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Blog | An Unscheduled Winter Preparedness Test

On New Year's Day (our anniversary) the snow began to fall in rural northeastern Oklahoma, and it continued to fall until somewhere between 8" to 10" was on the ground. When the electricity went off, I had the opportunity to check our level of readiness. I found out that we were pretty well prepared to handle this level of minor emergency, but I also found a few holes in my plan things I hadn't yet done or considered.

In our home here in rural Oklahoma, we do have two wood stoves that came with the house. As a matter of fact, even though it is pretty standard to have either a stove or fireplace around these parts, it was an item we looked for in selecting our new residence. One of the stoves is readily easy to use and the other is backup for a serious cold spell. Fortunately, we had a good supply of firewood. The temperature during this time only dropped down to around 20 degrees (it has since gone down to 5 degrees). To my surprise the house was well insulated and even with the power off, the house retained the heat and we stayed warm. When I got the wood stove fired up, it was quite warm, even somewhat hot.

The maximum time the electricity was off was only eight hours, even though it had gone off for several other shorter times. We were amazed at our dependence on grid electricity. After the first power outage, I went up to my warehouse and loaded up on the items we needed that weren't already in the house. I brought back my Marathon lights, breaklights, candles, kerosene lanterns, a Powerizer, and some extra MRE food items. Fortunately my warehouse is only a little over 100 feet from the house, so this wasn't a big deal. It wasn't like getting in the car and going to a store to purchase all this.

One of the things I am going to do differently is to have an area (probably a closet) in the house to keep all my "home" emergency items. I already had flashlights in the house, but I hadn't brought down any breaklights since our move here last August.

When the power goes off, we lose our water. We have a deep well and the pump is driven by electricity. Now the plan is that I have a 4-Kw gasoline driven electrical generator. But this part of the plan wasn't completed in time for this emergency. It was on my "to do" list to install the generator and figure out where to connect it, so we could power the pump, but not cause other problems to our electrical system.

When I was developing our original emergency plan, that later was documented as part of my Survival Manual for the New Millennium, we went to a lot of garage sales. At one of these we found a couple of kerosene lamps and I had gotten a small supply of kerosene, as a part of my planning. These lamps became part of our lighting at night. We were amazed at how bored we were because we couldn't turn on the television at night. Annie did have a small battery reading lantern that allowed her to read a little. And I had one of the solar/dynamo AM/FM radios working. I cheated by installing two AA batteries to power it. But we wound up going to bed early that night, and both of us got a great night's sleep.

What did we do right and what did we do wrong? Prior to the storm coming in, I had put up some well water in 2-liter pop and other similar containers, so we had water to drink and cook with. What we didn't have was water to flush the toilets with after the first flush. Annie did fill up the bathtub with water, but it leaked, so that was useless. I later got one of my 5-gallon collapsible water containers out of stock, and when the electricity came back on, I filled it up. By-the-way, five gallons of water is heavy.

My first concern when the power went off was for heat. I had visions of us freezing. The first power failure occurred around midnight. Even though I had been sleeping, I awoke when the heater fan became silent and all the small appliances lights were out. I reached for my bedside flashlight and my robe and headed for the wood stove to build a fire. It turned out that the house is well insulated, so my fear of freezing wasn't justified. Even the stove fire may not have been necessary, but it sure felt good and gave me confidence. After this I simply went back to bed and fell asleep until morning.

Now with heat assured, my next concern was for lighting. At this time of year it gets dark early, at 5:30 PM. Our emergency lights consisted of a combination of flashlights, candles, breaklights, Marathon lights, the light built into the Powerizer, and the kerosene "hurricane" lamps all spread out over the house in appropriate spots.

The power came on and off as the day went on. At meal times, when the power was off, Annie used the top of the wood stove to cook. She found some shrimp that was in the freezer that she was concerned might go bad, if power wasn't restored in time so she boiled them in a pot on top of the stove. She warmed some MRE potatoes au gratin and we had a good meal. We were concerned that the items in the refrigerator and freezer might go bad if power stayed off, so when we opened the freezer to get something out, we didn't open it to put it back. Instead we took it out and put it in a box on our enclosed back porch, that served as a natural freezer. Of course, this wouldn't work if the power failed during the summer months, but it worked great for this event.

Just some comments. When I heard about the coming storm, I filled up my car with gas. Even though we didn't have to go anywhere, it would have provided emergency power, communications, and heat. About a month before the power had gone out, I discovered that my new business-type telephone system that we installed when we moved in went down when the power went off. So I installed an emergency two-line phone in both the house and my office to be able to answer the main phone lines when power was out and the phone lines still working. Then I went one step further and installed a UPS (uninterruptable power system) backup power system on my central phone equipment. During the 8-hour power failure the UPS kept the phones working for two hours.

We only lost power on-and-off for a few hours over a two-day period. I talked with a friend of ours in Arkansas she had lost power and run out of gas for three days. And I heard from another person how some people in California had recently lost power for five days due to strong winds. Our little storm made me think! Consider for yourself, what you would do if your power went off and it was freezing outside? What planning would you need to do to remain safe and comfortable? What things would you need to have on-hand? What items would you need to have purchased ahead of time? What items would you need to be able to find if it was dark or cold? Where are you vulnerable? These are just things to consider to help you benefit from our short, minor emergency.

On the bright side of this experience, the snow-covered country was beautiful here in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains. It looked like a real-life version of a picture postcard "Winter Wonderland."