A major winter snowstorm is barreling toward several mid-Atlantic states and into New England, potentially impacting more than 45 million people. Forecasters predict that New York and Boston may see a foot of snowfall, and western Maryland and south-central Pennsylvania could get up to two feet of snow, according to the Weather Prediction Center.
The National Weather Service warns the nor’easter “would likely lead to very dangerous travel conditions and isolated power outages,” and says Boston may see wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour.
If the news of being slammed with a winter snowstorm strikes you as the inevitable “cherry on top” of a year that’s been anything but easy, you’re not alone.
“I think that’s the sentiment of everybody who lives where the storm is projected to hit,” says Lily Brown, PhD, the director of the Penn Psychiatry Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety in Philadelphia. “It’s like, of course, with everything else that’s going on, we’re going to get a huge nor’easter in 2020. Add it to the list,” she says.
“This is a time when everyone’s baseline level of stress is elevated,” says Dr. Brown. “In a normal circumstance, we could be resilient when faced with this moderate inconvenience, but it feels a lot harder now because of the social, emotional, and financial challenges of COVID-19,” she says. Many people are feeling “maxed out” in terms of being able to handle any additional stress, she says.
“On the bright side, I think there can be a lot of camaraderie around the challenges that something like a winter storm can bring. We can commiserate about the difficulties of the weather, but also support each other,” says Brown.
If you’re in the path of the storm and wondering how to cope both physically and mentally, keep reading for expert tips on how to safely prepare for extreme winter weather while COVID-19 cases around the country continue to climb.
Preparing for a Winter Storm During the Pandemic
For most people in the Northeast, this isn’t their “first rodeo” when it comes to winter storms, says Panagis Galiatsatos, MD, an assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “I think most people will be able to take the proper precautions around COVID-19 and prepare for the storm without missing a beat,” he says.
Try to be as prepared as possible before the storm arrives, says?Ready.gov. The government agency makes the following recommendations regarding winter storms:
- Have enough food and supplies for you and pets to cover a few days.
- Be ready with flashlights, extra batteries, a fully charged cellphone, and some food that doesn’t require cooking or refrigeration in case the power goes out.
- Check on neighbors while following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on staying safe. If possible, check in with people virtually by phone, email, text, or video chat rather than in person.
“If you do make a last-minute trip to the grocery store or pharmacy, make sure you wear your face covering and continue to social distance,” says Dr. Galiatsatos. “Focusing on one event shouldn’t come at the expense of another,” he adds.
What if Services You Rely on Are Suspended?
Galiatsatos suggests touching base with your local health department, either through the internet or a phone call. “See what they will be offering to help seniors and other people who are more homebound who may depend on delivery or caregiver services that may be put on hold temporarily due to the storm,” he says.
If you are able to use the internet, it may be easier to find out what services are available during the storm that way; there are reports of local health departments and contact tracers for COVID-19 being “overwhelmed” as the number of people with the virus has surged in the past few months.
Reach out to your neighbors during this time with a phone call or text, says Galiatsatos. “Offer help if you can, or if you’re in the position of needing help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Recognize that we’re all in this together to help one another.”
Doctor’s Appointments and Pharmacy Needs During a Winter Storm
If the snowstorm keeps you from an important medical appointment, your best bet is to call the office to see what your healthcare provider advises, says Galiatsatos. “They should be able to reschedule you or see you virtually, depending on what the issue is,” he says. If you have necessary treatments such as dialysis or cancer care, reach out to those facilities to make an alternative plan.
In the future, if you have time and you know a winter storm is coming, the American Kidney Fund recommends arranging to have dialysis early before the storm arrives. The organization also suggests eating a more restrictive diet to limit the buildup of potassium, phosphorus, urea, and fluid while you’re unable to have dialysis.
If you have a cancer treatment scheduled that weather will force you to miss, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) suggests planning ahead and asking your health provider and insurance company these questions:
- Do I need extra medicines?
- What should I do if I miss treatment?
- Where do I go for emergency care?
Staying Warm if the Power Goes Out
If heavy snow and gusts of wind leave you without power, the National Weather Service offers tips on staying warm.
- Close blinds or curtains to keep in some heat.
- Close off rooms so you don’t waste heat.
- Wear layers of clothing that are loose-fitting, lightweight, and warm.
- Eat and stay hydrated. Food provides energy to keep your body warm.
- Avoid drinking too much caffeine and alcohol.
- Stuff rags or towels under doors or in drafty windowsills to keep cold air out.
Managing Your Emotions if the Winter Storm Has You Shut In and Stressed Out
The approaching storm may not be the only curveball that we’ll face while trying to navigate COVID-19, says Brown. “During this time, it’s important to try to do all the things that can set you up for emotional success,” she says.
Think about what you’d want an airline pilot to do before flying you across the country, says Brown. “You’d want her to get the right sleep, eat well, exercise. Those are the same kinds of things you can do to prepare and handle emotional chaos,” she says.
In addition to taking care of yourself, Brown offers the following tips for navigating a challenging situation like a winter storm during COVID-19.
Take a moment to slow down.?When it feels as though one stressor is piling onto another, take a moment to slow down and check in with yourself, says Brown. “Often when we’re under periods of high stress we react, and our reactions can sometimes make our situation worse. By slowing down and assessing the situation and our stress level, we can make better decisions,” she says.
Try not to let your emotions go unchecked. “We can sometimes respond to stressors by having extreme thoughts that can be overblown and catastrophic, and then we often treat these thoughts as truth,” she says.
It’s okay to feel negative emotions or anxiety sometimes. Rather than trying to stuff those bad feelings down, try making room for them, says Brown. “Having a willingness to feel negative emotions can be empowering,” she says. “It’s not about giving up, but a certain amount of acceptance can actually lead to less suffering.”
Focus on what you can control. There are so many things about living in the time of COVID-19 that are beyond our control, it can be easy to get in a spiral of worry, says Brown. “For a situation like the storm, making a list of what you need to do and having a plan can help; but once you do that and execute it, try to move on.”