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How to Deal With a Winter Power Outage

I’ve lived in New England all my life, so I’m no stranger to heavy winter storms. Remember that New England blizzard in 2015 that dumped three and a half feet of snow in one day? Yeah, I remember it, too. So many people lost power in that storm, and I want to take this opportunity to share a few tips for how to keep your cool when the power goes out.

Stock up before winter sets in

You’ve probably read tales of pioneer families storing dried vegetables and salted meat in preparation for the long winter ahead. Although we’re fortunate enough to have supermarkets within easy distance in this day and age, getting snowed in is still a very real possibility. So make sure to have a few things ready to go at a moment’s notice, such as:

  • Water (gallon jugs of water are almost laughably inexpensive these days)
  • Non-perishable food (soup, chili, canned vegetables, bread, you name it)
  • Toiletries (it’s unlikely for a power outage to last a day or more, but better safe than sorry)
  • Medications (if you know a big storm is coming, try to refill any prescription medications beforehand if you don’t have at least a few days’ worth)
  • Flashlights or lanterns, with extra batteries (try stumbling into a cold bathroom at 2 AM without a flashlight, and you’ll quickly realize how much you want one of these on hand)
  • Battery-powered or hand-crank radio (you can get these from many online retailers, and possibly from sporting goods stores as well)

Check out this article from the American Red Cross for a complete list.

 

Eat food from the fridge and freezer first

As soon as the power goes out, start trying to work through some perishables such as milk and eggs. That way, they’ll still be fresh and safe to eat. If you can, try to shift things into a cooler filled with ice blocks. But if you’ve reached a couple hours without power and there’s still perishable food in the fridge, you should probably play it safe and toss that stuff out.

 

Bundle up!

Don’t give yourself even the slightest chance to freeze. It’s easier to retain existing body heat than to try and return it after it’s already been lost. So, bundle up! Make sure everyone in your household has ample supplies of warm socks, thermal underwear, sweatshirts, sweatpants, hats, and gloves. And make sure your pets have cozy places to snuggle up, too!

Extra tip: try slipping a couple of Hot Hands hand warmers into your gloves if your hands are getting too cold (you can find them online and at most sporting goods stores).

 

Play board games or card games

Obviously, there’s no TV or Netflix when the power goes out, so old-fashioned board games and card games can be a good distraction from the boredom and stress that comes with having no electricity (especially if there are young children to manage).

 

Stretch!

Cold temperatures can stiffen your muscles, so try to have a good stretch every once in a while. Even just a thorough walk around your house or apartment can work wonders.

 

Eat warm foods and drink warm liquids

Folding your hands around a hot cup of coffee or cocoa is a delightful little comfort during the colder seasons. Warm foods and liquids can help your whole body feel warmer, so try to keep some on hand. Now, heating those things up without power can be a little tricky, so here are a couple tips:

  • If you have a gas stove, the gas lines should still work even if the power’s out, but you’ll probably need to light the actual flame with a lighter or a long match (the spark that lights the flame is electric).
  • If you have an electric stove, don’t despair! Use a small gas-powered camping stove instead (try to choose a clean-burning fuel such as butane or propane, and make sure the room is ventilated to avoid carbon monoxide buildup – even just cracking a window open for a minute or so will help get any unwanted fumes out).

 

Keep an eye on everyone’s health

Medical conditions such as asthma and heart problems can be made worse by stress and cold weather, so keep an extra eye on anyone who’s not in tip-top health. Also, watch out for signs of frostbite and hypothermia.

Check out this document for information about symptoms and treatment of frostbite and hypothermia.

 

Know how to contact your local emergency providers

Even in the worst storms, there’s always a way to get in touch with emergency personnel. Also, most towns set up designated shelters during weather emergencies—especially for people with young children or sick or elderly family members. Know where those shelters are going to be (well in advance).

 

Even though it stinks to lose power in the dead of winter, it’s a reality of life when you live in an area like New England. But as long as you’re well prepared, you should be able to pull through just fine.

Check out this page on the American Red Cross website for more information on emergency preparedness!

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