As some of you know, the area of the world where Awa, J.kb, and I live in got slammed by heavy snow recently. The official total snowfall for my spot was 40 inches. We got 40 inches of snow in less than 48 hours.
As a friend of mine said, there’s just no time when 40 inches of anything is enjoyable.
It was heavy, wet snow. Normally I’m out doing a lot of the work at moving snow, but I have a knee injury at the moment, and it was deemed unsafe for me to do so. Instead, I ran the house, which was kind of fun.
We lost power early on in the morning. That was good, because it gave me all day with natural light to get prepared for things. I brought out my lovely antique oil lamps, and brought down my solar camping lantern and my rechargeable bike lights (I don’t use them on a bike, but do have them for walking at night or for when I’m camping). My stove is a gas stove, so I can cook just fine without power (the oven shuts off for safety’s sake). I actually planned out a more complex dinner than usual, since I had the time, and the stove aided in heating the house.
The house will keep from freezing just fine with the wood stove alone. I admit, I prefer having at least some oil heat, because the heat from the wood stove is centered in an area of the house that the water pipes go under, to keep them from freezing. That means that the areas we sleep in tend to be REALLY cold. Still, we made do.
We moved snow. We cooked, and ate. Eventually, we moved all the stuff out of the fridge and into boxes in the snow. My deep freeze will keep fine in this kind of weather pretty much indefinitely, and for a week or two even in warmer weather, so I wasn’t worried there. I started a sewing project that I’d been putting off for months, to the joy of one of my kids (Viking hood trimmed with rabbit fur, great for storms like this).
So what’s so special about my house?
We prepare for power outages. We’ve always lived in areas that were prone to them, because we don’t like living in big cities. We live in suburban or rural areas, with one main line feeding dozens of farms or well spaced houses, and that line inevitably goes down because of accident, freezing rain, trees, snow, or what-have-you at least a couple of times a year.
What I don’t really talk so much to the kids about is that I also prepare for emergency outages of the longer variety. If power went down for several months, life would be more difficult, but not tremendously so. Having it happen right at this point and time is actually ideal, because I’d have plenty of time to grow my garden and raise a few clutches of chickens before the stored food ran out.
Electricity isn’t necessary to me. It’s a convenience, and I do love it, but it isn’t necessary. The only reason my phone went on at all during the whole snowpocalypse was because my boyfriend was checking in on me occasionally (he lives 30 minutes away) and because I have friends who might have needed help which I wanted to be able to render. I didn’t play games (though I did take some photos).
Our neighbors had their genset going about 5 minutes into the storm. It must have gobbled down a couple hundred dollars worth of fuel in the 36 hours it was running, and the noise announced to the entire neighborhood that they obviously had (literal) money to burn.
I have a genset. I could have dug it out and hooked it up. It would have kept the fridge and hot water heater going, allowing us to have hot showers more easily. That’s it’s main purpose, really, because everything else we can do just fine without electricity. I didn’t see a reason to dig through all that snow, though. Even if the power outage had lasted as long as Eversource suggested (’til that Friday 6pm), I wouldn’t have bothered. Only the threat of the deep freeze defrosting would have gotten me to turn it on. And maybe not even then. Still, when the kids whined about not being able to charge their devices, I suggested that if they wanted it that bad, THEY should dig out the genset. They decided reading by candlelight was the better option. I concur.
GFZ talks about “grey man” quite a bit. Don’t be noticed. Don’t stand out. Blend in with everyone in your surroundings. That’s why I don’t want to run my genset. It’s loud. It lets everyone know you have power, fuel, money, and probably tons of food. I don’t want that kind of thing advertised.
I don’t know if y’all have seen The Last Of Us yet, but there’s a scene in there with a prepper dude, waiting for the gov’t to clear out. He waits for FEMA to mark his door as empty, evacuated his town, and drove off. He waited a bit, came out cautious, cleared the area quite well, then quickly went about the business of getting everything he needed from locations that had obviously been previously selected and planned around. Then he went home and sat down to a lovely dinner of steak and potatoes, with nothing more on his mind than taking it easy.
That’s my goal. I don’t yet have a sub-basement set up, where we can hide from FEMA. It’s on the list. But I’ve no problem quietly slipping off into the woods while our area is cleared out. We’ll come back when they’re done clearing, and settle back into comfort. I’m not interested in living out in the woods, dealing with cold, wet, bugs, and dirt. I plan on staying in my nice, comfortable home that works just fine without any electricity at all. I’ll sleep in my warm bed (which was ridiculously warm and comfy despite there being no heat at all upstairs during the storm, I might add), and sleep well.
Being prepared for the power to go out is the difference. If your preparations are “turn on the genset”, then you really aren’t prepared. Eventually, fuel runs out. It only works if the problem in question is very short-lived. It’s useless as a long-term survival strategy. Heck, it’s useless in any survival situation that lasts longer than the gas currently in the tank at your gas station. So learn how to do without.
If you’re in a house where you can run a wood stove, you’re basically set. It provides heat, a cooking surface, and a central place to congregate. If your home isn’t really set up for a wood stove, but you have a portable one on hand, you can always rig a board in a window, to allow you to run the chimney outside. It’s not a perfect answer, but it will do in an emergency.
If you’re in an apartment or rented dwelling, though, you may have no ability to do that at all. You have to get creative. A tent in your living room for sleeping in will help hold in heat at night, especially if you pile yourself and all your family, including pets, within. Dogs make great space heaters. Setting up one room as the “warm place” will also help. Use military poncho liners or quilts to block off all other rooms, keeping all the body heat in one place. It’s possible to get an indoor safe propane heater, but if you do, I highly recommend also picking up a carbon monoxide alarm that runs on batteries. It’s not likely you’d run into problems, but safety is important.
How do you cook, if you have no electricity and no gas stove? With the wood stove, it’s easy. It’s already hot; just use the heat to cook with. In that apartment, however, you probably don’t have that ability. A single burner butane camp stove is a wonderful answer, and the fuel keeps well from year to year (remember to use up older ones first). They’re safe to use indoors, and you can crack a window if you’re concerned. Propane camp stoves can also be used, but be aware that they are much more prone to leaking, and should not really be used indoors.
You can also cook outside. If you have a balcony, you can use charcoal to cook in cast iron safely enough, or even use a very small rocket stove for cooking. Of course, you can do that out on the lawn of your apartment, too, but I don’t suggest it. Advertising you have food, fuel, and knowledge is not a good thing.
Water is the other big issue for all of us. City water will usually continue to flow for quite a while, even in a power outage, so you can usually fill up containers from the tap if you feel like it’s going to drag on for a while. There are bags that you can put into your bathtub and fill, for instance, or you can pick up water cubes that stack (a better idea, as you can move them easily). If you’re on a well, it may stop providing water when the power goes out, but you should be able to get water manually. Be aware in advance, though, if it’s a modern well it may not take a bucket. You may need a special “skinny” container to pull water up from within.
What about light? Solar lights have come a long way. They’re small, efficient, and easy to charge. I have a compact solar lantern that I can use wastefully each day, because I know it will charge even when it’s only partially sunny. I have other lights that can be charged with electric, and I can use my solar array that I charge my phone from. Oh yes, I have a solar array that can charge my phone, my small emergency lights, a fan I use in my tent, and a handful of other things.
There are dozens of other things to talk about, when it comes to preparing for emergencies, long or short. I know I am always learning new things, adding to my knowledge base. I am not an expert. I’m just a curious and keen person who likes to learn stuff, especially when it’s useful. And there’s the rub: knowledge.
Knowledge is the one thing you may not have time to gain if something Really Bad [tm] happens. You can be unpracticed at something, and figure it out as you go along. But if you don’t know it at all? You’re screwed. So learn what you can. Test yourself. Turn the power off at the main junction to the house and go without for 48 hours. Find out where your holes are. Patch them as best you can, at the fastest speed you can safely and securely do. I recently decided that I don’t know enough about trapping, snaring, and foraging. I’m taking classes this summer from a master forager who lives in my area, in order to help fill that gap. I borrowed books from Awa about trapping and snaring, and I’m about to go practice.
This is what you can do, right now. Fill gaps. You won’t know where your gaps are until you actually put these skills to the test, however. So go camping with a light load. Turn off the power to your house. Go for a hike with only what you can carry, and see if you can forage enough food for a meal. PRACTICE.