Surprisingly enough, most winter power failures are caused when cold, rainy weather drifts a few degrees below the point of freezing. Sleet and freezing rain can coat trees and power lines, weighing them down with thick coats of ice, and breaking them. Heavy, wet snow blanketing trees can push or break the heaviest limbs and send them crashing onto power lines. To make it worse, ice and snow-covered roads increase travel time for repair crews.
So, what do you do if you’re all curled up with a cup of cocoa and a good book when the power goes out because of a winter storm … and you don’t have a generator or a fireplace?
Most homes will retain their absorbed heat for 8 to 12 hours (depending on their insulation and air sealing) to stay above freezing. However, the longer your home is without power, the colder it will become. So, here’s how to be prepared for a long wait during a winter storm, especially if you’re caring for an infant or someone who is sick or elderly.
Dress in Layers. Start by putting on sweatshirts and sweaters.
Conserve Heat. Depending on how fast your home is cooling down, after an hour or two, close the doors on rooms that aren’t in use, especially upstairs rooms. because these cool down quickest. You want to keep warm air downstairs with you. Also close window curtains (especially on north-facing windows) or cover with extra blankets to slow heat-loss.
Get Cozy. Move everyone to a smaller room that is more centralized in your home and has few windows. Smaller rooms are easier to keep warm, which is very easy to do when you’ve just got a few warm bodies in a small room talking about how long the power will be out. Infants and the elderly are another matter. According to the Centers for Disease Control, infants under one year old lose body heat rapidly and require additional care to keep warm. Older adults over the age of 65 tend to have slower metabolic rates which makes them more susceptible to rapid heat loss. Be sure to have blankets as well as hats and coats on hand. Also watch for signs of hypothermia such as slurred speech, memory loss, and impaired judgement.
Eat Something. Keeping your body running at 98.6°F eats up lots of energy when it’s cold, so it’s important to have enough to eat. Just don’t over do it. Filling your belly too much will actually make you feel colder for about an hour after you eat because your body shifts its energy to digestion. Also remember to limit opening your refrigerator because you’ll want to keep its contents cold.
Watch the Water Pipes. If the temperature goes below 45°F, you should drain your water pipes to prevent them from freezing and bursting. First, fill pitchers with drinking water as well as the bathtub with water for flushing the toilet before turning off the water supply. Next, turn off the main water shut-off valve. It’s located where the water line enters your home. Next, open every faucet in your home and allow the water to drain. Of course, you can always turn the water back on long enough to refresh your water supply.
Burning Matters. NEVER use charcoal or gas grills for heat in your home. Apart from being a fire hazard, they give off lethal carbon monoxide fumes. Using a candle is much safer, but always designate someone to be on guard against fire. Be sure that everyone knows where the fire extinguisher is located.
Getting Too Cold? Often after winter storms move through an area, the temperature can drop severely. If after 24 hours, there’s still no power, it’s time to move everyone into the basement because earth temperature is between 45 and 50 °F. If that’s not an option and and it’s getting harder and harder to stay warm, then you should definitely consider moving to a community shelter.
Surviving a power outage caused by a winter storm is mostly a matter of common sense about knowing what to expect. If an outage ever happens to your family, hopefully you’ll only be inconvenienced for a brief time. But at least now you’ll know how to prepare your home and family for the worst.