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How To Dig Out After a Blizzard


If you live in an area that regularly sees snow, clearing the driveways and sidewalks after a winter storm is a regular part of life. But when severe winter weather strikes, and the snowfall is measured in feet instead of inches, digging out becomes a lot more work.

Even if the weather caught you off guard, you’ll still have to brave the cold and dig your way out. Here are some tips to help you clear away all that ice and snow.

How to clear snow from your sidewalks

If you own your own home, you are responsible for shoveling sidewalks on your property. In fact, homeowners can be held liable if someone is injured after falling on an obstructed walkway, so it’s important to ensure your sidewalk is cleared.

Some places even have laws setting time frames by which snow must be cleared. Expectations vary by state, city and township, so review your local snow removal ordinances to avoid having to brave the cold and pay a fine or receive a citation on top of that.

For clearing sidewalks, your options will be limited to a snowblower or shovel. If you’re shoveling, be sure to follow these snow shoveling safety tips to avoid an injury. When you’re finished, add salt or ice melt to the sidewalk to prevent ice buildup.

How to remove snow from your driveway

After a blizzard, you’ll want to quickly regain access to the street in front of your house. Here are a few options to get the job done:

Snow plow

While they do sell snow plow attachments for lawn tractors and ATVs, plowing typically isn’t a DIY job for most homeowners. However, hiring a snow plow may not be an option after a big snowstorm. Not only will demand be incredibly high after a blizzard, but really deep snow can become nearly impossible to plow. If you want to hire a snow plow, do it in advance of the storm. Unless a state of emergency has been declared, the plow company will probably come several times during the storm to keep the snow levels more manageable. Read these tips for how to hire a snow removal contractor.

Snow blower

If you don’t have access to a plow, the easiest way to clear your driveway will be using a snow blower. When using a snow blower, start in the middle of your driveway and keep making U-turns to work outward. This allows you to blow snow to both sides of the drive. However, not all snow blowers are created equal. So before you get started, ensure your machine is up to the task.

  • Smaller single-stage snow blowers: These can work well for snow up to 9 inches deep. But when facing deeper snowfall, they likely won’t have the power to get the job done.
  • Larger, two- and three-stage gas snow blowers: These use multiple augers and impellers designed to throw larger amounts of snow for long distances. If you’re clearing snow that’s deeper than the top of your snow blower’s auger housing, you should also install drift cutters. These metal arms are designed to cut through deep snow, which prevents it from falling over the top of your housing and onto the machine.

Snow shovel

Using a shovel is obviously the most labor-intensive method of clearing your driveway. However, if you shovel frequently during the snowstorm (instead of waiting until it’s over), you can lessen the amount of snow you need to move each time. You may spend more time shoveling, but it will be easier on your back.

Experts also recommend using two types of shovels to clear your drive:

  • Push first: First, use a pusher or plow-type shovel to push the snow to the edges of your driveway.
  • Then, scoop: After you’ve finished pushing, use a more traditional snow shovel with sides to scoop what’s left out of the way.

How to dig your car out of the snow

If the snow is so deep it’s hard to see your car, you’ve got some work ahead of you. First, clear the space around your vehicle so you’ve got room to work. Then, start from the top and work your way down.

Avoid the temptation to use a snow shovel when clearing your car. You’ll risk leaving behind deep scratches in your vehicle’s paint or glass, which could require expensive repairs down the road. Instead, use a foam brush or non-abrasive snow broom to gently clear the snow away.

Once you clear enough snow to get into your vehicle, you can start it up and let the defrosters melt any ice on the glass. Just be sure the area around the tailpipe is clear, too.

For more tips, read our related post: 14 Hacks to Deal with Snow and Ice on Your Car.

What if my car gets stuck in the snow?

After you dig out your car, resist the urge to step on the gas and spin your wheels. That could put you in an even deeper rut by piling snow and ice around your tires. (See why we think snow ruts are winter’s most annoying driving hazard.)

If you find yourself stuck, the best thing to do is steadily rock your vehicle from front to back. This helps your car gently build momentum to get up and out of the divots. Try carefully switching from drive to reverse. This helps you inch out of the rut by dislodging snow around your tires and creating a clear path to drive out.

If that doesn’t work, try these tips:

  • Dig out. Use a shovel to clear the snow away from your wheels, as well as any high-piled snow that’s tightly lodged underneath your car.
  • Increase traction. Sprinkle some salt, sand or cat litter around your tires to get a better grip. (In a pinch, a sturdy floor mat can also do the trick.)
  • Find a friend. No surprise here: Having someone to give your car a push can be a lifesaver. (Just make sure to pay the favor forward the next time you see someone stuck in a snow drift.)

How to clear snow and ice from your roof and gutters

After a blizzard, the extra weight of all that snow and ice could add up to more than your home can bear. Here’s what you need to know about clearing snow and ice from your roof.

  • Know your limit. Because every home is built differently, there’s no magic number of how much snow your roof can support. However, experts say most roofs can withstand a weight of about 20 pounds per square foot. Fresh snow weighs in at about 5 pounds for every 10 inches of depth – meaning you’ll reach your roof’s limit after about 3 feet of snow. However, packed snow and ice weigh considerably more.
  • Use a rake. When clearing snow from your roof, it’s important to have the right tools. A snow rake with a long extendable handle can help you clear snow while standing safely on the ground. Just start near the bottom of your roof and work your way up.
  • Stay off the roof. Whatever you do, don’t climb on top of your roof. Not only is there a high risk of falling and getting injured, but using tools like a snow shovel can further damage your roofing materials and cause leaks.
  • Call an expert. If you can’t confidently clear your roof from the ground, it’s best to call in a professional for help. They’ll have all the right safety equipment to do the job right.
  • Remove ice dams. After the snow is gone, you’ll need to remove any built-up ice, called ice dams, from your gutters. You can do this by applying an ice melt product like calcium chloride. Avoid the temptation of a dramatic quick fix, like melting the ice with fire or chipping at the ice with an axe, pick, screwdriver or similar object. Doing so will only expose you to injury and your home to damage.

See more in our related post: What to Know About Ice Dams.

How to prevent other problems caused by heavy snow

Your roof isn’t the only part of your home that can be damaged by deep snowfall. Be sure to check these other potential problem areas.

  • Pool covers: If you have a swimming pool, all that extra weight could stretch or tear your expensive pool cover. And for above ground pools, deep snow adds extra pressure to the pool walls, which may even cause it to collapse.
  • Satellite dishes: Losing signal after the big storm? All that snow may be interfering with your reception. You can clear snow from your satellite dish by using a soft bristled snow brush or broom. Again, though – don’t risk injury by climbing out on your roof.
  • Solar panels: While it may seem counterintuitive, most solar panel manufacturers recommend you let the snow melt naturally off your system. Clearing the panels with a brush or broom could do more harm than good.
  • Water damage: As snow begins to melt, it will produce a lot of water that needs to drain from around your home. Make sure your gutters and drainage system is clear and free from debris. And double-check that your sump pump (if you have one) is working properly. Read more in our related article: How to Protect Your Home from Melting Snow.

Be ready in any weather

At Erie Insurance, we’re always here for you – no matter what mother nature throws your way. That’s why it pays to have a local ERIE agent on your side. Talk to your local agent in your neighborhood to learn more about auto insurance and home insurance from ERIE.