Tips for Preparing for Winter Power Outages

Life without electricity isn’t great. In fact, when the weather’s cold, it’s nearly 100% unmanageable. Need proof? Well, currently, I’m writing this on a laptop in my car, where I’ve got a small adapter to power the computer, and I’m freezing. I think my coat’s starting to freeze. That boggles my mind.

My house has had no power for the past three days due to a massive ice storm that hit St. Louis and the surrounding area. The electric company is saying that it may be another two or three days before the power comes back on. My neighbor, an overweight, middle aged dude, says that if the minimum wage is raised, it’ll take over a month. Of course, that’s because he’s an idiot, but the reason I have to talk to him is because he’s got a gas heater and I’m colder than Paris Hilton’s heart.

The silver lining is that my lack of preparation puts me in the unique position to learn from my mistakes and pass on that knowledge to you. Therefore, here are a few easy ways to prepare for a power outage during the winter.

Get some sort of gas heater. If not, get a plan for where you’re going to stay when the power’s out; maybe you’ve got a warm basement or a friend’s house with a generator, for instance. Cold is going to be your biggest enemy, of course, and anything from candles to covers that can contain heat will help you out. Also, you’ve got to remember that when the power comes back on, you probably want to heat the house up slowly; otherwise, wood and other materials might be damaged.

Get some food. Remember that you might not have a way to cook stuff if you’ve got an electric stove. Get stuff like cereal and sandwiches before an expected snow or ice storm. Go for nutrition, and if you do have the ability to heat food (gas stoves, etc), grab some tea or coffee or other warm drinks, which will come in handy during an outage.

Be ready to be snowed in. Even if the forecast isn’t calling for it, you could get a huge amount of snow in a big front, or something else can happen to make commuting impossible; for instance, a tree fell on my van. No major damage, but no way to move it. Perfect luck. Make the appropriate considerations, like doing all of your shopping before an outage, and talk to a few friends about helping each other out should the situation get fierce. Then, if there’s an outage and you’re able to drive around, turn your cell phone off so that you don’t have to help your friends. That’ll be even colder than the ice.

Obvious one-batteries and flashlights. Candles, too. Keep them all in a central location so that when the power goes out, you know where to go and you can get some light going. I had one candle, and it worked out pretty well, but using my cell phone to light the way to the bathroom got old really quick.

Charge all of your electronics. Before an ice storm or snowstorm, make sure that you power up your cell phone, laptop (if you’ve got one, obviously), iPod, and anything else that might keep you entertained or come in useful. Be sure that it’s all on a surge protector if you’re charging everything during a storm; you don’t want to fry any electronics. By the way, you’re going to want to shut down your computer as soon as power surges start, and you’ll want to have some sort of a transistor radio to help you figure out when the power might come back on. Which brings me to my next point…

Never assume that the electricity is coming back any time soon. Sure, the power company’s good, but they’re not great, and a few downed power lines can cause really big problems. Where I’m at, they’re estimating it could take another few days, which is immensely frustrating; have a long term plan for long term power outages.

A little bit of planning goes a long ways. Remember, if you don’t take some time to prepare, you could end up typing an article on a laptop in your van in between bouts of talking to your crazy neighbor about right wing conspiracy theories.

I hate my life.

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