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Snow Bound

Aunt Toby realizes that there are a whole lot of people in what is referred to as the Mid-Atlantic Region who are (if they are clever and good at following directions) hunkered down, looking out their windows at snow and wind and general ‘snowmageddan’. And many of them are in areas (cough, DC, cough) where the whole concept of snow plowing and road cleaning is really more in the theory rather than the practice. From my quick and dirty search, it looks as if there are several hundred thousand homes without power in Maryland and Northern Virginia.

I hate to tell you this but with the best will in the world, sometimes power outages can last for days. In some cases (like, during an ice storm such as the North East had in 1996), we’re talking WEEKS. And I realize that right now is not perhaps the most auspicious time to talk about this…but never let it be said that Aunt Toby would not take the opportunity to put something out there, especially since Accuweather is predicting another major snow storm (this time for the Northeast) as of this coming Wednesday.

I’ve talked about ‘being prepared’ here.

Let’s talk about some real down on the ground issues:
1) Stay Put. If you live in an area where the climate has heretofore not been exactly snowy, the whole issue of having road crews and equipment might now becomes extremely important. Because if nothing is moving, that means services such as ambulance, fire and police are also not moving too quickly either. Aunt Toby cannot be too enthusiastic in making this statement: Don’t do anything stupid.
And stupid includes things such as: shoveling snow when you have high blood pressure or other medical issues. Stupid also includes things such as worrying that your roof has too much snow load and climbing up ladders to go check…or climbing up on your roof to shovel it off (if you live in Watertown, Oswego or on the Tug Hill Plateau, however, you can sort of ignore this message because so much snow comes down there that if you do shovel your roof and fall off, you will be falling only about 5 feet and can then crawl into a second story window). Stupid also includes doing things like dragging your gas or charcoal grill into the house and cooking with it in the house – can we all say ‘carbon monoxide poisoning’? Knew you could.

2) Shoveling. The Inuit supposedly have a zillion words for different sorts for snow. Aunt Toby’s words for this snow are: Damn Heavy.
People who are not used to shoveling snow do not understand just how much sheer physical labor is involved. We had a next door neighbor who had heart attacks two years in a row doing snow removal in his driveway. With a snow-blower. That’s right – pushing a snow blower through heavy wet snow is damned hard work too. So, if you have issues, call for help. If you don’t but are not used to heavy physical labor (and that is 98% of us since we are all chained to desks with computers now), take it easy. Take it easy means ‘shovel in short 10-minute sections, moving slowly, and wait for the snow to stop first.” It does you absolutely no good to shovel snow (unless you have a doggy that has to go out to do his business) while the storm is still going on. If there is wind, it is even worse. While you are waiting, check your yellow pages for people who plow and call for an appointment when the storm is done. If you pop a disk in your spine shoveling snow, with emergency services either extremely slow or not able to reach you at all, you will have an extremely painful and upsetting time until someone can help you. The snow will still be there when the storm ends. Trust me; it’s not going anyplace and neither are you.

3) Power outages. When there are widespread power outages from trees falling on lines (rather than just having one substation have an issue) and the weather is still bad, the major issue for the utilities is getting the crews out there to restore power SAFELY. Sometimes that means waiting for the entire storm to stop. it is not safe for line crew members up at the end of the bucket when the wind is gusting. The truck might be secured down but the bucket is at the end of an articulated arm. And there are only so many crews, so people in one part of the area might get their power restored a long time before you do.If the weather is still bad, trying to restore power might be a bad idea – more trees may come down. Depending on your utility, they may be waiting this out. Which means that you may be sitting in the dark and the cold for a while. Why is that? Well, although furnaces are actually quite simple in terms of what they really are (a metal box with fire bricks inside that burns some sort of fuel to make either hot air or hot water), the system of getting the hot air to where you want it requires either a blower (for forced hot air) or a pump (to send the hot water to radiators, baseboard, etc.). And blowers and pumps run on…right. Electricity. So, even if you could get the furnace to kick on (and they usually have an electric start of some sort), there is no way to get the blower or pump to work. If you find your family in that situation, do this:
Close off all the rooms that you can and gather everyone in one room and live there. Make sure you close the curtains as soon as the sun starts to go down and open them in the morning to get as much solar gain as you can. Bring down extra clothing, blankets, pillows, bedding and set up there. Cuddle up. If you have a fireplace with a wood stove or insert or natural gas that doesn’t depend on power, so much the better.

4) Food: Food in the freezer will stay frozen for several days; the food in the fridge part will not last that long. Eat that up first. If you have a grill – bring it as close to the house as you can (on the deck is fine) but do not bring it into the house. You can use the grill to cook with as long as your fuel lasts. Anything you can cook on a stove you can cook on a grill. If the power outage lasts longer than 3-4 days, the food in the freezer will start to defrost. Cook that up, store in a cooler outside (as long as the temperatures remain cold), and eat that up. You don’t want to leave meat in the freezer to defrost completely and go bad. If the weather improves and the power outage is still in effect, then you should check with your utility to see if and where they handing out dry ice to put into refrigerators. Pick up supplies of that and follow their directions in terms of use. Eat the food in the fridge and the freezer before you go to canned foods – those will not go bad.

5) Water: For those folks who either live in the country or live in areas where you have your own private sewer and water (read: septic system and a well), here is a hint for the future (and the future might be this coming week because supposedly we are going to get another one of these storms). Go to your local grocery store and ask if they have five gallon buckets that you can buy. If they don’t, try whatever big box home/lumber yard place you have and ask them. Get several. If you have kids and dogs, you might want to put away 6-10. Before the storm hits, clean and rinse them well. Fill with water, close up and store someplace where it will not freeze. If you lose your power, you will also lose your water, not only for drinking and cooking but also for such activities as flushing toilets. You don’t need a whole 5 gal. bucket of water to flush a toilet, but you will need a good gallon to do it with. The other thing is to tell family members NOT to flush with every toilet use. Yes, I know that has a very high ‘yuck’ factor, but only using two gallons on one flush in the morning and one flush at night is much more efficient than using one every single time. And if the power outage lasts for more than a couple of days, you will wish you still had that water to use to flush the toilets or cook with instead of having used it all up on Day One with toilet flushing.

6) Fire. If you are using candles for light or the fireplace for heat, do it safely. Keep flammable materials such as curtains and bedding away from both. Again – you don’t want to burn the house down and you don’t want anyone to get burned – emergency services are not going to be able to get to you quickly.

Stay warm, stay inside, stay safe.
(snow photo courtesy of Sage)

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2 Comments

  1. cidell says:

    I’m really lucky that I’ve never lost power here. In the city, the lines are buried so less susceptible to falling trees, etc. but, the narrow streets and double side parking make plowing miserable.

  2. htwollin says:

    Glad you kept your power – sitting in the dark and cold is the ultimate misery.

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