We all know the feeling of uncertainty when the lights start to flicker, and you are left sitting in the dark, surrounded by an eerie silence. A power outage is a situation that can become stressful very quickly when you are in the middle of a winter storm. The best way to ensure your safety is to be prepared.
You’ll need to take the following precautions to survive a power outage in the winter:
- Create an emergency plan.
- Keep an inventory of non-perishable food and clean water.
- Stock up with batteries and blankets.
- Have an alternative heat source ready.
A winter storm can cause whole cities to shut down due to hazardous conditions; it can cause a multitude of problems, including knocking over electrical wires and shutting power off to entire electrical grids. If you’re ever caught in a situation where this is the cause, you must be prepared to stay warm and safe.
The necessities in life are simple: food, water, oxygen, shelter, and sleep. That is a constant, and it is no different when living without modern amenities. When the power goes out, and you have to survive harsh winter elements, the essentials stay the same, but with one addition: sleep.
These essentials will undoubtedly help you survive a power outage in the winter. However, that’s not all you need. Overall, to survive an emergency such as this, you need to be prepared for the worst.
There are three phases to prepare for and survive a winter blackout; each takes place before, during, and after the outage. Having a plan for all three stages will ensure the highest level of safety and can turn an unexpected, potentially dangerous power outage into a fun camping experience instead.
Before the Storm: Preparing for the Unexpected
There is a famous quote: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” A cliché idiom, yes, but true, nonetheless. If you are in the middle of a winter storm and the power goes out, too many factors prevent you from running to the store and picking up the essentials. An inventory of emergency supplies could be the difference between life and death.
Have an Emergency Plan
In any emergency, you want to put the safety of yourself and your family above all else. Devise a plan specific to the size of your family and the location of your home.
An emergency plan does not have to be for one specific emergency; it can be a plan for any emergency. Things you should have in the plan include:
- Plans for specific emergencies
- Escape routes
- Emergency contacts
- Emergency meeting spots
- Important phone numbers
- Pet plans
- Copies of important documents
The above is essential information you should have on hand for any given situation. Note that having a plan will not be the only way you can survive an emergency, such as a winter blackout, but it is the first step.
Create an Emergency Kit
Emergency kits are like a reserve checking account, where you continually deposit into it and monitor it until a time comes when you need to use it. They can save you valuable time and mental strain in a time of panic and stress by having all the essentials for survival in one place.
You can find pre-built emergency supply kits tailored for a specific number of people online. These kits provide universal coverage for an inexperienced survivalist.
Alternatively, building your own emergency kit is easy for a rainy day. You can use a backpack or a storage container of any size to hold its supplies. It is important to remember that your kit should be packed with essential items you will need to survive without electricity or gas for at least 72 hours:
- Medical supplies
- Clean water
- Non-perishable food (enough to last you and your family three days)
These items will cover your basic needs and any situation where you are stuck in your home without gas and electricity for an extended period.
However, while the basics are helpful, you want a higher level of preparedness. Consider also supplying the kit with the following:
- Cell phone battery packs
- Money – cash or travelers’ checks
- Two-way radio
- Protective masks
- Portable cooking device (e.g., grill, Sterno lighters, a propane stovetop)
- Local maps
- Fire extinguisher
An emergency kit should be tailored to your family’s needs and supplied to everyone in the household. Consider the items you will need if you have a child or expecting a child, a pet, or an elderly family member. Have a checklist for everyone, and once a month, ensure the kit is kept current and stocked with the right things.
Stock Ample Supplies
Stocking up on supplies is the most critical thing you can do to prepare for a harsh winter or power outage during one. Your biggest concern has enough food and water to last during this emergency.
Make sure you have enough bottled water. In a winter storm, it is possible that your pipes could freeze, and you are going to need access to clean water for cooking, hygiene, and consumption.
You should also have an ample supply of non-perishable food, such as:
- Canned goods
- Protein or fruit bars
- Dry cereal or granola
- Peanut butter
- Dried fruit
- Canned juices
- Non-perishable pasteurized milk
- Dried noodles and soups
- Beef jerky and other dried meats
- Dehydrated foods
- Dried fruits and nuts
- Powdered milk
- Canned proteins
I store Ready Hour food on top of my home-packaged beans, rice, and other items. Their 3-month food supply is one of the better deals out there, and it provides a full 2000 calories a day, unlike many other manufacturers.
Something worth mentioning here is that you will need a good fuel source for heat to warm up any food should the power go out; this can range from gas and propane to wood. Ideally, your electricity will be restored promptly, but you can never be too sure how long it will take during a severe winter storm.
Either way, you’ll want plenty of fuel or wood to last you until then. With that said, this leads to our next point.
Have a Source of Heat or Power
It is possible to survive during a winter power outage without heat, but know it will be cold and uncomfortable. To lessen your discomfort, make sure you have an alternative heat source that can be easily accessible; this can be either a gas or wood fireplace or even a generator that can power a furnace. You should also keep plenty of blankets and warm clothes on hand that you can wear.
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Generators will be your best friend. A generator will provide power from an alternative fuel like propane or gas if you live in an area accustomed to heavy snowfall and winter storm surges. There are three different types of generators:
- Portable – Converts gas, propane, or diesel into electrical power for several hours. A portable generator will provide you with plenty of power for at least three days before you have to start rationing fuel supplies.
- Inverter – This generator automatically controls the energy output based on how much is being used, making these generators quieter and more environmentally friendly.
- Standby – These large generators automatically turn on when circuit power is cut. These are powered by natural gas.
When it comes to which type of generator is the best for you, it depends on your personal preferences. Each generator has a specific output of watts and volts, so they need to be less or match the total wattage and voltage required to power your home to be effective.
Once a generator runs, you can run an extension cord directly from the generator to a bank of electrical outlets. This can be done by feeding the electrical cable through a window; be sure to close the window as much as possible, and then fill the remaining areas with a cloth or towel to limit the cold breeze entering the home.
Generators & Transfer Switches
You could also install a transfer switch in your home, a fail-safe switch that is added to the electrical board, or a separate electrical box that switches the intake between circuit power and generated power.
An electrical outlet is installed into the side of your home that receives the transfer switch power cord from the generator; this is run directly into the electrical box, where you can manually turn on and off which circuits you want to power. Ensure you do not overload the generator (asking for more electricity than it can produce). This will cause the generator to shut off, break the circuit, or create a fire from overheating.
Insulate Your Home
Ensuring your house is properly insulated will not only conserve heat but also reduce your gas or electricity bill. Before winter hits, check your home to ensure that all the weather stripping around the doors and windows is working. If you feel a draft, change the weather tape. Caulk any holes and cracks found around window seals. This will save you money and conserve heat when you need it most.
Surviving During an Outage in the Winter
When the power kicks off wherever you are, it’s important to remember to stay calm. You are prepared for this and need to follow the safety plans you have established.
Check Your Circuit Breaker
The first thing you want to do when the electricity shuts off is to be positive that it is not a ground fault but a power failure. Check the fuse box and flip the primary circuit on and off. You can check the electric meter to the house if you still have some doubts. If it is, in fact, a power failure, the meter will be blank or will have no reading on the digital display.
Close All Doors and Windows
Retaining heat is of utmost importance. Check your windows’ seals and the bottom cracks of the doors. If you feel a small air draft, fold a towel to create a barrier that stops the airflow. Hang a blanket to cover large window surfaces. If the window faces the sun, a black blanket will retain heat from the sun and easily warm up the room.
Start a Fire
If you have a wood or gas fireplace, start a fire. Maintaining a warm, comfortable environment is the key to surviving a winter storm. Centralize your location to the room with the fire.
If there are numerous fireplaces in the house, only use one. Ensure the chimney flue is open and the smoke is adequately ventilated. This is important, as most health problems during a power outage are carbon monoxide poisoning from poor ventilation.
Turn on a Generator
A generator will provide you with enough temporary power to live happily and comfortably until the power is restored. Carefully determine which appliances need power the most.
Complete an inventory of fuel for the generator, and devise a plan to use the fuel economically. Generators are not meant to be run consistently for days on end. You can generate power for some time, turn off the generator, and allow appliances to maintain their temperatures.
Pitch a tent by the fire and set up camp; creating a small, self-contained environment will conserve heat.
You will be astonished that the human body generates about as much heat as a 100-watt light bulb. If you confine 1 or 2 individuals in a small environment, you can sustain a comfortable temperature. When you add warm clothes and a blanket, it will be downright toasty.
Stay Warm and Wear Extra Clothing
Some of us grew up with parents that always told us never to leave the house without a hat during the winter, or we’d catch a cold. Believe it or not, there’s some truth to that.
You can lose up to 10% of body heat through your head, so in a cold-weather crisis, make sure you cover up that noggin. Wear warm clothes, and then add a jumper or sweater to add extra warmth.
The temperature drops as the sun go down, and so does the temperature in your unheated house. Be sure to utilize your body heat as much as possible.
Keep Food Cold
Refrigerators can keep food cold for 4 hours without power, and freezers can keep food cold for 24-48 hours, depending on how often the door is opened. Meats, seafood, poultry, and dairy cannot be exposed to temperatures above 40 degrees for more than two hours.
The one good scenario about being in a winter storm is that you can use the snowdrifts as a refrigerator. However, ensure that you store all the food in coolers and containers because you don’t want any wildlife showing up for a snack.
Watch for Signs of Illness
Making sure everyone is comfortable may require giving people some space. Unfortunately, this is not advised during winter weather conditions. Hypothermia and dehydration are severe conditions that can have fatal consequences. Keep an eye out for anyone experiencing these signs of hypothermia:
- Memory loss
- Slurred speech
Bright red, cold skin
- Deficient activity
If you notice any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to call 911. If someone’s temperature goes below 95 degrees:
- Please give them a warm beverage
- Heat the chest with a heating blanket or skin-to-skin contact
- Wrap their whole body in warm, dry blankets
Check for freezing pipes.
Freezing pipes can lead to expensive damage and a loss of valuables. If you forgot to insulate your pipes for the winter, you could wrap pipes with newspaper for a temporary fix. Also, allow your faucets to drip; running water through pipes (even a tiny amount) can prevent freezing.
If you are worried about freezing pipes, fill a bathtub with water. This will provide you with several gallons of water to use in an emergency. You can also boil it for drinking water. If the toilet refuses to flush, dumping some of that water (about one bucket’s worth) down the bowl will force it to flush manually.
Check Your Radio
The EAS (Emergency Alert System) and the NOAA (Nation Oceanic Atmospheric Association) will be the most secure and reliable sources of information. Depending on the severity level of the outage, significant sources of information—including TV and the internet—will be unavailable. A radio with access to emergency services will provide news and current information even during a blackout.
Relax and Try to Have Some Fun
It is not much you can do when you are stuck inside without power; more than likely, the internet will be down, and the roads will be too dangerous to go anywhere. Relax and enjoy the peace.
If you’re sheltered inside with friends or family, pull out some board games or try out card tricks. Try to get your mind off the potential dangers of not having gas and electricity; as long as you are prepared, know that you will make it out okay.
After the Storm
Once the power is back on, and safety is restored, you may be tempted to go outside and check out your surroundings for the winter storm’s effects. However, there are several things to remember before you rush out there.
- Check on your neighbors; not everyone may have been as prepared as you.
- Watch out for downed electrical wires. This is very important; in the winter, downed electrical wires may be covered by snowdrifts and could lead to shock if you step on them.
- Be aware of your surroundings. Call your local emergency service immediately if you see a broken electrical pole.
- Check your refrigerated food to see if anything is salvageable. The best motto is, “When in doubt, throw it out.” You can find a list of foods at Food Safety that you should inspect carefully following a power outage.
Not having power during the winter can be a cause for serious alarm. However, if you have a plan in place for this type of emergency, the only thing you need to worry about is any issues that may come up as they arise. Ultimately preparing for the worst and staying at your best will ensure you can get through a winter blackout and have a little fun.