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Last week I posted part one of this article. In it I shared some of the things I learned from the Big Freeze, a huge ice storm that caused billions of dollars of destruction to our area nine years ago. Residents were out of power and services to which they had become accustomed, for as much as a month or more.
What else did I learn from the disaster, and what have I done to get ready for another? Read on and find out!
I found that gasoline may not always be available when you need it. Gas pumps require electricity and roads closed by ice and/or downed power poles prevented gas deliveries. Stations in my home town and the surrounding area couldn’t pump the gas they had. Due to the lack of electricity the organization I work for moved to another facility, necessitating extra mileage. The first time I needed to gas up my car and purchase gas for the generator I waited in line for over an hour to fill up, and then the guy in line behind me got the last of the gas. While I was lucky, others who had been in line for a long time left with nothing.
Cordless phones will not work when house current is interrupted. Those convenient phones with handsets that you can carry around the house with you aren’t nearly as handy when they are only good for paperweights. Telephone lines in most of the US are buried, so you may still have phone service when you have no electricity. Luckily, my mother and I both had one phone in each of our houses which plug into phone jacks but require users to remain tethered within the cord’s length of that outlet. Also, you may not be able to depend on your cell phone as towers can go down, both figuratively and physically, in an ice storm. Car chargers for cell phones can be indispensable when towers are operating but you can’t recharge the phones in your house due to a power outage. Solar chargers can come in handy too, and will help conserve hard to come by fuel.
Cable television may go down before satellite TV does. While television may not be a matter of life and death, it really helped my family maintain some semblance of normalcy when we were able to watch a half hour or so of TV while the house was warming up before we went to bed, whereas thousands of homes in the area were without cable service, even after their electrical service was restored. Oh, and my football-crazy wife and sons (yeah, I was there too) got to watch the Superbowl, while many, many area fans had to miss out.
As I said, cable reception may go out before satellite, but the opposite could also be true. Although we rarely use it, I insist on having an old fashioned TV antenna mounted on one end of our house. It has come in handy.
A home first aid kit is not just a convenience. Our local doctors’ office was closed several days as the doctors lived in other towns and couldn’t, or didn’t want to, make the dangerous drive. My family didn’t have anything worse than a splinter or a mild burn, but others did.
If you don’t know first aid and CPR, contact your area Red Cross NOW. They can help you find a free class given by trained instructors. Like so many things, the time to learn is BEFORE you need to know how. Even if you have taken such a course, refreshers are a good idea from time to time.
A home tool kit, and the knowledge of how to use it, can really come in handy. I was able to save more damage to the neighbor’s house by repairing her roof when a couple ice-covered limbs punched holes in it. In an extensive emergency, carpenters, plumbers, and electricians will have waiting lists, and you may not be at the top of those ques.
Although it required no tools, basic knowledge of electricity helped me to troubleshoot when a friend’s generator kept throwing an overload switch. I quickly noticed that one of the extension cords she was using was too small. Lucky for her the spider she was using had the overload switch; otherwise the small gauge cord could have overheated and caused a fire.
One of the most important things to remember is that, for the most part, you shouldn’t depend on anyone else to look out for your best interests. The house I mentioned earlier that burned down when electricity was restored to it caught fire because a limb had fallen on their supply line. When power passed through the line, the branch caused a short, which started the fire. My son noticed a limb on our neighbor’s supply line and pointed it out to the rural electric personnel who were working on our power lines. They were nice enough to remove the limb, but wouldn’t have known about it if my son hadn’t said something, since it was behind the house and the power lines ran along the road out front. Get outside and look things over. Don’t assume someone else will do it for you.
OK, I didn’t actually LEARN all these things during the recent ice storm. Most of them I already knew, but their importance was definitely reinforced. Hopefully, other folks noted the same things I did and we will all be more prepared for the next Big Freeze or other adversity.
As a follow-up note: our town’s school re-opened on Wednesday, February 11, after 15 days. We got electricity back on our farm on Sunday, February 15, after 20 days without power. For weeks afterward, roads in town were still lined with huge piles of downed limbs, waiting for city workers to pick them up, and many homeowners were not able to really begin their cleanup until after that.
Gosh it’s nice to take a hot shower in a well-lit, heated room!
So, after all that, what have I done differently in the nine years since the Big Freeze?
We replaced our old electric stove with one that burns gas. When we were shopping for the new appliance, we did not know that, in our nation’s efforts to make even the simplest things more complex, most new gas burning stoves will not run without electricity to operate the on-board computer. The friends who own the store where we made the purchase did not know it either. When we discovered it, we checked into getting the stove converted. No luck. It would have been almost as expensive as buying another one. We’ll let it live out its life and try again when it dies.
It’s more or less OK, though, as our camp stove reappeared in one of the places I looked for it during the storm. Hmmm, sounds suspiciously like someone “returned” it as surreptitiously as they “borrowed” it, huh? Oh, well, it’s back and we have gas for it.
Annie and I have installed a decorative, gas fireplace in our living room, since our insurance would make a real one prohibitively expensive. That heat source requires no electricity to run. Also, I know how to light it with a match in case the built-in lighter doesn’t work.
The house next door has always had a wood stove so we also have that option. We can cook on it too, if it becomes necessary.
I have bought solar flashlights, lanterns, and battery chargers, and keep an assortment of rechargeable batteries at the ready. We also have solar USB chargers for use with our cell phones. In addition, I have most everything I need to assemble a solar/wind backup generator that we can use similarly.
Speaking of rechargeable, I’ve bought several Ryobi One+ tools. The One+ line all use the same battery so there’s no need to keep multiple batteries around for all my different power tools. The One+ tools use 18 volt batteries but Ryobi makes 12 volt chargers that can be used in a car…or 12 volt solar charging system. I’ve already done a post about the Ryobi One+ tools but haven’t loaded it to A Different Drummer yet. I will do so in the future. Keep watching for that.
I have included the solar/wind generator idea with plans for a mobile cabin/tool shed/deer hunting blind/grandkids’ playhouse to help disguise and justify my enthusiasm. It will cost more than just the generator but, at the same time, anything that sits unused deteriorates, so it will be used as a matter of course. I want to make the solar charging station removable from the shed and useable to charge my battery powered Ryobi One+ tools. The challenge of planning and constructing the cabin adds to the fun, and increases my eagerness to actually get it done.
I located the old hand pump that was on the farm when my parents bought the place. I’ll drive a well when I settle on the best, most convenient, place to do so. It’s not as easy as it sounds since a well has to be the proper distance from our septic system, yet close enough for reasonable convenience. It has to be kept warm enough to function, too, even in freezing conditions. The pump needs to be rebuilt too, as the flapper valve and cups have dried and cracked.
I have a five gallon bucket with a toilet seat/lid that is made for camping purposes. I also have other buckets of sawdust/wood chips set aside. That’s all it takes to make a relatively odor-free composting toilet.
We have working battery operated smoke detectors in our house, and change the batteries on a regular schedule. I have one CO detector and will get another.
Thanks to my job, I stay up to date on first aid/CPR.
On a side note, speaking of work, they installed a diesel-powered generator a few years back so, even though we’ve had several power outages since it was installed, it came on each time almost immediately and with scarcely a hiccup. Nice. If you want, the same thing can be done at home but plans must be made for proper maintenance and preservation of fuel as it does go bad. It would be awful for you to put umpteen dollars into a system only to find that it won’t work when it is needed, because the fuel is old or, worse yet, to have it ruined by trying to run it on bad fuel.
Plan, plan, plan. Never stop planning.
As for Mom, who is now in her nineties…? Well, there are some things that are beyond the power of one human to change. You know I am joking about that, for the most part, but there will always be things we can’t anticipate, no matter how hard we try. After all, learning to prepare for what we can and yet be ready to change on the fly is part of being prepared, isn’t it?
I hope there is not a repeat of the Big Freeze but, if it does happen, I feel confident that we are ready, and that our future plans will make us even more so. I also hope that you will find the info in these two posts helpful in your own planning. Of course, if you choose to ignore it, don’t come to my house looking for help. We’ll be sitting in front of a fire, eating the food we’ve stored…and cleaning our guns.
Just kidding…or am I?
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Despite the discomfort and devastation, there was beauty to be seen by those who kept their eyes open to the possibility. I took my cameras out and tried to capture both aspects of the storm and its aftermath.
(above) The birds seemed thankful that we kept our feeder full. Doesn’t it look like their tiny feet would be cold holding onto those icicles?
(belew) Our old TV antenna worked just fine even though satellites and cable systems went down. By the time it finally surrendered to the weight of the ice our satellite system was back up.
(below) I put together a short video of the devastation and beauty of the ice storm.