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How to Survive a Power Outage in Winter

Updated on November 2, 2017
Heavy snows cause power outages in winter. Can you survive?
Heavy snows cause power outages in winter. Can you survive?

Winter Power Outage Preparedness

Taking the time to prepare for a winter power outage can mean the difference between comfortably riding it out, or surviving it in misery. It can get scary when the electricity we all take for granted is no longer available, but in winter it's even worse. You may be without heat for long periods of time, your pipes may freeze, or you may be snowed in and stranded in your home for days.

Where I live the power goes out a lot. All it takes is one downed tree limb and we're in the dark for hours. I've lived around here for years, and it's always been that way. So what can we do?

Rather than pretending we're surprised when the power grid lets us down, we've done a little planning and assembled some basic but effective items that help get us through.

Power outages last minutes more often than hours, and hours more often than days, but in some cases we end up without electricity for long periods of time. When a blizzard or major winter storm hits there are always those unfortunate souls around here who go weeks without power.

So, you might be asking yourself like I did: If your power goes out in the winter can you comfortably survive several days without electricity?

Here are a few things to think about to help you prepare.

Non-Perishable Food

Where I live, whenever a snowstorm is coming everyone mobs the grocery stores. If you like the thrill of battling panicked people over a loaf of bread by all means go for it, but a better idea might be to stock some basic non-perishable foods that will get your family through a power failure.

FEMA suggests a three-day supply. Think hearty foods that will pack some protein and calories. Canned goods are ideal and most have a long shelf life. Some companies even make packaged meals for preppers that usually require the addition of a little boiling water.

In the event of a power outage your fridge and freezer suddenly become useless boat anchors. Well, not completely. Remember, they still have insulating properties, and you have a little bit of time before the food spoils.

If you have a gas grill and can still trudge your way to it through the snow you can cook up some of the food and enjoy it before it spoils. A small tabletop model is easy to store and drag out in case of emergency. Just make sure you use it outdoors, never indoors.

Most of these little grills also use the same types of small propane tanks as a portable heater, so you can store the same fuel source for both.

Snow load can break tree branches and down power lines.
Snow load can break tree branches and down power lines.

Emergency Water Supply

If the power goes out you may not be able to rely on your usual water supply. It’s wise to have a stash of potable water on-hand.

FEMA recommends one gallon of water per person (and pet) per day, and a stock of at least three days worth of water. So, if there are two of you in your household you need at least six gallons of water.

How do you store all that water? Of course you can purchase standard gallon jugs or smaller bottles and pile them up on a shelf. Or, you can use a dedicated water storage container. We use an Aqua-tainer water storage container that holds seven gallons of water. The downside of this approach is that it can be heavy to move when full.

What I do is keep the storage container within easy access, and fill it up when a storm is threatening. This requires some awareness of approaching weather issues, and I'm always sure to clean and sterilize it thoroughly if it's been sitting for awhile. But it does solve the storage problems and ensures our water is always fresh.

If you intend to store water be sure to research safe storage practices to avoid any contamination issues.

After a blizzard it may be tough just to get out your door.
After a blizzard it may be tough just to get out your door.

Emergency Radio

Ideally, your Smartphone or cell phone will still be functional in the event of a power outage, and you can keep it charged up with a portable power generator. You can use it to get news on your situation and stay in contact with the world.

If you don't have a portable power source, or if the outage is more widespread, you may have no such luck. You should consider an emergency radio so you can listen to local news broadcasts and stay updated.

Hand-crank or solar-powered emergency radios are a great idea. You don't need to worry about batteries and they can be used anywhere you can get a radio signal.

Battery-operated radios are just fine as well, and you may find them easier to deal with. If you plan it right you can find one that uses the same batteries as some of your other emergency devices.

More Power Outage Advice From FEMA

Power Generator

Some of my neighbors have become so sick of power outages they have purchased power generators that are hooked into their home's electrical network. When the power goes out they don't miss a beat. We're sitting in the dark while they are over there with lights and television on.

You may not want to go that far, but you should consider getting a small rechargeable power generator. There are many different makes and models out there. Good ones can be found at home improvement stores, and they aren't super expensive.

We use the Black & Decker Professional Power Station. When the power grid fails I can keep cell phones charged and operating so we can stay in touch with family in the area. It will run many small appliances too, but you won’t want to use it for anything frivolous. Remember, you never know when that power is coming back.

Tip: Keep your portable generator charged up at all times in case of emergency. You don't want it to lose its charge and be left with only a fraction of the power. As a bonus, the unit I use comes in handy for inflating tires and jump-starting cars as well.

You may not be going anywhere for a while. Be ready to hunker down!
You may not be going anywhere for a while. Be ready to hunker down!

Flashlights or Lanterns and Extra Batteries

Flashlights are fine, but in my opinion battery-operated lanterns are even better. Keep a few stashed around the house for easy access should everything suddenly go dark. You can place one in the center of the room and light up the whole area.

Ideally, you'll probably want both in your power outage kit: Lanterns for illuminating larger areas, and flashlights for when you need a more focused beam of light. Of course you’ll want to keep a good supply of batteries for these as well.

You can also find neat little rechargeable emergency lights that plug into wall sockets. During normal operation they function as a soft nightlight, but when the power cuts out they light up the room or can be detached and used as little flashlights.

When you are choosing battery-powered items try to find several products that use the same types of batteries. That way you only need to worry about stocking up on one size battery, which can be used in a number of your devices.

Additional Considerations

Here are a few more things to think about so you can handle anything winter throws at you:

  • Gas up your vehicle when you know a storm is coming - just in case.
  • Own at least one good snow shovel, and store it somewhere you can easily access it.
  • Make sure you have first-aid supplies. This should always be the case, but especially important if you can't get out of the house.
  • Be very careful using heaters indoors! Be sure to follow the safety instructions that come with the heater, and use a carbon monoxide detector.
  • Be smart about walking around during and after a heavy storm. Don't get stuck outside in freezing cold and poor visibility.
  • Check on family, friends and neighbors, especially if they are elderly, to make sure they are okay.

Preparing for Winter Disaster

Power outages are usually minor inconveniences, and most often our electricity comes back in a few hours. But every year there are those horror stories where the power grid in a certain area is devastated by a winter storm and people are without electricity for days or weeks.

I've been there before, and I was glad I was ready. Make no mistake: It's still a rotten experience to be off the grid for a long period of time, and there are many challenges to overcome.

However, when we have experienced extensive periods without power I've been glad my wife and I had to foresight to be ready. And, stocking a few essential power outages supplies helps keep us safe and healthy, not to mention preserves our sanity when the power goes off.

So, what about you? Can you survive a winter power outage? In addition to thinking about the advice in this article, check out ready.gov to make sure you are fully prepared for winter weather.

Winter Power Outage Survival Poll

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