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
* battery powered radio
* extra batteries
* snack food
* extra hats, socks and mittens
* First aid kit with pocket knife
* Necessary medications
* 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.