Lessons I’ve Learned From A Recent Blizzard

The weather forecasts warned of possible ice ahead. As it was raining and getting colder on that Friday afternoon, my husband and I decided to head to the nearby Wal-Mart to grab some extra supplies and dry ice for our freezers in case of a power outage.

I intended to stock up on essentials like bottled water, batteries, and dry ice, which tend to vanish when the weather gets rough. To my astonishment, there was no shortage of any of these items. Either folks were already geared up for bad weather, or they simply weren’t heeding the weather warnings.

The blizzard hit

The storm struck twice within a span of three days. Ice began to accumulate on trees, power lines, cars, and plants around 5 pm as dusk settled. We sprinkled some ice melter on the front steps, realizing we were down to just half a bag.

After dinner, we settled down to watch a movie. Outside, occasional flashes of light pierced the darkness, but without any accompanying thunder. The house lights flickered and the TV repeatedly shut off. Later, we realized these were the initial signs of transformers blowing throughout our town.

By 9 pm, the power went out completely. With no lights, TV, or heater, we relied on candles and flashlights to navigate the house, unplugging appliances and electronics to safeguard them from potential power surges upon restoration. This precaution ended up saving us a lot of trouble and money when the power eventually returned.

I turned on our gas cookstove oven and opened its door. We had chosen this stove primarily because its oven operates without electricity, as long as it has natural gas and pilot lights. Despite concerns about heating with a gas cookstove, we ensured our old, drafty house had ample ventilation and carbon monoxide detectors.

Although the power returned at 11 pm, we were already heading to bed, so we left everything unplugged. We turned off the cookstove as the forced air heater resumed. Around 1:30 am, the power went out again, prompting my husband to switch the cookstove oven back on and seal off the bedroom.

The following day unfolded as a leisurely snow day. With no need to venture outside and the computer off due to the power outage, we occupied ourselves indoors. It was a peaceful and productive day; I started a new knitting project and baked cookies while keeping the radio on for updates. Despite the hourly reports affirming the icy conditions outside, the national talk shows played on as usual.

As sunset approached, we decided we wanted to listen to shortwave radio. My husband searched the basement and attic with a flashlight, but we couldn’t recall if we had given the radio away when we left the farm.

Lessons learned

lessons learned this winter

Organizing Preparedness Supplies

It’s crucial to store preparedness items in a convenient, easily accessible location. However, amidst our preparations, we found ourselves intermittently tuning in to the local station before finally switching it off.

Adjusting to the Cold

Inside, the temperature settled at 58 degrees, which wasn’t too uncomfortable. Layered up with extra wool sweaters and thick socks, we welcomed the company of our dogs on the couches. However, despite our efforts to stay warm, the darkness proved too overwhelming for activities like reading and knitting.

Searching for Emergency Lighting

In a bid to improve our lighting situation, I rummaged through boxes in search of our oil-burning Aladdin lamps. However, once again, we couldn’t recall if we still owned them or if they were left behind at the farm. Similarly, our search for the PetroMax lantern proved futile, as did our attempt to locate its pump. Instead, we found ourselves with only a solar panel and deep cycle battery, items intended for a different purpose. It’s essential to ensure that all preparedness equipment is functional. Having the gear is pointless if it doesn’t work when needed.

Making Do Without Power

That night, we left the kitchen cookstove oven on, closed the bedroom door, and cracked open the bedroom windows to let in some cold air. Despite the chilly temperatures outside, we stayed warm and calm under flannel sheets and down comforters with our furry companions. Throughout the night, we were awakened by the sound of ice forming and trees breaking, followed by the unsettling noise of ice and branches falling. By morning, the bedroom was freezing, but upon closing the windows and opening the door to the rest of the house, warmth flooded back in.

Addressing Heating Efficiency

On Sunday morning, we realized that our inefficient heating system was allowing heat to escape into the attic. We hung a blanket across the attic stairway to block this heat loss, but acknowledged that a door would have been more effective. This oversight likely contributed to high utility bills throughout the winter.

It’s essential to inspect your home for heat efficiency. Proper insulation, weather stripping, and doors between rooms can help contain heat where it’s needed. Although the power remained off, we were fortunate that the water continued to flow and the gas water heater remained operational. We took hot showers by candlelight.

Addressing Concerns About Plumbing

Around the same time, concerns arose about the second-floor kitchenette, where the plumbing was situated in a room hovering around 45 degrees. We brainstormed solutions reminiscent of those we used on the farm: heat lamps (not an option without power), oil lamps (couldn’t locate), candles (deemed too risky), and so forth. Eventually, we resorted to allowing some heat into the poorly insulated room to prevent the pipes from freezing.

We kept the faucets trickling and placed a pan of hot water under the sink to circulate warmth around the pipes. This method, while effective, resulted in wasteful heating of an entire room simply to safeguard the pipes due to the absence of a more efficient solution.

Knowing the layout of your house’s plumbing system and having a plan to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting is essential for winter preparedness.

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Dealing with Frozen Conditions

We were unable to attend church as our car was literally frozen in place under a thick sheet of ice. Outside, the landscape was transformed into a slippery, glistening expanse of ice. Despite recent efforts by road-salt trucks, the streets remained treacherous. Icicles adorned power lines, trees, and bushes, while some plants resembled frozen sculptures, encased in a glassy shell.

The intermittent sound of cracking and crashing trees echoed throughout the city, occasionally accompanied by the metallic crunch of a tree colliding with a parked car. With the last of our granulated salt depleted, we realized the importance of stocking up on basic yet critical supplies.

Preparing for Contingencies

As we pondered whether my husband’s students would make it for their lessons, we were confronted with the realization that none of them had canceled. Our attempts to communicate were thwarted by a dead phone line, highlighting the necessity of having alternative communication methods during power outages.

It’s essential to have a corded phone for emergencies, as cordless phones are rendered useless during power outages. Additionally, keep an adapter in your vehicle to charge your cell phone, as plug-in chargers won’t function without electricity. Having emergency numbers readily available is crucial, especially if your phone service relies on high-speed internet, as 911 may be inaccessible.

Safety Considerations Amidst Chaos

Amidst the chaos, my husband decided to chip away at the ice encasing our car. However, my attention was drawn to the numerous downed power lines littering the area. It’s imperative to survey the surroundings for safety hazards, as downed power lines can still carry live electricity.

Planning for Extended Disruptions

The widespread damage caused by the storm indicated that power restoration would likely be a prolonged process. It’s crucial to prepare for the worst-case scenario and anticipate longer-than-expected repair times.

Assessing Property Risks

With trepidation, we inspected our property, noting the heavy icicles weighing down power lines and tree branches. The creaking of ancient maples served as a reminder of the potential danger posed by falling trees. We conducted a thorough assessment to identify any vulnerable areas, acknowledging that some risks were beyond our immediate control.

Survey your property for possible hazards before a crisis hits

survey your property for possible hazards before a crisis hits

The dog pens could be at risk of being crushed, so we let the three dogs out, and they happily gather on the covered back porch. With temperatures hovering around freezing, they play comfortably in their thick winter coats.

Tasks take longer than expected, and walking becomes hazardous due to the lack of ice melter. Even simple chores, like opening the frozen trash can, become challenging.

Listening to radio reports, we hear that roadways are mostly clear but need to be cautious of downed power lines. Despite the impending ice, we decide to drive to Wal-Mart to assess the community’s response.

Arriving at Wal-Mart, we notice the dimly lit aisles and few customers. Supplies are running low, and tensions seem to rise as people scramble to secure remaining items.

48 hours into the ice storm, the only Wal-Mart in town is completely out of essential items like candles, bottled water, and batteries. Even everyday items like bread and soup are in short supply.

Unexpectedly, car cell phone chargers and cheap corded telephones are nowhere to be found, highlighting the widespread disruption caused by the power outage. Additionally, the only gas station still open operates on a cash-only basis, leading to frustration among customers.

As we head home, we pass several closed and darkened gas stations, emphasizing the widespread impact of the storm on the community’s resources.

One individual’s actions can have a significant impact.

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Three and a half days later, our power was restored. We waited several hours before reconnecting everything, mindful of potential power surges. Unfortunately, many others didn’t wait or forgot to unplug their appliances, resulting in a surge of dead electronics and appliances lining the curbs the following week.

During power outages, it’s crucial to unplug all appliances. Wait until the power stabilizes before reconnecting them to prevent damage from electrical surges.

In the aftermath of the storm, generators became a hot commodity, with vendors selling out quickly at marked-up prices. However, some users mishandled them, leading to costly mistakes. One person burned out their generator within the first 24 hours due to improper usage, while another yielded to neighbor complaints about noise, only to suffer frozen pipes and subsequent property damage.

If you own a generator, take measures to reduce noise disturbance for neighbors, ensure you understand its operation, and stock up on fuel and oil for emergencies.

The city grappled with power outages for another three weeks, resulting in extensive property damage. Despite narrowly avoiding damage to our property, we still incurred significant financial losses. Additionally, my husband’s students faced various challenges, from frozen pipes to livestock water supply issues, disrupting their lives.

At my clinic, where I work, the prolonged power outage prevented patient care and led to the loss of expensive refrigerated medications. It took over four months for the city to clear the extensive debris left by the storm.

Looking back

We could’ve handled things more effectively. The ice storm served as a wake-up call, reminding me of things I already knew but hadn’t acted upon. We’ve managed to find the misplaced Aladdin lamps, PetroMax lantern, and shortwave radio, and ensured we could operate them in darkness. Additionally, we’re finally installing the solar panel that has been sitting in the closet for years. All our emergency supplies are now consolidated in one spot, and we’ve stocked up on more batteries, small propane canisters, and extra lamp mantles and chimneys.

Reflecting on the storm, we realize how fortunate we were. Unlike friends who relied on electric appliances and had to seek alternatives like truck stop showers, we had natural gas for cooking and heating. We didn’t have to waste gasoline searching for fuel or risk losing our food supply, thanks to the dry ice in our freezers. Plus, we had plenty of food options, mostly consisting of soup.

We also had non-electric entertainment and games to pass the time, and our home was warm enough that we didn’t need to seek refuge in crowded shelters. With many businesses closed, we didn’t have any urgent commitments during the day.

Having emergency funds stashed away meant we didn’t panic when ATMs were down, and we were able to assist a friend in need. Despite the challenges, we didn’t endure significant hardship.

The situation could have been far worse. The flickering power at Wal-Mart hinted at larger problems with the hospital’s power supply. If Wal-Mart had gone down, it would have affected the last open gas station and all emergency services.

Although we were fortunate when the blizzard hit, the experience taught us valuable lessons. With better planning and preparedness skills, we hope to handle whatever challenges come our way in the future.

This article was submitted by Amanda Rooney.

Recommended resources:

Securing the best wood for fire and shelter

The #1 food of Americans during the Great Depression

How to build a proper winter shelter

How To Build The Invisible Root Cellar

3 thoughts on “Lessons I’ve Learned From A Recent Blizzard”

  1. hurricane Katrina in 2005 was a wake up call for us on preparedness. a week without water (we got ours from the water heater ). and no power for a month. we had our whole garden in two deep freezers and lost most everything from not having a gen set, it was in September and it was hot here on the gulf coast.
    as far as living in primitive conditions my wife and i did just fine. the wife and i have always enjoyed primitive camping in the woods or rivers so we had the tools and knowhow to get by just fine. camping in the house !!!
    it was the all the garden food that we lost in the freezers that we missed the most, a whole year and two acres worth of work and money–poof. we put most everything in canning jars now, it’s good insurance for disasters. but it does take up a lot more room in the house so plan on that,
    good luck all

    Reply
  2. Indoor camping is a whole fun sport even in power out and cold weather scenarios. We recently had a power loss at 2 in the afternoon with the outside temperature at 24 degrees. With the lights not back on by 5:00 I knew it was time to prepare for a possible overnight outage. Using available daylight I placed candles where they would be needed and moved one of my generators near the back door with its attendant fuel and lead cords. I have 5 gallons jugs of drinking water and moved them to a handy spot. Extra flashlights were set about the house and a spare propane cylinder for the space heater was also placed in a handy location.
    I monitored the indoor temperature of the house and when it fell to 64 I turned on the stand alone propane heater to keep the temperature from going any lower. By keeping the entire house slightly warmer I didn’t have to worry about the plumbing. An extended outage and the pipes would have been drained and the traps filled with RV antifreeze.
    Having the right supplies, food, fuel, water, first-aid, and weapons are all important living out in the middle of nowhere (population of nearest community is 250).
    A note on generators. I have 4 of them, each one is a different size. Depending on what I need to do, just run the refrigerator and a light or two or run the whole house, I choose the smallest gen set I can to conserve on fuel and keep the noise down to a minimum. Keep in mind that when the lights go out, there are many people who are completely unprepared and might seek to take advantage of your facilities and goods, being guided to you by the sound of your generator.
    Today, a nice sunny day here, is the best time to look around and make sure that you have what you need for those days when the sun is hidden, the temperatures are freezing, and the roads are closed.
    Stay safe and may God Bless you one and all.

    Reply
  3. I would be embarrassed to write something like this. Clearly you people will be among the 90% who die in a grid down situation.
    Best start reading some of the BASIC prepper information that is all over the internet.
    You act as though this sort of thing was new. Good luck.

    Reply

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