“Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today.” That notion, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, is doubly true if tomorrow’s forecast calls for a winter storm. As winter rages on, each bad storm brings with it a new round of panic, as folks flood home-improvement centers in search of generators, flashlights, and just about anything else that can help you weather prolonged cold spells and periodic power outages.

Unfortunately, the eve of a bad winter storm is a terrible time to shop for cold-climate essentials—inventory tends to be scarce, tensions are high, and you’re liable to grab the first items you find and rush home. So when there's a break in the weather, take the chance to track down these essential products tested by Consumer Reports.   


If you live in an area prone to power outages, consider a stationary generator, which is generally more expensive but can run on on your home's natural-gas supply or on propane for five to 13 days on a 250-gallon tank. Opt for a licensed electrician, who should connect it to your home’s electrical panel using a transfer switch

In our tests, the Kohler 14 RESAL, $3,700, delivered reliable, surge-free power, and was exceptionally easy to use. It’s also relatively quiet.

For lighter power needs, consider a portable, gasoline-powered model like the Generac RS7000E, $900. It’ll run note to 15 hours on its 7½-gallon tank, but you’ll need to store fuel for longer outages.  

Snow Blower

If the allure of easily removing snow from your driveway hasn’t motivated you to buy a snow blower, try thinking of it as a safety tool. In a serious winter storm, you’ll be glad you’ve got a snow blower, which can easily clear a path to your car, not to mention make it possible to pull out of your driveway once the plows have passed.

To tackle the aftermath of most snowstorms, the two-stage Troy-Bilt Arctic Storm 30, $1,500, makes quick work of snow packed 16 inches high. If you live in a climate with even more serious snowfall, consider a three-stage blower like the Cub Cadet 3X 30” HD, $1,650, which can handle 18 inches of snow or more in a single pass. 

Space Heater

If the power goes out and you’re relying on a generator, a space heater will let you hunker down in a single room and stay warm while using considerably less energy than an electric heat pump or furnace, both of which heat your whole house. If you heat your home with gas or propane or another heating source, skip the space heater in favor of your furnace. And if you rely on propane, heating oil, or wood pellets and a bad storm makes the roads impassable but doesn’t knock out the power, use the heater to stay warm and toasty while you wait for your next delivery.

The Dyson AM09, $450, gets top marks (at a top price) for heating a small space, while the far less expensive Lifesmart ZCHT1001US, $90, did a nice job heating larger rooms.  

Chain Saw

Heavy snow and ice can down branches long after a storm has passed. That’s one of the struggles faced by utility workers as they attempt to restore power after a storm. So take a hint from them and buy and use a chain saw before a winter storm hits. Not only will you get to choose from top-performing models, but by being proactive and trimming precarious limbs before a storm, you’ll also minimize damage to your home during snowfall and avoid the tedious yard cleanup after.

If you’ve got only a few trees or live on a smaller lot, a battery-powered model like the Ego CS1401, $250, should provide all the power you need. If you’ve got an outdoor outlet, a corded electric model like the Stihl MS 170 C-BQ, $300, will work nicely and doesn’t require charging. For heavily wooded lots with more mature trees, consider the gas-powered Echo CS-590-20, $365, which has a 20-inch bar for downing larger limbs.

Smoke & CO Alarms and Fire Extinguishers

All three are safety essentials, but the unusual risks posed by weathering a winter storm power outage make them even more important. Burning candles for light, operating a generator, or using a space heater can all increase the chances you’ll need one of these life-saving devices.

For smoke and fire detection, the Kidde Pl9010, $200, excelled at detecting smoke and smoldering fires, while the First Alert One Link SCO501CN, $70, is a top pick for detecting carbon monoxide.

Our fire extinguisher buying guide provides essential information on choosing between models. (We don’t test fire extinguishers at this time.)