Here in Elliston, Montana the heavier snows that came through managed to miss us, but the bitterly cold temperatures have set in. We are used to cold temps but it is unusual to go so long without getting above zero during the day. I should say at least for me. Also, this kind of cold weather is much more common in January, so we are getting a bit of a head start. It seems that pretty much the entire country is experiencing extremely cold temperatures right now except my friends in Florida that keep sending me pics of 80 degree weather.
If you are looking for something warm to eat on a chilly day, check out my Taco Soup Recipe…quick, easy and yummy!
Extreme Cold Weather Tips
You can see today’s forecast…a little chilly. Yesterday was quite a bit colder with a low of -27. Since the crazy cold temps are happening all over, I thought I would offer a few tips for bitterly cold weather and what NOT to do at -27 feels like -38 because of the windchill (or anything around this range.)
Cold today but beautiful
First I want to say, that these tips are just things that I have learned and experienced since moving to Montana. They are not meant to be life saving techniques are anything like that. Just things to help you out and make your life easier…and yes, please use common sense. Temperatures this cold are life threatening if you do not have the proper gear. At a windchill of -40 or below you can get frost bite on exposed skin in 10 minutes or less. That is no joke. You only try to go outside once without gloves when it is really cold. It takes just a minute or two before you are running back inside to warm up your hurting fingers and find your gloves. It is very painful. It only takes a few minutes and you start to not be able to feel your fingers very well, except bone-chilling pain, and you are trying to hurry and your fingers are not working all that well, so you are fumbling with your keys or whatever you are trying to do. When you finally get inside you turn the car on and turn the heat up and start warming your hands up. It takes a good 10 to 15 minutes before the pain goes away and you are saying to yourself, I am not doing that again.
So, here is my list:
Proper Cold Weather Clothes and Gear
When we first moved to Montana we did not have any real cold weather gear. It took us a while to accumulate what we needed and figure it out. You need to have a good jacket that is rated for -25 at least. I had a nice jacket that looked warm but it was not rated for that cold of temp and it was fine for temps in the teens, but as soon as we got into single digits or lower, the outer shell felt like it turned into a hard brittle thin plastic and was so cold. It couldn’t handle the colder temps. You need a really good pair of gloves, check the rating, your fingers are important. Boots are also very important. They need to be very warm and water proof. You will find you want a few different types for different things. Some that slip on easily for going in and out quickly to get wood or other chores around the house. A pair for hiking, a pair or two to run around town. Don’t forget the nice wool socks to keep your feet warm in your boots. When it gets really cold and especially when it is windy, you want to wear a shirt that has a high neckline. A turtleneck or semi-turtleneck is best…nothing chills your faster than wind going down your neck. If you are out playing in the snow, you will want a pair of snow pants for sure. This is the same as for skiing. For just getting out, you will find that just a wearing a normal pair of pants like jeans will freeze your butt off. As soon as you walk outside the jeans instantly freeze and your legs touch them as you walk and it is soooo cold. You can buy nice double layered jeans that have a flannel layer on the inside. Or you can buy a nice set of Under Armour or other long underwear and wear them under whatever pants you want. I am not a big fan of hats, but when it gets really cold you will want to cover your head and your ears.
Get a block heater for your car
Cars do okay up until -15 to -18, lower than that and they don’t want to start. It is just too cold. A block heater let’s you plug in your car and it keeps the engine block a little warm. This way when you start your car, it is not starting from complete cold. It is much better wear and tear wise for those extremely cold days because the oil is not allowed to get so cold that it so thick that at first the engine is running with no oil until it warms up. You can have a block heater installed by a local mechanic for around $150 depending on your car.
Anti-freeze Windshield Washer Fluid
Make sure you have the anti-freeze windshield washer fluid in your car. Here in Montana you can usually get a kind of mid-grade and then a better grade that goes to -20 or so. I recommend that for winter. I will never forget when we first moved here, of course in the dead of winter, and the first time I push the button to squirt the wiper fluid and they sprayed and it instantly froze all over my windshield…I was driving blind and couldn’t see a thing. It is funny now, but not so funny at the time. Of course anti-freeze in the radiator…that goes without saying.
Don’t Leave Electronic Devices In Your Car
We all get used to just leaving our iPod or game devices, etc. in the car overnight. Extreme cold is not good on electronic devices, it drains the battery and can shorten the life. Other electronic components like hard drives in a laptop should not be powered up below freezing it could cause damage and LCDs will not work below freezing. You need to let it warm up back up before operating, but I just prefer not to leave them in the car. My daughter left her digital camera in the car and the battery got a big bulge in it and had to be replaced.
Emergency/Survival Kit In Vehicle
Keep an emergency kit and/or some survival gear in your car in case your car breaks down. This can include a blanket, matches/lighter, candles, flashlight, HotHands hand warmers, bottles of water (will probably be frozen), candy bars or other snacks. Plus an emergency roadside kit is great too. When it is extremely cold out you never want to drive off without your outer wear (coat, hat, gloves, etc.) If your car breaks down you may not have the warm heater and you will need to stay warm until help arrives.
Don’t Stray Off the Beaten Path
Normally I would say the complete opposite…We are always off on backroads exploring, but during extreme cold weather it can be dangerous if something goes wrong. You don’t want to be following your GPS or map and decide to take a neat looking unfamiliar small side road through the mountains or backroads in the middle of the night at -27 feels like -40. If your car breaks down, you slide off the road and get stuck, run out of gas or whatever happens…if it is not a well traveled route, it could be a very long time for someone to find you. Cell service is spotty in Montana especially in the mountain and backroad areas. Even the larger highways can have very low traffic and a side road can have none. You don’t want to get stuck out there with no choice but to have to try to walk out in these extreme conditions.
It is always a great idea to have a generator just in case, but it is more important depending on where you live. If you are in the city it is not as important, but if you live in a cabin in the woods on a forest service road like we do or anywhere that is remote…it can be very very important. During big snow storms or extreme icy conditions or windy conditions trees fall and knock out the power. Having a generator for backup power is great for cooking, heat and even the internet.
Keep an eye on the forecast. When you see a cold snap coming, get prepared. Fill up the gas tanks in your vehicles…it is miserable to be out in windy sub-zero weather pumping gas. Stock up on any groceries and supplies you might need and get those errands done. Bring wood in from the wood pile to your house, so you don’t have to during the coldest times. Then you can just stay home, enjoy a warm fire watching a good movie with the family…with huge mug of hot chocolate of course.
This is not really a tip, but if you are not from a place that gets cold enough in the winter for the lakes to freeze, you need to check out ice fishing. It is something to see all the people pull their ATVs, trucks, and fishing shelters onto the ice. Some people have simple shelters and other have little mini houses all decked out complete with the Dish that they pull out onto the ice. Crazy stuff and lots of fun. You do have to watch yourself both for the weather, the conditions can get very cold and for the ice. Nearly every year, we hear about someone falling through with their ATV or truck or something. You don’t want to be that person.
- Pickup stuff around your yard before the first snow, or you won’t see it again until next year.
- When you go outside, don’t lick your lips, use chap stick instead.
- It is very dry in the winter in Montana. It is very important to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water…you and your pets.
- If you have small dogs like we do, get them warm little jackets. Even with the jackets we don’t take them out in the very cold weather for long.
- If you have larger outdoor dogs, you will need a good shelter and heated water bowl.
- I recommend a vehicle with 4 wheel drive or all wheel drive. If not, you will really want to get studded tires for the winter. When snows come and the streets turn to ice there are 2 wheel drive cars that are stuck on the little hills and sliding around like “car curling”. I just get the heck out of town as fast as possible to avoid getting caught in that mess.
- In the winter, you use a big utility snow sled to haul wood and other stuff around instead of a wheelbarrow. Slides real nice on the snow. You can pull them by hand and attach them to an ATV or snow mobile too.
- If you walk around in icy sidewalks or places you will want some sort of traction device for your shoes. There are many different types, but most just strap on or clip on to your shoes. A lifesaver when it is extremely icy out. I have several runner friends that screw screws into their running shoes for running in the winter…hardcore!
These are the extreme cold weather tips and information that we have picked up over the years since we have moved to Montana. Some of them are surprising, but most are just common sense. I hope you find them helpful and a little entertaining. If you do, please share this post with friends.
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