a lot of preparations that would involve snow aren't necessary in its absence. It's not a bad idea to prepare for snow just in case, but with a low statistical likelihood, you're likely better off focusing your efforts on those issues that concern extreme cold.
Take care of your spigots first from freezing if you haven't already gotten them ready for the winter. If you already have frost-proof hose bibbs, fewer steps are warranted here. Here are more details on how to take care of that. There's more to it than just removing the hose and installing a spigot insulator/cover to do it properly.
Keep the interior temperature in finished spaces at 65+ degrees, even if you want to save money because the damage that can be caused by burst pipes can cost a lot more than some energy savings when your furnace is working the hardest it has for a while.
If you have a furnace that relies on something other than electricity or direct feed to the house (i.e. oil or propane), or any space heaters that rely on fuel such as propane (& it is important to have a backup source of heat), be sure that you have plenty of it. If using a fueled source for a space heater (i.e. kerosene), be sure there's adequate ventilation (especially depending on the type, as some fueled heaters require much more ventilation than others) & be sure they're not close to combustible items like drapes, furniture, or bedding.
With any plumbing pipes that are located in unfinished areas of the house, or close to an exterior wall, make provisions for them, & don't think that all you need to do is to drip them, with debate on the subject of even if dripping is positive, in part due to people dripping too much. If they are located within cabinets, open the cabinets. It's also a good idea to have these pipes located in vulnerable areas drip, as well as the faucet furthest away (WFXRTV) from where water enters your home, as long as you are able to monitor and make sure that there isn't a build-up of ice. Even if you don't go all the way in protecting your spigots, be sure to know where the interior water cut-off is for your home in the event of a worst-case scenario. As mentioned by Brian Adams, consider insulating pipes in cold and drafty areas and using heating tape.
If you find that your pipes freeze, take measures to thaw them immediately (i.e. space heaters/hair dryers), & while it's important not to thaw them too slowly, don't thaw them too quickly (i.e. blow torch WFXRTV). "To prevent water from suddenly gushing from the pipe when thawing it yourself, turn off the water or test the shut-off valve (WFXRTV)." If they burst, shut the water off to the house immediately. Here are more recommendations on thawing frozen pipes.
If you haven't already this year, get your warm-weather gear and blankets out just in case there's an issue with your heat & just in case you need to do anything outside during the cold snap.
If you don't already have a regular regimen of replacing your return filters (& in some cases the filter directly on the unit) or having a professional come once or twice a year to service your HVAC, check your return filters. If they haven't been swapped out in a long time, that's one of the first things you should do, especially if you ever have problems with your HVAC. Clogged filters will exacerbate those problems and you typically don't need a professional to swap them out.
Be sure to have at least a 3-day supply of water in the event that your pipes freeze, & longer if temperatures are projected to remain freezing for longer.
Get wood & other basics for your fireplace if you have a wood fireplace and are low or out of wood. If it's been a long time since you've lit a fire, don't forget about the damper. Whether using a space heater or a wood fireplace, it's a good idea to have a fire extinguisher close by. Be sure to have smoke detectors 10+ to 20+ (depending on who you ask) ft away from the fireplace & other similar heat sources that produce smoke/fumes.
Check batteries in smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors.
Close your shutters if you have functional shutters as long as you have power. Especially if your windows don't insulate well, consider adding temporary additional insulation, such as plastic from the interior.
Have an internal thermometer within the house that's easy to see or check the thermostat regularly if you feel as though you may not notice a drastic decrease in temperature in the home, especially if you're 65 years old or more.
If you have a swimming pool, run the pool pump when temperatures go below freezing. Be mindful as well of water features that have a pump, especially if live fish or other aquatic animals are present.
See my tips in the event of a power outage.
Be sure to start your car well in advance of when you need it, both in case it doesn't start and to warm it up. The colder it is, the more time your vehicle will need to warm up. Once you get on the road, be easy on the accelerator. The one time I had an engine seize on me, which totaled my car at the time, was when I wasn't careful enough with extreme cold temperatures. If your oil light turns on, it's a good idea to pull over relatively immediately if possible.
If you don't have a battery-operated jump starter for your vehicle (or snow-removing vehicle like a tractor or lawnmower), consider removing your battery & taking it inside. If you have a diesel engine, consider acquiring & using a glow plug if you don't already use one.
Especially if in a rural area with no gas stations nearby that are open 24/7, be sure to have plenty of gas in your vehicle just in case you need it.
Even if there's no snow, in extreme cold, there can still be spots that are icy, especially if extreme cold was preceded by rain. Be wary of that when driving, especially after dark down hill on windy roads.
Be sure to have a kit in your vehicle in the event that you do get stuck somewhere, including a blanket/sleeping back rated for cold weather, some water or a hot drink, some food, a first aid kit, etc.
How to Prepare for a Power Outage in Extreme Cold
Even if you don't have snow, high winds during extreme cold can cause a power outage. On 12/23/22, we don't have any projected snow in Smithfield, but my lights still flickered around 1 PM with high winds raging & power going out at my in-laws home in Suffolk.
Keep charged batteries for any lanterns, flashlights, fuel or battery-operated heat, phones, laptops, etc.
Have plenty of non-perishable food on hand.
If you lose power for an extended period of time in the extreme cold, consider moving frozen foods to the exterior as long as they are secured in a location that won't be under threat from wildlife (especially bears & raccoons). For items in the fridge, consider freezing water or chemical ice packs from the house in freezer bags or tupperware outside and then placing it in the fridge after the power goes out.
Consider alternative sources of heat that might already be in your home as ones available for purchase in the event of a power outage. For instance, do you have a gas or wood-burning fireplace? Do you have a gas stove where you could boil a large pot of water (though keep an eye on it from running out of water)? Do you have a gas water heater and large pots or other containers like coolers? Are portable heaters operated by propane or that run on batteries available nearby? If using something that runs on fuel, be mindful of ventilation requirements. Do you have a lighter for starting a fire or for candles? You're not just looking to keep yourself warm; keep in mind your home's plumbing that can freeze. See more on that under "Last Minute Preparations...".
What warm clothes, blankets, sleeping bags, etc. do you have on hand in the event of a power outage so that you will remain safe in your home? If you don't have much, consider some shopping if things aren't sold out yet. I particularly like low temperature rated: A. mummy bags, B. boots, C. gloves/mittens, D. hats/scarves E. coats, F. pants, G. socks. Layers are also very helpful; if you find yourself sweating because you're wearing too much, it's important to have options to take off because sweating could cause you to be in worse shape then before.
Worst case scenario, if you've exhausted your resources and still feel unsafe, & even if you no longer have a source to communicate to the outside world even though you don't see a major threat, consider abandoning ship, packing up, and going to a hotel or a friend's place. Your pipes freezing aren't as important as your life. Before you leave, it's a good idea to take steps to winterize your pipes if you haven't already.
Pipes are more likely to freeze without power even if you have space heaters. Pipes freezing are a hazard both to your home and to your ability to have water for yourself. It's a good idea to have plenty of water in the event of a long-term freeze, such as by filling a clean bathtub as long as your water from the tap is safe for drinking.
A manual can opener can also be helpful here if you don't have one.
A battery-powered or hand crank radio & a NOAA weather radio with tone alert is also beneficial.
A tool kit including a wrench or pliers to turn off utilities is helpful.
Having a whole-house battery, a whole-house generator, or something much smaller like a small generator or smaller or medium-sized rechargeable battery charger can be a big help. If the power's already out in your area during extreme cold, the ones available nearby may sell out quickly if they aren't already sold out.
Long-Term Preparations for Extreme Cold
Have a maintenance contract for your HVAC. & replace the filters on a regular schedule beyond what the HVAC maintenance contract takes care of.
If you have a fireplace & use it, or if your fireplace has never been cleaned, getting a chimney sweep to clean it is an excellent idea. Even if it was cleaned 5 years ago and never used since then, sometimes insects and animals can nest within the chimney.
Insulate your home, including ensuring that the floors (if not on a slab), attic, walls, around the windows, around the doors, etc. are well insulated.
Install an emergency release valve in your plumbing system.
If you have a sprinkler system, it's best for it to be winterized, whether by you or by a pro, every year in places like SE VA where below freezing temperatures tend to occur every year.
Have a battery-charged car starter (I keep one of these around), with plenty of charge each time extreme temperatures are a possibility.
Don't let the tread on your tires get too low and be sure to keep a spare tire around. You wouldn't want to get a flat tire and be stranded in extreme conditions.
How to Prepare for Snow
Clean the gutters if they're not clean or hire someone to do it for you if you have gutters.
Inspect the roof and attic.
Prepare for a power outage, including my tips in the section on the subject.
Be sure to have a snow shovel, snow blower, or other similar tools on hand. If conditions are conducive to ice especially, consider how you'll keep yourself and others from falling, including clearing pathways. It's a best practice to always be able to leave your home if needed in the event of a medical emergency or in the event that you lose power/heat.
While it can be tempting to put salt or other chemical de-icing on your driveway, be mindful of the negative impact of those on it; I typically don't recommend them unless you treat your driveway and sidewalk as directed (i.e. Saltguard). Sand, while less effective, can have a positive impact.
Clear the yard, sidewalk approaching your driveway (especially if you use it) & driveway of dead branches and debris. Check to see the health of your trees, and if one is looking like it's close to being on its last leg, if it could fall on top of your house or do other significant damage, consider getting it removed. The same goes for limbs.
If you have a cover for your windshield and side view mirrors on your vehicle, be sure to put it on before the snow starts.
It's a pricey addition that may not be justifiable in SE VA if you wouldn't use it frequently, but consider all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive if shopping for a replacement vehicle sometime soon.
Keep items on hand to clear your windshield/mirrors etc. as well as gloves to use while you're doing the job.
Have a means of getting out of a snow if your vehicle gets stuck, such as the Go Treads that I keep around for snow and mud.