As things escalate in Ukraine and China eyes Taiwan, things will begin to get dicey here in the states. President Biden has already stated that the war will cause gas and energy prices to increase. Not to mention Putin’s threat to America of “consequences you’ve never seen” if we get involved. What exactly that means, I don’t know. But it is still winter and if the power goes out, we are in for a hard month.
What to Do When the Power Goes Out in the Winter
As I mentioned, I cannot tell you what Putin’s warning entails. However, I do not think he would invade or try to bomb us. That would be a losing proposition for him. But attacking our power grids and other infrastructure, I can definitely see that. A few well-placed hacks and we find ourselves without power.
I live in the northeast and our winters are nothing to take lightly. It is not unusual for us to spend weeks below zero. Fortunately, I live in a house and have a generator, as do many of the people in my little town. And for the most part, a generator is a great solution when the power goes out in the winter, as long as you have gas.
However, a generator might not always be a viable solution. In the event of retribution from a country like Russia or China, gas will be in short supply. Of course, you can have some on hand, but it is only going to last so long. Also, for those that live in an apartment, a generator is all but useless for utilities like heat. Because you don’t have access to the furnace. Not to mention, you don’t want to run a generator in an enclosed space.
As with anything, prior planning will help ease the pain of an unfortunate event. For that reason, I have a personal emergency kit that is ready to grab in the event of a tornado, power outage, etc. By having it ready to go, I can enact my emergency plan and ensure my family’s safety quickly if we are in the winter months and the power goes out. When it is sub-zero outside and you have no power, time is of the essence.
My kit includes the following items:
Lantern (battery operated)
A lantern or two is very handy when the power goes out. Nothing makes an emergency worse than sitting in the dark. Although I like rechargeable devices like lanterns and flashlights, I prefer and battery-operated lantern in my kit. You have no idea how long the outage will last, and you may run out of ways to recharge it.
Candles are a good second to lanterns. They require no power, and you can light up a room fairly well with them. Just make sure you are paying attention to them.
Flashlights can be indispensable in a power outage. Having one or two in your kit will ensure that you have adequate mobile lighting. As with the lantern, I opt for battery-operated flashlights.
Make sure you have extra batteries on hand for anything battery-operated, like lanterns, flashlights, and walkie-talkies. If you can afford it, try to have a hefty supply. Remember, you don’t know how long the outage will last.
One or more power banks are good to keep on hand and keep charged. There are different levels, including solar-powered charging banks, that provide quite a few charges. Even though your lantern and flashlights will be battery operated, you can still use rechargeable ones until you run out of charges. In the event of a blackout your phone most likely won’t work, so shut it off to preserve battery life.
A small crank radio is an absolute must, as it gives you the ability to hear what is going on. However, in a complete blackout, there will most likely be no radio signal. But it is still good to have on hand, in the event some power gets restored or local stations have emergency options in place. Make sure it has a weather band as well.
Make sure to have sleeping bags for everyone in the family. Personally, I have the military modular sleeping systems for my family. That way we are covered for different temperatures, all the way down to zero. However, if that is not an option, you can line sleeping bags with blankets to add extra warmth. If you can find bags that zip together, couples and children can also benefit from body heat.
Although it is always a good idea to have your pantry stocked, it is also good to have easy foods on hand. Stuff like freeze-dried foods, MREs, Ramen cups, etc. are good options that don’t require a full cooking apparatus.
Small Cooking System
Some kind of small cooking system like Sterno or a camp stove of some kind should work well. They do not have to be able to cook a gourmet meal, just easy foods for survival. However, if you are forced to cook inside the home, do it on the stove and monitor it at all times. Likewise, always have fire prevention apparatus on hand. Also, make sure you have enough fuel for the long haul and use it sparingly. You can even just use it to boil water to rehydrate freeze-dried food.
Instant Hand/Foot Warmer Packs
The instant hand and foot warmers can be a life saver. They heat up on their own, quickly, and last for several hours. If you place them somewhere near your body, they will also keep your core warm.
I am a little leery about including this but in extreme emergencies, a catalytic heater, like the Mr. Heater can be a life saver. Although Mr. Heater is billed as an indoor/outdoor heater, there is still the inherent risk of asphyxiation. It might be slightly counterproductive, but if you use one indoors, make sure to keep the area ventilated. Also, you will need to make sure that you have canisters of propane on hand.
While not imperative, some form of communication between you and others in your area is a good idea. In the event of a normal outage that could be back on in days, this is a non-issue. However, in the event of a more catastrophic outage, communication could be essential. Many good walkie-talkies also provide weather and other beneficial information.
This is less of an issue if you are on city water. However, if you are in a rural area and have a well and pump, water is more of an issue. You will need it to drink, cook and flush your toilet.
What to do
If you do find yourself in a situation where the power goes out in the winter, long-term, there are steps you can take to mitigate the risk.
Keep the family together
The first thing you want to do is gather the family together in one location. A smaller room would be best because it will help hold in the body heat to a small degree. Every little bit helps. Make sure to bring plenty of blankets with you. Huddling together under blankets is a great way to capitalize on body heat.
Check for Drafts and Seal Them
Go through the house and make sure that all windows are closed and sealed. Also, check for any drafts or leaks throughout the house. If you find any, seal them. Likewise, window winterizing kits help reduce cold seepage through windows.
Close Doors Throughout the House
When you have everyone settled in one location, go through the house and close all interior doors. This will help to ensure that there are no drafts or leaks coming from other rooms. This will also help to ensure that any heat you are able to create in your selected area, stays there.
Dress in Layers
Make sure that everyone has plenty of layers to keep them warm. If you have any wool in the house, this is the time to put it on. Likewise, if you have any hunting or snowmobiling suits, they will come in handy here.
Keep Doors and Windows Closed
Keep all doors and windows closed, unless absolutely necessary. If you must go out for something, try to make a list of everything you might need and take care of it all at the same time. Constant opening and closing the exterior door will reduce what heat you have in the house dramatically.
Finally, sitting in the dark waiting for the power to be restored can be depressing, at best. Making it through hardship often requires distraction, especially for the kids. If you have children, bring board games, coloring books, etc. to keep them occupied. Also, bring dice or cards for you and other adults. Even if it is just you, solitaire is better than staring into the darkness. If you are a musician or have other hobbies that don’t require power, bring them along as well.
From renewable energy sources causing blackouts (like Texas and California) to an unstable international climate, blackouts are a real concern. This is especially so while we are still in the winter months. However, it doesn’t have to be life-threatening, if you prepare properly.
Although no amount of preparation will make it as comfortable as having power, you can at least make it tolerable. And that will add to the mindset necessary to survive when things look bleakest, especially when the power goes out in the dead of winter.