With winter coming to most of the country, I thought I’d write something about how to survive if you’re stuck at home during a blizzard or winter ice storm and the power goes out. We don’t really have that problem down here in Phoenix but I’ve lived in places like Alaska, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and others where it can be an issue.
Normally, winter storms aren’t really an issue. Unfortunately they can occasionally be a REALLY BIG issue if you aren’t prepared for them.
Just to give you an idea of just how bad things can get, check out the list of blizzards that have hit the US that are listed on Wikipedia. Brrr!
During these storms, the safest thing you can do generally is get home and stay home. Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared to do that. Some of this is similar advice to what I wrote in what you need to know about Ebola and what you can do, but big storms like this have a tendency to knock out power, leaving some without heat, light, or a way to cook while you’re stuck at home.
Here are some things you need to consider now so that you’re ready before a storm hits.
Obviously, heat is the big issue here. Doesn’t matter what kind of supplies you have at home if you freeze to death. There are a few things you can do to help keep you warm when it’s freezing outside and you lose power.
If you have a fireplace and some wood stored inside then you’re pretty much got your problems licked. All you have to do is make sure you can start the fire and keep it going. Not too difficult. Just make sure that you have a couple of fire extinguishers in case something happens, because having your house burn down during a blizzard would really suck. It happens.
If you can’t have heat directly in your home for whatever reason, one thing you can do is build a fire outside (provided you can get enough windbreak for it) and heat up some non-river stones in it. River stones can contain tiny pockets of water that can explode when heated. Then when you need to heat up your area around your bed or where you’re sitting, bring in some rocks and put them on something that can handle the heat and they’ll be like a little furnace. If you keep rotating stones like this you can stay pretty comfortable.
Make sure you have layers of clothes that you can put on. Polypro moisture wicking thermal underwear like we use in the military is a great base layer because it pulls sweat from your body.
A fleece wool cap is really good for this kind of thing and is what I use when I’m deployed or for hanging out with my neighbors at night in the wintertime. Don’t forget some kind of warm gloves.
Have a couple of blankets too that you can wrap around your shoulders, especially to warm you back up if you have to go outside at any point to shovel snow off the roof or whatever.
Speaking of sweat, whatever you do, if it’s cold in your house; don’t sweat. I know some websites out there tell you to do vigorous exercise or whatever to keep warm but that’s a terrible idea. Moving around and even exercise is one thing but if you’re breaking a sweat doing it, you and your clothes will start evaporating that sweat and your heat will get wicked right off you.
Insulating your home
I’m not talking here about the stuff in your walls. If there’s a bad winter storm coming, you should have some plastic wrap and tape ready to cover the inside of your windows to help keep the heat in and the cold out. Put it on the walls and leave an air gap between it and the plastic so you have that cushion of non-moving air. This will keep drafts from coming in there as well. The easiest solution to this though is just to get the 3M Indoor Window Insulator Kit, which will cover 5 windows each.
Get some of your old towels and put them in the space under your doors to keep that draft out. Try to use only one door to go in and out of (if even that) and get a 3M Indoor Patio Door Insulator Kit to seal up all the rest (including your patio door, obviously).
If you can, try to limit the rooms you need to heat up. Close and seal any doors to any parts of the house that you don’t really need to be in so that heat stays where you need it. If you don’t have a door that you can close and lay a towel down to do that, then use the plastic method.
If you don’t have a fireplace, or if you want to heat any room without a fireplace, you can’t do much better than a space heater. A Mr. Heater Buddy 4,000-9,000-BTU is a very good choice and will heat a 20×10 or so room pretty effectively.
It uses 2 one-pound propane cylinders and there’s a quick disconnect regulator hose adapter available to connect it to a bigger propane tank.
Water is a pretty important one to have. The last thing you need is to be stuck in a house for several days and either your pipes freeze or your water supply from the city or well stops for some reason. You HAVE to have water. You should plan on a gallon a day for each person to take care of drinking and cooking/bathing etc. A 5 gallon container for each person in your family plus one extra should be sufficient for most snow storms.
You should also have a way to filter water. I personally use Sawyer Mini’sbecause they’re cheap, light, take up little room, and with the plunger they give you, you can filter many thousands of gallons with them. You can use snow from the outside in a pinch if you have a way to melt it but you’ll be letting in cold air every time you go get some and some of your heat will go to melting the snow.
If you haven’t noticed, it gets dark pretty quickly during a blizzard. It’s not all that bright even during the day, and then add being winter and all the clouds and snow, and your nights are way longer than normal. You’ll need some kind of light to get around your house.
Just keep in mind that flashlights are cool for walking around but not so cool for when you’re just hanging out or doing something that you need both hands for. For that, get something like a lantern. The Mpowerd Luci inflatable emergency solar lantern that I also reviewed is a perfect choice here because you don’t have to plug it in or change batteries. Just leave it in the light during the day and use it at night. I keep one in my bug out bag.Flashlights are always a good thing to have. The CREE 7W ones I wrote a review on are so cheap that you could easily just give one to each person and have spares throughout the house. They’re awesome too. If you have rechargeable batteries and a solar kit like I use in my bug out bag, you’ll never run out of power.
A really good option is to get LED 12v string lights and just run them off a car battery and keep the car battery topped up with a small solar panel or with a generator.
Candles and lamps are great for situations like this. If you’re in a small room, especially with a few people, some candles will be enough to also keep you pretty warm. Probably the best option here is to just get a couple of 100 hour candles that you can keep in each room. They’ll burn for a few days each and really aren’t very expensive. If you’re stuck without anything and have some olive oil and something to wick it with and are a little handy with DIY projects, you can also make your own oil lamps.
If you get hit by a storm that lasts for several days, you’re going to need food already at home. Heading out during the storm to get food isn’t a good idea, and you need to get this well in advance of even hearing about a storm though anyway because grocery stores have a tendency to be emptied out prior to big storms hitting. Also, delivery trucks can’t always make it to restock shelves until after it’s over.
Obviously, the answer here is to have food available at home. If you’re not into canning your own (which takes time to learn, money to buy equipment, and time to stock things up), the next best thing is to just buy emergency food and keep it stored.
I know that some people balk at spending money on stored food but look at it this way: you’d have to eat anyway. Considering the price per meal of emergency food, it’s actually pretty cheap. Wise 104-serving emergency food pack, for example, is about $1.40 per serving and lasts for 25 years. Food4Patriots says it’s as low as $1.39 per serving and lasts for 25 years as well. For a little better taste (from what I understand), the Mountain House Classic Bucket is only $2.75 per meal. All of these options allow you to cook them by just using hot water too, which brings me to the next point.
If you have food like above, all you need to do is boil water. There are lots of ways to do that so I won’t go into that here since a lot of those solutions will be covered below anyway. If you don’t have a simple way to heat up water, you could always pick up a couple of cases of MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) that include that food heater pack you just add water too. You can also just get few MRE heaters themselves and use it with any pouch that’ll fit (and keep you warm at the same time). Just remember that these heater packs shouldn’t be used inside, no matter how many times we did in the Army.
I know we briefly mentioned power above. If you have some kind of place with ventilation that you can run a generator then something like these Yamaha EF2000iS portable generators are great. They’re quiet, run very well, and you can hook two of them together with an adapter cable. That way you can run just one most of the time to save fuel and add the second if you need more power.
Normally I’d suggest getting a solar generator setup or something to suit your power needs – or make one with a good battery, solar panel, charge controller, and inverter – but for a blizzard, they won’t work very well due to the lack of sunlight. They’re a great idea for most circumstances because they’re silent and don’t need fuel.
The biggest thing you need in a storm like this is a good emergency weather radio. The Ambient Weather WR-335 can charge by a/c, USB, the hand crank or solar and has these additional features:
- USB Charging Cable
- 10-in-1 Charger for multiple phones
- USB power output port is compatible with Apple IPhone, Ipad and Ipod devices
- 35 lumen LED Flashlight
- Flashlight provides flashing nightlight “beacon” when AC power goes out
- Siren: 125 db
- Retractable Antenna
- Headphone Jack for personal listening
- Audio input jack for listening to your media players (smart phones, Ipods, mp3 players)
The only problem with just the weather radio is that you can’t talk to anyone with it. BY FAR, the best emergency communication system there is is a ham radio. Cell towers may not work in your area when you need them to. BTW, you can get weather radio frequencies on almost all ham radios out there.
Also, make sure you have a family emergency communication plan and include scenarios like this, that way you guys know how you’ll get in touch with each other if someone’s not home yet or if you’re staying in different homes.
If you have a prescription that you can’t afford to be without, make sure you aren’t just about out if a storm’s coming. Also, research your condition to make sure you know what things can make it worse or what you can do to make it better.
Make sure you have a first aid kit at home. You won’t be able to get to a hospital, and an ambulance may not even be able to get to you. You may need to fend for yourself for a while. This one would be a great choice but there are smaller kits available.
Keep some kind of medical book at home to walk you through things. That ham radio would really come in handy here to get guidance from someone with medical training but that may not be possible, and not everything you’d want to treat will be that big of an emergency. The Survival Medicine Handbook: A Guide for When Help is Not on the Way is a great one to have, as is Where There Is No Doctor.
If you’re stuck at home for several days without power, your family will get a
little lot stir crazy if you don’t find ways to keep them busy.
Plan out a list of honey-do things around the house that you’d get done if you couldn’t leave for a few days and make sure you have the tools and supplies beforehand to do them. This would also be a good time to go through your bug out bag and make sure everything works or to find out what you still need.
If you have kids (or even if you don’t) it would probably be a good idea to have some games available. I have an article on games that will help you learn prepper or survival skills that you may be interested in.
Have a plan
As always, the key to all this is to have a plan. Plan out what you think you’ll face and what you’d need to deal with it and plan out what you’ll do during your stay at home if the power goes out and it’s freezing and storming out. Originally posted on Graywolf Survival.