Winter is the season of blizzards and ice storms, which can cut off transportation and electricity over a wide area. Rural folks are pretty used to it and usually have generators and wood stoves on tap. It’s a bit harder for city people to go without power for an extended period, but it’s not impossible. Plan ahead, and be prepared for power outages in the city this winter.
How to Prepare for Winter Power Outages in the City
In the city, you should always be prepared to fend for yourself for at least three days before the emergency crews can restore your electricity during power outages. That means heat, food, prescriptions, and maybe water and gas.
Heat’s the first concern during power outages. You don’t want the inside of your home to drop to outside temperatures! That leads to huge repair bills, if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, it can cost you your life.
So you’ll need to save as much of the heat in your place as you can. You’re probably starting at somewhere around 20 degrees Celsius, and it’s only going to go down from there. You’ve got to start conserving heat immediately.
You can improvise a bit of make-do weatherstripping with things at hand. Roll up a spare blanket and stick it against the bottom crack in the door. Tack up another blanket so that it hangs over the whole door. Close your window curtains and shove blankets against them as well. You’ll be amazed at how much warmer that’s going to make your whole place.
In the daytime when you’re doing things, put on a sweater and a coat. When it’s nighttime and time to hunker down, put on an extra sweater, get under a warm comforter, and cuddle together with your family. It’s a great time for a good old-fashioned family talk!
It’s a good idea to have a secondary source of heat, but you’ll need to be extra careful with it. Keep it away from anything that can burn. If it’s kerosene or another open flame heater, you’ll have to crack a window whenever you’re using it. Otherwise dangerous carbon monoxide can quickly build up to lethal levels. Even if you have a carbon monoxide detector, it won’t work during a winter power outage if it’s on house current.
Oil and natural gas
If you’ve got an oil or natural gas furnace, you’re probably doing OK for heat. It’s always a good idea to keep your oil tank topped up in winter, just in case.
However, the fan which circulates that heat is probably electric. You’ll not lose heat exactly, but it’s not going to get to most parts of the house. Even so, it’s probably still enough to keep your house well above freezing.
If you’ve got a natural gas stove and there’s no reason to think that natural gas pipes have been compromised, start cooking! Winter power outages are a great time to make slow-cooked soups and stews. They’ll keep you warm while they’re cooking, and they’ll make you even warmer when you eat them!
It’s a good thing that it takes a lot to compromise a natural gas line! But if you smell natural gas or if there’s any other reason to suspect that natural gas lines have been broken, shut down your furnace and don’t make any flames or sparks. As you’ve read in the previous section, there’s other ways to stay warm.
Set an immediate ban on opening the fridge or freezer doors. If you keep them shut, your refrigerator and freezer should be able to hang onto enough cold air to make it through about the first day without power without any real food spoilage, unless there’s already something in the fridge that’s on the brink.
The news on your battery-powered radio will tell you how long the blackout’s likely to last in your area. This is one good reason why you need one. Cell phones will only last so long before needing to be recharged!
If the winter power outage is going to be longer than just a few hours, you’ve got to use refrigerated food up quickly, or you’ll have to throw it out later. That’s the other reason it’s a great idea to throw as much as you can into a large pot of stew.
If you’ve got a large turkey or roast in the freezer and you have a balcony or back porch, you can save it if it’s freezing cold outside. Just cover it well and place it on a table outside, or hang it up if you’ve got a back porch where wildlife can get to it. The same goes for all those frozen veggies. Let the cold outside air do your work for you!
Cans don’t spoil in a week, but if the power goes out, you could run into a completely different problem. Make sure you’ve got a manual can opener on hand!
Don’t let your prescription medications go down to the last pill during winter weather! If you’re on daily medications, you’ve got to plan ahead here. You’ll need at least three days worth of medications, but it’s better to plan for a full week or two. After all, the pharmacies may not be able to bounce back instantly, especially if supply routes aren’t plowed out yet.
City water plants depend on electricity. Some won’t pump at all when the power goes off. Some just won’t be able to purify water properly without power, so you’ll be on reservoir water for awhile.
If you’re in a high apartment above the third floor, you’ll definitely lose your water if the power goes out. That’s because water has to be pumped up there electrically, and most high-rises don’t have generators strong enough to power anything except emergency lighting.
So if you live in a place where you could lose power during power outage, it’s a really good idea to have a few water jugs at hand. You’re going to need about two litres of water per person (and an extra litre per pet) per day, maybe a little more if you’ll be cooking. Forget about showering for awhile!
Oh yes, the toilet. You’ve got one or maybe two good flushes from the toilet tank water. Make them count.
Just about all gas stations these days have electronic pumps, and they can’t pump out gas at all when there’s no power.
If you’ve got a generator, you’ll definitely want to keep a few litres of gas on hand if there’s a winter storm in the forecast. Even if you don’t, your car’s going to need some sooner or later. Keep the car’s gas tank topped up in winter.
When the power outage is over, everyone’s going to try to fill up at once. The gas station’s going to run out, and refills could be slow in coming. So plan for a couple of extra days, and take it easy on the car gas until things get back to normal. It’s not like you’ll be needing to commute to work until the lights and computers come back on.
Planning ahead of a Winter Power Outage
Fall’s the best time to plan ahead for winter. A well-insulated house can easily hang onto enough heat to make life bearable for all three days, even if things aren’t exactly toasty. You’ll still need a sweater, and you’ll probably need a coat as well after a day or so.
An emergency winter safety kit for your home is your key to taking winter power outages in stride. Think about the same five things when you plan. That’s heat, food, prescriptions, and maybe water and gas. Add a battery-powered radio (with extra batteries), so you’ll know what’s going on in the world outside. Don’t forget to throw in something for entertainment!