Where I live in North Texas received mainly freezing rain and a little sleet. In some places the accumulation was upwards of an inch of solid ice. Needless to say it was a complete mess. In fact we haven’t experienced a stint of cold weather like this – in December – since the late 1800s.
These instances of severe weather causing disruptions in normal life is what I primarily believe we should all be preparing for. I was fairly well prepared for this instance – more so than my neighbors – but there were also some areas in my preps where I was seriously lacking.
Every SHTF situation – no matter how minor – is an opportunity to learn and improve your survivability. And these winter storms are a perfect example of what you should be preparing for.
So what went right and what went wrong?
Lets get into my experience, what I learned and what you can learn from my successes and failures.
We Stayed Warm
There’s a solid history of loosing power in bad storms out here on the farm so a wood stove had been installed shortly before my wife and I moved into the house. Before that they relied on gas (propane) and electric space heaters for heat.
A wood stove is fairly efficient – more than most fireplaces – and they are also relatively affordable. Needless to say they’re a good thing to have when the power goes out in the winter.
I still had my firewood stacked in the back of the covered barn area behind the house and hadn’t brought much up to the porch so I had to bring up firewood just about every day. Slipping and falling everywhere on the ice wasn’t much fun.
We had enough firewood to get through this storm, but it put a substantial dent in the supply leaving only a couple days worth left in the pile.
There is plenty of seasoned wood cut down for me but I have to finish cutting it to length and splitting it into firewood. The problem is that it is located over a mile down a dirt road on another part of the farm. It’s difficult and sometimes dangerous to get down there when it’s to muddy or there’s lots of ice.
If the power had been out for another couple days I would have run out of firewood up at the house and been forced to burn my pecan wood for the smoker and then brave a trip down the extremely muddy dirt road. And our soil makes a really mean sticky mud that is extremely easy to get stuck in. Friends that visit from out of state say it’s the nastiest mud they’ve ever seen.
I also used a mini radiant heater that uses a small metal pan, 2 terra cotta pots and 4 tea lights. This little heater sat in front of my kitchen sink to help keep the pipes warmed up to avoid freezing. You can find a link to some info on it here: http://www.instructables.com/id/Flower-Pots-Tea-Lights-Heater/
The ability of 4 tea lights to provide heat is very, very limited. I don’t have definitive proof that it works – the math doesn’t support it either – but my wife and I both felt like it made a difference. Maybe I’ll do a better test soon to share with the community. I know it kept the floor warm where my pipes usually freeze and they didn’t freeze this time. Repairing plumbing while wet and freezing sucks, it really, really sucks.
Plenty of Food
We had plenty of food in the fridge and deep freeze. The second day we cleaned out the fridge and freezer and only stored what we really wanted to keep in the chest style deep freeze.
The chest style deep freeze stays frozen much longer than the stand up versions since they don’t loose cold air as quickly when they’re opened.
We used the wood stove to cook perishables and stored some of the food in coolers.
Considering our canned and dry goods stockpile – leaving out the long-term emergency food – we weren’t concerned with starving.
If you’re only preparing for minor emergencies like we experienced I recommend at least 7 days of food. 14 days is an even better cushion. Just remember to rotate your food stock so stuff isn’t getting way out of date.
Most Government agencies – like FEMA – say to keep 72 hours of food for emergencies… Our power was out for 5 days! But we could have driven to a store if we had too. The town nearby didn’t loose power and the stores were open.
Lighting Up The Dark
At first not having power wasn’t too much of a hassle. We had plenty of candles and flashlights and played board games instead of watching TV.
Couple that with lanterns and headlamps and we had plenty of light. However in a long-term power outage some oil lamps would be a nice addition to my preps. If you’re storing lamp oil for more than a few years beware the plastic bottles get very brittle and break easily.
Some stores still carry it in metal cans and glass bottles and you can always transfer your lamp oil to better containers. I did have an oil lantern but realized I had no lamp oil! Yup, a little embarrassed.
Oh, and upon opening up our container of spare batteries I discovered it was all but empty. I don’t like keeping too many on hand since they expire but my stock was still unacceptably low.
In-Law’s Generator Wouldn’t Start
My mother-in-law has a generator that usually gets used during power outages so I just assumed I could borrow power from hers for important things.
Needless to say it wasn’t maintained properly and I tried in vain for hours to get it started.
Having my own generator wasn’t a big priority for me since I don’t think it’s necessary for survival. But since my wife and I both work primarily online from home we could have kept up with our workload if we had our own generator.
After a couple days the freezer was thawing out and our chest-style deep freezer was starting to thaw a little. So I borrowed my parent’s for a few days since they still had power. A home generator is on the wish list now.
Work and Day-to-Day Operations
As I mentioned earlier my wife and I work from home primarily as copywriters so we fell behind in work. Our clients are easy going and any deadlines were able to be moved back because of our lack of internet and power to run the computers.
We could have gone elsewhere to work but we made the decision to stay home and keep the house heated to avoid frozen pipes. Our farmhouse was built in 1941 and sits on a pier and beam style foundation. If the home isn’t heated in the cold weather it’s easy for the pipes to freeze up and bust.
As an after-thought I could have shut off the water to the house and opened up the faucets and then the pipes would have been okay. Then leaving the house unattended wouldn’t have been an issue. Not being able to get our work done was a big source of stress.
It’s not recommended to run sensitive electronics directly off of a generator unless it’s made to run electronics. Honda makes efficient generators that will safely power our computers but they are much more expensive than other generators. A solution would be to set up a bank of deep cycle 12-volt batteries and a quality power inverter. Then you charge the batteries with the generator and use the inverter to supply clean power.
Boredom Sets In Quickly
It’s easy to focus on preparing to surviving a situation and forget about entertainment. We spend so much time in front of the TV that we forget what to do when we don’t have it.
After the first day and a half we got out the board games and had some fun while we were stuck at home without power. But we only have a couple of games and during a long winter they could get boring really quickly. I’ll be picking up a couple more board games and maybe a musical instrument like a cheap acoustic guitar – with a ‘learn-to-play’ book!
Animals Get Cold Too
We have a couple of outside dogs that we didn’t want to leave out in the cold – especially at night – so we brought them into the house and shut them in the warm mud room.
I’ll need to make a plan for them if we do decide to leave the house unattended if we loose power for an extended length of time again. Perhaps insulating and enclosing our small infrequently used front porch and installing a doggie door …
If you have farm animals like chickens, goats, rabbits or others they do require extra care during extremely cold weather and a plan should be in place to ensure their survival and comfort during weather storms.
Are your neighbors prepared?
This last ice storm and power outage caught many of my neighbors unprepared. Luckily I was able to lend a hand to a few of them with bringing firewood up to their houses and checking on them.
Many of my neighbors are older and paid a fairly heavy physical toll during this ice and power outage. If you have neighbors with physical limitations it’s good to check on their preparedness level before a situation like we have. Since I’ll be out cutting firewood I’ll be cutting a little extra for my elderly neighbors.
Regardless of how well you think you are prepared to survive you may be unpleasantly surprised when a situation arises to put your preps to use. Our little ice storm and 5-day power outage shouldn’t have been near as difficult to deal with as it was.
I’ll be much better prepared for the next winter storm and I hope you are too! I came across these rocket mass heater kits at a survival expo and they’re probably the best kits I’ve ever found. They can heat your home with twigs … That’d really help me get through the winter!