ashley englishsmall measures

small measures with ashley: winter preparedness

by Grace Bonney

I’ve mentioned before in this column about my penchant for preparation. I’m fond of things like keeping 5 types of organic food flavorings in my pantry, just in case the mood strikes me to bake something with anise or almond or vanilla or citrus extracts or mint. I have a lint roller in my guest bedroom, one in my undergarment drawer, and yet another compact version my purse, just in case a stray hair from the 7 animals that live indoors with me works its way onto my clothing. There is always a blanket in my car’s trunk, just in case I should break down en route to my mother’s house high up in the mountains some cold winter’s night. I’m a perennial girl scout, always prepared.

And so, it was with no small amount of surprise that I found myself completely unprepared for what has been dubbed, (with questionable affection, I might add) the recent “snowpocalypse” that swept through the eastern U.S. the week before Christmas. Usually on top of my game when it comes to all things preparatory (see above), the snow and it’s ensuing accumulation and subsequent power outage caught me totally off guard. What was supposed to have been 3-10-inches of the wet, white stuff grew exponentially into 17. We lost power for 4 1/2 days and were trapped on our property for 6, barricaded in by trees and a Subaru engulfed in snow on the knob on which our house sits.

During those cold, cold nights (when I became a supreme devotee of our wood stove, not to mention received my master’s degree in the art of snow melting), I appraised what we could have done in advance to make the whole scenario a bit more bearable. Short of retrofitting the house with solar panels, radiant heat flooring, and wind turbines (someday, hopefully…), a few small measures of winter weather preparedness would have been worth their weight in gold (or, perhaps more aptly, BTU’s and joules).

Gathered from sources such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and
the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) , the following steps towards winter weather preparation can help you achieve a modicum of comfort (not to mention peace of mind) should you lose power during a cold season storm. What does all of this have to do with design, you might be wondering? Well, for me, design doesn’t just encompass decorating our homes more expertly or crafting our gifts more cleverly. It engulfs our entire lives, the totality of their direction, from our homes, to our gifts, our actions, our choices, and beyond. Good design is about creating lives of purpose and mindfulness and beauty, made manifest in products as diverse as a gorgeously re-upholstered armchair, a thoughtfully cooked meal, a lovingly made ceramic mug, or a sturdy, durable hand crank emergency radio.

CLICK HERE for the rest of “Winter Preparedness-Beating Jack Frost” after the jump!

Prep your emergency kit:

-Keep lots of candles (I’m especially fond of tall, glass pillars), sturdy candle holders, matches, flashlights, lanterns, and rechargeable batteries in a convenient, readily accessible location.
-A hand-crank or battery-powered portable radio is absolutely indispensable. Not only will it provide weather and news updates, the talk radio programs and musical interludes offer a much welcome nighttime listening activity. We enjoyed Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Charlie Brown Christmas album on NPR while playing Rummikub in front of the wood stove, sipping on eggnog and noshing on cookies leftover from the cookie exchange that I’d placed in the freezer. Also, a number of newer portable radios have chargers for cell phones, which, short of solar chargers, may be your only way to juice your mobile. This model from Brookstone has everything you could possibly need in one convenient device.
-Keep a well-stocked first aid kit on hand. It’s considerably less easy to dash out to the corner bodega or neighboring drug store for antibacterial cream and band-aids if everyone and everything is gripped by power outages and treacherous conditions. Be prepared and prevent minor injuries from developing into major concerns.
-For those of you lacking fireplaces or wood stoves, a back-up heat source in winter is, aside from food and water, your most absolute crucial need. Considering the frigid temperatures much of the U.S. has been experiencing lately, supplemental heat will literally save your life. Consider battery or fuel-operated heaters, such as those operating on kerosene or propane ( this model from Mr. Heater is one such option, as is this one from Coleman). Purchase the unit and its fuel (be that seasoned firewood or a liquid fuel) in advance, read its manual and familiarize yourself with its operating needs, and store both model and fuel in a safe location, away from combustible materials until needed. During use, be sure to allow for proper ventilation. Battery-powered smoke detectors, carbon monoxide monitors, and fire extinguishers are essential to have on hand when operating any flammable material in your home.

Prep your vehicle:

-At the start of cold weather season, take your vehicle in for a check-up. Get all fluids filled (including antifreeze, battery, steering, motor oil, and washer), make sure your windshield wipers are functioning properly, your tires have good tread and are full of air, your heater works well, the air filters are clean, and the brake pads are in good working order.
-If you live where particularly treacherous roads are a normal part of cold weather season, keeps snow chains in each of your vehicles.
-Vehicular accidents are one of the leading causes of cold weather-related fatalities. In addition to collisions and scary road conditions, getting trapped on the road during a storm can cause hypothermia and frost bite. Make sure each of the vehicles in your home is equipped with the following emergency kit items (as listed by FEMA ) :

* a shovel
* windshield scraper and small broom
* flashlight
* battery powered radio
* extra batteries
* water
* snack food
* matches
* extra hats, socks and mittens
* First aid kit with pocket knife
* Necessary medications
* blanket(s)
* tow chain or rope
* road salt and sand
* booster cables
* emergency flares

Prep your home or apartment:

-As discussed in my post on “Heat Saving Suggestions” back in October, winterizing your house works to trap heat indoors. This couldn’t be more important than when you are heating your home with supplemental, non-electric heat. Caulk, weather-strip, and cover with plastic, cloth, or other film any leaky windows and doors.
-Clear out your gutters, if you have them, trim any branches that lean ominously towards your roof, if possible, and fix leaky roofs.
-If your home is susceptible to frozen pipes, leave the faucet minutely dripping. Insulate your pipes with foam covering available from home building stores, or, if you’re a renter, request that your property owner do so. In the event that a pipe bursts, know how to turn off your water supply. If you’re a renter, ask your property owner to show you how to do so.

Prep your outdoor paths & drives:

-Keep rock salt on hand to melt ice-covered sidewalks.
-Keep bags of playground sand on hand to provide extra traction (easily sourced from a hardware or home supply store).
-Keep a snow shovel or two on hand, as well as other flat-headed shovels for chipping away at ice.

Prep your wardrobe:

-Wear a number of layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing (I wore 5 on the coldest days). Any outerwear, like coats and hats, should be tightly woven and water repellent, if possible. Invest in several pairs of really warm wool socks.
-Wear mittens instead of gloves, as they are considerably warmer.
-Always, always wear a hat, even indoors, if necessary. We loose a good deal of bodily warmth through our heads, so, pack it up, pack it in!
-If you’re in seriously frigid outdoor temperatures, cover your mouth over with a scarf in order to keep your lungs protected.
-Wear proper foot ware. Again, this is one of the areas I was woefully unprepared for. Water-resistant, insulated boots with ankle support and good traction are absolutely imperative in navigating winter terrains safely.

Prep your pantry:

-Keep nonperishable foods on hand, including canned goods, crackers, jerky, nuts, trail mix, protein or snack bars, granola, etc. You want things you can munch without much preparation.
-As we own a gas stove, we were able to continue cooking during our power outage, simply by igniting the fuel with a match. If you own an electric stove, though, you might be out of luck. It is possible to cook during an outage, however, if you have the proper equipment. Camp stoves, powered by propane, or grills, also propane fueled, can all be used outdoors.
-Keep enough food on hand for your entire family for two weeks. Even if you don’t end up using it during the colder months, it will keep and can be used later throughout the year.
-If any members of your household have special diets or allergies, make sure you have what they need on hand. Infant formula, baby food, or insulin or special medications should be purchased or refilled before the storm hits.
-As water will be in short supply when the power fails (anyone on a mechanical pump will loose the ability to access water in their homes), keep compostable cups, plates, and utensils on hand for food use. After the storm passes, toss them in the compost.
-Don’t forget your furry friends. Keep enough pet food on hand to feed your buddies for 1-2 weeks.
-Lengthy power outages mean no refrigeration. Accordingly, any food items stored in your refrigerator or freezer at the time of outage will need to be consumed, tossed, or stored elsewhere. As it was absolutely beyond chilly outside, I emptied the contents of my fridge into two large insulated coolers and simply stored them outdoors on my porch. Frozen items went into a separate cooler, the bottom of which I buried in the snow. Lacking a porch, or a backyard, consider placing coolers on your stoop, balconey, or windowsill. Lacking any of those, start eating “refrigerator/freezer” medley, working through the most perishable items first.

Prep your water supply:

-Water is essential for survival. While it’s possible to go without food for some time, a lack of water can produce disastrous results, quickly. For each person in your home, provide one gallon of water per day. That allows for 2 quarts to drink and cook with, and 2 remaining quarts for personal hygiene and dishwashing. It’s suggested that between 3-5 days worth of supplemental water be kept on hand at all times. I might extend that to one week, especially if you live in areas prone to severe cold weather conditions. If you have domestic or farm animals, remember that they’ll need to be kept supplied with water, too.
-Store your water in a cool, dry area away from direct sunlight. Store away from sources of hydrocarbon vapors, such as flammable liquids or pesticides, as these can penetrate plastic containers and contaminate your back-up water supply.
-Water stored this way will last for some time, but it’s advised that you change out publicly-sourced water every six months. Commercially bottled water will last around one year.
-When we lost our water supply, we turned to the snow itself. We’d scoop it up in metal mixing bowls and bring it inside to melt in a big stock pot placed atop our wood stove or heated on our gas range. This might be a viable option for you, as well, to use for purposes of physical hygiene, dish washing, or supplying to farm animals. It isn’t advisable as a drinking option, though.
-If you suspect you might lose power, fill up your bathtub, at least partially, anyways. That water can be used for flushing toilets, along with other household uses.

Did any of you lose power during the snowpocalypse? I’d love to learn about your Jack Frost-fighting strategies. You can view photos of my experience here .
*I’m on Twitter, and I’d love to connect with some of you there, too.

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  • Well I got 2or3 more inches and all the snow from last storm hasn’t melted yet and they are forecasting 3to5 more on Saturday. Don’t let it snow!! Love the pictures and really lots of very good advice and info for winter storm prepareation. Luvins Mom

  • What a great list of tips. I live in Buffalo and these come in handy more than we’d like!

    As for having candles in stock, we always make sure they are in a place we can easily find in the dark :-)

  • This is definitely a good list. I have one thing to add though. Make sure you get a steel-bladed snow shovel over a plastic one. The plastic ones are fine for plain snow, but if it’s icy, they are next to useless. Also, the hook end of a hammer makes a handy ice demolisher if you’re in a pinch.

  • Interesting reading for those of us here on the west coast, where we should have our own ‘earthquake’ kits prepared for home/work/car at all times, regardless of season. Thanks for the ‘heads up’ reminder to check my own prep work!

  • a little confused by your use of the word bodega…. it almost exclusively implies a very urban location, i.e. boston or n.y.c. . in none of these places would one have a woodstove.

    • d

      ashley wasn’t referencing the bodega in terms of the stove, she was talking about picking up antibacterial cream and band-aid at a bodega.

      i know a lot of us think of bodegas as being only in cities, but it mainly means a small store. in europe bodegas are referenced as small wine cellars. but in this case i think she’s using the “small corner store” reference, which i’m pretty sure isn’t exclusive to cities.


  • d-ditto what grace said. we have bodegas here in asheville, which isn’t urban by any stretch. simply, a small, independently-owned multi-goods store. where you’d opt to grab some pharmacy-like items, instead of at somewhere like, say, walgreens.

  • I live in West Avl and experienced the same snow- maybe a few less inches. We used our front porch as our kitchen with tubs of snow for the fridge and our propane grill as our stove since we don’t have a wood burning stove. We got lucky that the power outage started at our house so our next door neighbors had power and let us run an extension cord. Always be nice to your neighbors- you never know when they can really help you out of a freezing cold jam!

  • One thing to add to the car list: an extra set of windshield wipers. We got stuck on an unplowed interstate in VA recently and one of our wipers broke off. We had to stop every 10 minutes to reattach it with a sandwich bag twistie I found on the floor of the car. No fun! And it was hours before we found a store that was open – I hate to sing the praises of Walmart, but that day I was thanking god they are everywhere.

  • I was reminded that I need a kit yesterday when there was an earthquake here in the Bay area. Thanks for all the great tips!

  • Thanks for including the camp stove, we had an ice storm that knocked out power. My dad opened the garage door and fired up a propane stove for coffee.

    Thanks for the advice on the secondary heat sources and battery radios.

  • “Good design is about creating lives of purpose and mindfulness…” I don’t want to copy and paste that entire sentence, but what a wonderful quote about design. I love it!

  • We’re experiencing a “big freeze” here in Ireland at the moment.
    We’ve got a tub filled with water and a few other preps in place, but this article pointed out some things we’d missed.
    So glad for this.

  • Growing up in a house in the woods, frozen pipes were a regular occurrence. When the temps were supposed to drop down, my folks would stick a five gallon bucket in the bathtub and turn the faucet to a slow drip. This did two things, it kept the pipes open (usually) and provided an extra water supply. I’m extremely glad to live in a well-insulated house these days!

  • I packed the Hickory Farms box of sausage and cheese in my car in case we get stuck in the snow. When I lived in CA I probably would have tossed it, but now I actually have a need for over-processed preserved food!

  • Wonderful list, Ashley! I would just add that even if you don’t live in areas that receive a lot of snowfall, it’s still a good idea to keep chains in your car. It’s snowed once in pdx this winter and only a little, but I still needed chains to get up the big hills to my house.

  • Canned, ready-to-heat soup is good to have on hand. Eating warm foods warms you up nicely. I have an oil lamp that is bright enough for reading, and have used it during quite a few outages. If you have camping gear, make sure it’s accessible. Your campstove can be pretty handy.

    I keep a fair amount of my favorite soda on hand. When the 1 liter bottles are empty, I clean them and fill them with water. I keep about 25 liters of water stored. This was a Red Cross tip.

    I love my woodstove; it’s cozy, and very handy as backup heat.

  • This should be essential reading for us all, this winter. We may not have had these problems this year (here on the West coast) but it’s happened before & will again. Thanks for helping us all be more prepared!

  • I live in rural Maine. Ten years ago, we lost power for 2 weeks when we had an ice storm. We often lose power every winter. I suggest most importantly, do not freak out. You’ll live. Wood stove, kitty litter for traction, 4 snow tires, blankets, oil lamp (personally, I hate the the wind up lanterns, they drive ya nuts), candles, matches, flashlights, extra water, protein bars. Radio of some sort. Dog food. Keep car fluids full. A shovel or 2. Finally, booze, chocolate and books. And–get to know your neighbors and enjoy the beauty of the winter world.

  • I’m sure you did not mean “rechargeable” batteries. Normally these are preferred, but in a power outage, especially one that lasts for 4 1/2 days, you’d best have on hand many extra regular, non-rechargeable batteries!! Keep warm, and thanks for the awesome preparedness list!

  • We live in a very rural area, 15 miles from town. It pays to be prepared. I know this article was about winter prep, but I included some other things as well as they came to mind.

    ~~Keep a backpack in your car during winter months with emergency supplies. It can easily be moved from one car to another or put on your back if you have to walk.
    ~~NEVER go somewhere (even if its just a few miles to the store, etc) unless properly dressed and the right shoes. Keep an umbrella in the car. Large trash bags can double as rain gear.
    ~~Always keep a blanket in the car, and perhaps a foil/mylar emergency blanket in the glove box. (We were glad to have these when we slid into a snowy ditch 4 miles from home and hubby had to walk for help. This was before we got our cell phones)
    ~~If you are conserving heat, gather in one room. If there is an open doorway or hall, hang a sheet or blanket to keep the warm air contained. Allow for ventilation if burning candles, etc.
    ~~After Halloween, I shop for the discounted glow sticks. Unless you plan to stay up all night with a 6-8 hrs stick, these short term sticks are just fine.
    ~~I think oil lamps are safer than candles, so we have three. Watch for the lamp oil to go on sale. I do buy tea light candles, glass votive holders and small boxes of matches. They can easily be kept on a shelf, medicine cabinet in the bathroom, bedside drawer, etc. when your flashlight goes missing.
    ****LOL…guess what? The power just went out! Glad the laptop is charged, but the internet is not gonna work. I may have to copy/paste this somewhere and save to post later****
    ~~Make sure you have charge cords that work with your car to recharge laptops, kids games and cell phones. Might make things more bearabe after many hours without power and the ‘toys’ die.
    ~~Mini LED flashlights (preferably with a wrist loop). You can find them for a dollar or two on sale. We keep one hanging on the doorknob inside every room, as well as in each car and purse….and I have 6 more put away, just in case.
    ~~If ever I feel a power outage might occur, I fill the washing machine. We are on a well. No power, no well, unless we hook up the generator. We already have drinking water stored, so we use this water for flushing the toilet. Whatever is left after the outage, I use to start a load of laundry.
    ~~Keep your cell, small LED flashlight, ID, pocket knife, etc. in your purse. If we are in a tornado watch, I put my purse in our safe place (our pantry) that way I have my stuff where I need it in a hurry.
    ~~Make up an emergency contact list to send to your out-of-area family and to share with local friends. Your home, work and cell numbers, email, facebook info; contact info of your relatives; names, numbers, email addys of closest neighbors. Remember, your relative might know your neighbor is Mary, but Mary who? Include last names! Sometimes you can’t communicate locally but can call an out of area relative/friend.
    ~~The above contact list is also handy to post in your home for your children in case of an emergency. After they call 911, they will have the info to share. Include your names and address, and any instructions if they need to leave the house–where to go, what to do, etc.
    ~~The family needs to be aware of what your emergency plan is in case of fire, flood, or your particular brand of natural disaster. (When we got hit by lightning and the house caught fire at 430am, my husband alerted everyone then went out and turned OFF the propane tank–keep a wrench chained there if needed. Daughter put the dogs in the car and moved it out away from the house. KNOW where your keys are! We were ready to do what we could until the vol. fire dept arrived. BTW, keep shoes by the bed.
    ~~If you live rural like we do, make sure you have good quality garden hoses that can reach from one end of your yard to the other and around the house if needed. Buy quick connectors, so you don’t waste time screwing hoses together. (After the neighbor across the road caught his yard on fire and it started traveling down the road and into the trees we realized how fast we could have had a problem).

    ~~Finally, be aware of your neighbors. Check on them, help them out. My elderly neighbor has an all electric house, but thankfully has a fireplace. But in my opinion she is not well prepared. I did buy her a 6 gallon water jug that can be put on the table or counter top for long term power/water outages; a flash light and a few glow sticks; and a thermal carafe for coffee, etc. Not much really, but its a start.

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