Digging Out After a Snowstorm!

by Erin Hynes

It snowed. A lot. Now it’s time to clear your driveway so you can get on with your life and to clear the walkways so the mail carrier, dog owners and hardcore running enthusiasts can get on with theirs. Here are common-sense reminders about how to dig out safely as well as a few pointers that might be new to you.

Before You Head Out the Door

Digging out after a snow storm

As with many tasks, proper preparation is critical.

Dress for the temperature. Sub-freezing temperatures present the risk of frostbite and hypothermia — the risk increases with high winds and temperatures below 20°F. Knowing how much you need to bundle up for conditions comes with experience, but here are some pointers:

  • Dressing in layers keeps you warmer and gives you the option of shedding some clothing if get too warm as you work.
  • Ideally, the layer closest to your skin should be a fabric that wicks moisture away, and the outer layer should block the wind.
  • Your ears, toes and fingers are most vulnerable to frostbite, so cover them well.

Don’t drink before you dig. Alcohol increases blood flow to the skin, so your body loses heat faster. It can also make sledding off your roof seem like a much better idea than it actually is. Save the mulled wine for afterwards.

Use the buddy system. It’s terrific if someone helps you dig out. But if you’re working alone, instruct someone staying inside to check on you every 15 minutes or so to make sure you’ve not collapsed from exhaustion, been trapped under a fallen branch or wandered off to talk to a neighbor about the weather.

Using Your Tool of Choice

Moving snow is hard work, whether you use a snow blower or shovel. Don’t overdo it.

Snow blower. If you own a snow blower, you appreciate its snow-moving power when 15 inches of snow falls overnight. Go slow enough to give the snow blower’s auger time to pick up the snow. Be considerate of your neighbors — adjust the chute so you don’t blow the snow onto their driveway or walkways. For more tips, seeGetting the Most from Your Dual-Stage Snow Blower.

Shoveling. Shoveling deep snow can strain your back, especially if your core muscles are weak. Follow these pointers to prevent back pain during and after shoveling:

  • Stretch before you start and then work slowly until your muscles warm up.
  • Scoop up only as much snow in the shovel as you can lift comfortably.
  • Use your leg muscles to lift a loaded shovel, instead of your back. When scooping snow, bend from the hips, keeping your spine straight, and bend your knees.
  • Turn your whole body when depositing the snow, rather than twisting your back while throwing the snow.
  • Stop briefly every few minutes to straighten up and give your back a rest.

Take Care of Special Spots

Remember places to keep snow-free:

  • Pile snow away from your foundation to prevent basement flooding during the spring thaw.
  • Clear snow from heat and dryer vents. If you’re raking snow from the roof, be careful not to plug the vent pipe that lets sewer gas escape the house.
  • Clear snow from around your mailbox and any nearby fire hydrant.
  • To keep the snow plow from depositing a huge pile of snow at the end of your driveway, shovel the street in front of the driveway and for several feet along the curb the snow plow passes before reaching the driveway. Ideally, the area you clear should be about as wide as the blade of a snow plow.
  • Sprinkle ice melt — also known as sidewalk salt — on slippery spots, especially stairs. Avoid using ice melts that contain calcium chloride or magnesium chlorides near garden plants and where pets walk. Look for ice melt labeled as “pet safe,” being sure to read the ingredients as well.

Erin Hynes is the managing editor for Manage My Life. She likes shoveling snow because it gives her a reason to spend time outdoors in winter.

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  1. Very nice and informative blog ! I have been considering getting a new machine for some time, and while finishing a neighbor's driveway, my old machine seized-up ! Happiness and sadness at the same time, LOL ! Sears,,,,, here I come ! ! ! :)