We all know Rochester, NY gets a bad rap for its winters; and although I’m a girl who hates feeling cold, I believe Western New York winters are dictionary-picture-perfect. However, if you’re new to this type of weather, the first experience can be harrowing, especially if you’re not prepared. These are my best tips on how to prepare for, survive, and hopefully even thrive in the winter in Rochester, NY.
PHYSICAL & MENTAL HEALTH: STAY HEALTHY
To thrive in winter you need to stay healthy. This means washing your hands often, getting enough rest (take advantage of fewer hours of sunlight), and not skipping your flu shot. Stock up on tissues, chap stick, hand sanitizer and lotion for dry skin, especially if you’re used to a tropical climate or if you have kids. Ask your doctor about taking a little extra Vitamin D during these grey months. And, if at all possible, plan a vacation to somewhere warm between January and April. Getting away and warming up in the sun for a few days makes a huge difference, especially toward the end of the season.
During the winter months, it’s extremely tempting to hibernate by the fireplace, indulge in hearty comfort foods, and binge on Netflix. While those are some of great pleasures of a snowy winter, it’s important to balance those lazy days with staying active.
Don’t neglect the gym membership. Working out actually helps you feel warmer for hours afterwards. Get some fresh air and sunshine. The greater Rochester area has a wide array of winter sports activities, including skiing (downhill and cross country), snowboarding, sledding, snow-shoeing, ice-skating, and snow tubing, to name a few. Even simply heading outside to build a snowman or play in the snow works. One tip: be careful playing in the piles of snow created by the snowplow, as they might not see you if they show up to plow. The Visit Rochester website has a huge list of 50 Cool Things To Do This Winter, that includes both inside and outside activities.
DRESS FOR SUCCESS
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” — Alfred Wainwright
One of the easiest ways to be prepared for winter is to dress warmly! This is the time to splurge on that Northface, Patagonia or Canada Goose parka you’ve been eyeing. The key is layering for breathability. Don’t forget the underlayers (even men wear long underwear under thin suit pants on the coldest days). Waterproof boots with grip are a must for the really snowy days and also for taking the kids sledding. Trust me, nothing ruins a snow day faster than cold, soggy Uggs. Lastly, hats, gloves and mittens are vital. If you’re just going to the office or running errands, the “touchscreen gloves” are fantastic and come in many styles to help you stay connected and warm since touch screens don’t respond well to frozen fingers.
TAKE IT EASY
When outside, walk more slowly and carefully on icy surfaces, steps and sidewalks. If you’re from a warm climate you might not be aware of “heart attack snow.” If you’re not fit, be careful to not overexert yourself from shoveling or snow-blowing, especially heavy and wet snow, as cold temperatures combined with hard labor can cause heart attacks.
DON’T FORGET YOUR FURRY FRIENDS
Don’t let your pets stay outside too long in frigid temperatures, and consider a warm sweater, coat and booties for the more delicate dogs. If you have pets, only use snow melt products that are safe for animals, as regular snow melt chemicals can irritate a dog’s paws.
ON THE ROAD
If you’re new to driving in snowy or icy conditions, the first winter can be very scary. Honestly, even seasoned Rochesterians seem to forget year to year. Some basic rules are to leave extra room between you and the next car, brake sooner and more slowly to avoid spinning. If you’ve ever come too close to a snow plow and gotten pelted with salt or run into a ditch, you’ll know to give snow plows a wide berth and do not attempt to pass them.
What to drive? To be safest in winter driving conditions, it is best to have an all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicle, sport-utility-vehicle (SUV) or crossover. Front-wheel-drive (FWD) also works, but rear-wheel-drive (RWD) will be challenging, because you will not get any traction or be able to stop or steer. And sadly, for the exotic sports car owners, most of these types of cars need to be tucked away for the winter.
Summer tires most definitely need to be replaced with modern winter tires (also called snow tires), which have different treads and rubber compounds that help your car accelerate, stop and corner better in snow, ice, rain and sub-freezing dry roads. All-weather tires will work better than summers, but not as well as winters.
Also remember to check your windshield wipers, wiper fluid (make sure it contains antifreeze), antifreeze/coolant, battery, tires and brakes. Definitely buy a snow brush with a scraper (for the windows) and an arm long enough to push the snow off your entire vehicle. Some people keep an Emergency Supply Kit in their trunk containing items such as: phone charger; flashlight; water bottles; snacks; boots, gloves, hats; blanket; first aid kit; compact shovel; jumper cables; tow rope; flares; and a bag of sand/kitty litter for traction.
Cars, trucks, SUV’s and crossovers today offer wonderful features that make winter driving safer and more comfortable. Headed side view mirrors and windshield wiper de-icers help keep your visibility clear. Heated seats are common, but the heated steering wheel is truly luxury! Last but definitely not least, the remote car starter. It comes standard from the factory or can be added aftermarket, as long as your car is an automatic. Our first winter in Rochester my husband had one installed in my SUV and it changed my life. We parked outside so it was a huge gift to climb into a toasty car for my drive to work every morning. (Please do not use this inside a garage!) Trust me, it’s an excellent holiday gift idea!
Around October it’s time to decide how you’re going to get your vehicle out of the driveway. If you’re planning on hiring a snow plowing service, ask your neighbors for referrals. Be sure to review the details of the contract regarding how many inches it takes for them to come out, what time of day they anticipate plowing your driveway, how long the contract season lasts, and what they will do about damage to your lawn or property. If you opt to clear your driveway yourself, consider a snow blower. In any case, invest in a few good shovels, a lightweight one for lifting and pushing light snow and a heavier metal one for chipping up ice. Grab a few for the kids too! Most people purchase a bag of ice melt salt for the walkways. Consumer Reports provides a quick overview on your options and how to use them.
WARM AT HOME
There are some preparations that can help your home stay warmest this winter. A digital thermostat is a great investment that allows you to pre-set times to lower the temperature when you’re not home and to raise it before you return. It can also be controlled by an app on your smartphone, which is really helpful when you’re out of town; you can check on the furnace or turn up the heat before you return from your trip.
Ensure your heating system is inspected, cleaned, and tuned up. Change the air filters and adjust the humidity settings if you have a furnace humidifier. During the winter months, dry air with low humidity can cause to dry skin, itchy eyes, and irritated sinuses and throat. Exposure to low humidity can also dry out and inflame your respiratory tract, increasing the risk of colds, flu, and other infections. Investing in portable humidifiers for the bedrooms can help relieve that discomfort and risk.
It is also important to have your fireplaces and chimneys inspected. When you stock up on firewood for your fireplace or stove, be sure to purchase “seasoned,” and split for ease of use. Burning fresh or wet firewood can cause creosote to build up in your chimney, which is the main cause of chimney fires. Store your firewood in a dry place outside of the house, with adequate ventilation.
It’s also time to seal up the house. Trust me, if you’ve ever been outside in a blizzard trying to install your storm doors and windows, you’ll know it’s best to get them up before you need them! Older houses may need weatherstripping or caulk to stop up drafts from windows and doors. Other lessons I learned include being sure to drain all the outside hoses, bring them inside, and turn off the pipes in the basement that lead to the outside faucets. It is vital to blow out your in-ground sprinkler systems and generally a good idea to clean all the leaves and debris out of your gutters to avoid ice damming. Lastly, if you have a power generator, be sure get it inspected and fueled up ahead of a storm.
BE PREPARED FOR STORMS
Finally, just like other acts of nature, it is important to be prepared for winter storms. Snow is beautiful, but it can also cause a number of dangerous conditions. Blizzards bring strong winds, heavy snow, sleet and/or freezing rain which make getting around town difficult and dangerous. Trees can to fall on power lines, roads and houses, causing damage and power outages. My best advice is to not get caught by surprise, pay attention to the weather updates in the media. If you’re told to leave work early or if schools close early, grab the kids and get home. At home, it is ideal to have a few days supply of fresh water, and to stock up a little more than usual on non-perishable foods, candles, batteries for flashlights and electronics. If a storm is coming be sure to charge all your devices. People differ on their level of storm preparedness, it’s a good idea to get educated ahead of time and decide what is right for you. For comprehensive lists go to the National Weather Service, or Red Cross Winter Storm Safety or to How To Stay Warm Without Electricity.
That does it! I know this list seems like a ton of things to remember and complete, but as years pass these winter preparations will become second nature. I hope I’ve saved you time and frustration in preparing for winter in Rochester, NY. I welcome comments and additional questions or tips I may have left out.
STAY WARM, SAFE AND HEALTHY!
Fun Facts for Rochester NY (Stats Source)
- Average Snowfall: 84 inches, however there is a lot of variation year to year
- Snowfall Timing: November to May, most of the fresh snow arriving in January
- Average Temperatures: High: 34° F and Low: 20° F (December – February)