24 Hours In The Stone Age

What Would Fred & Wilma Do?

By Jerry Lambert

Hello, and welcome back to The Brown Parachute Club.  This week I want to go a little off topic.  I want to talk a little about Emergency Preparedness.  I know, it sounds like an exciting subject.  However, recently my wife and I found out just how exciting it can be!

Mid adult woman wearing yellow jacket and ski goggles in snowLast Wednesday, the Detroit Area was hit with of one of the worst windstorms on record.  Wind gusts reached close to 70 mph!  For us Great Lakes dwellers, that is the equivalent of a Hurricane!

That evening, my wife and I sat down to watch some TV before dinner.  A short time later, the TV blinked on and off a couple of times, then eventually went out for good.  Along with power to the rest of the house.  This was a unique situation for us, losing power in the Late Winter / Early Spring.

As it turned out, DTE Energy (the main power provider in the Detroit Area) had over 860,000 people without power.  That is over one third of their customers!  It was the largest power outage in their history, and that includes the Midwest / East Coast power outage of 2003!

Since we had no power, we knew none of this.  My first thought was, “Ruh, Roh, Raggy!”  Part of the reason the winds were so high was because of clashing warm and cold fronts that were moving through the area.  The temperature at the time of the outage was 50 degrees and would eventually drop down to 34 degrees by morning.  Not life-threatening, but by no means a picnic.  Even for us born and bred Michiganders!

Woman outside tent with Northern lights, Myvatn, IcelandThe temperature in our house eventually got down to 59 degrees, which is excellent football weather at The Big House in Ann Arbor, but not so great in our living room.  My four guppies were huddled together in their tank for warmth and our dog was looking at us as if we had lost our minds.  We were walking around the house with thick sweatshirts and gloves on.

Thankfully, our period of living in Winterfell lasted only 24 hours.  On Thursday afternoon, we went to go see “Logan”, the latest Wolverine movie.  The power was back on when we got home.  The first words out of my mouth were, “Thank You, God!”

As we found out later, this weather event was a “Perfect Storm” of sorts.  Our much warmer than usual February resulted in the ground not being frozen as hard as it normally would be at this time of year.  Add heavy rain and wind to the mix and you have trees falling over like bowling pins!

Woman in cap, scarf and glovesOur whole weather misadventure got me thinking about what we could have done differently to prepare for this disaster.  I mean instead of just going to the movie theater to get warm!

While researching what to do to prepare for next time, I found an article on the AccuWeather website that covers losing power in the winter.  Since this was a wind-related event, luckily we didn’t have a mountain of snow to deal with.

Thankfully, we did have some firewood in the backyard.  However, since we don’t have a blower insert in our fireplace, it only resulted in the temperature increasing by a whopping 3 degrees!

The following suggestions are from the article on AccuWeather, and common sense, which we were lacking before the outage.

  1. Check your fuses or circuit breakers. This is an obvious thing to check.  However, we were able to determine pretty quickly that our whole neighborhood had lost power.  Still, it’s a good place to start if you’re not sure about the extent of the outage.
  2. Staying warm. The next step is to figure out how you’re going to stay warm.  Load up the beds with extra blankets and break out some additional blankets for your living areas as well.  Grab sweatshirts, fleece jackets, hats, and gloves.  This might seem like overkill, but trust me, you’ll be glad you have them handy if your power outage is longer than a couple of hours!  The article also mentioned blocking any drafts by putting towels at the bottom of exterior doors, closing the fireplace flue, and hanging black blankets on the windows to absorb the heat or put them in the sun on the floor to do the same thing.  That last one seems kind of goofy to me, but whatever.
  3. Stay inside. This seems obvious, unless you are relocating to a residence with power for the duration of the outage.  Otherwise, stay at home if the weather is snowy, icy, or a mix of the two.  Also, don’t use your gas stove as a form of heat.  That can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.  However, this article from eHow shows you how to light your gas stove without power.  That would give you the option of making hot meals in a cold house!  Needless to say, be VERY CAREFUL if you attempt to do this!
  4. CO Poisoning. Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is a real danger during these times.  If you are lucky enough to have a generator, please make sure it is kept away from doors, windows, and outside vents!
  5. Food. Make sure you have plenty of non-perishable foods on hand like soups, cereals, nuts, peanut butter, crackers, water, etc.  It is also recommended to have a three day supply of emergency food available, since in most cases, power will be restored within three days.  My Patriot Supply has a three-day emergency food kit available for $25.  You can’t put a price on a hot meal in a cold house!  Flashlights, candles, batteries, and an emergency crank radio are good items to have on hand as well.
  6. Staying in touch. Keep your communications with friends and family to a minimum.  Use a portable battery pack (or packs) to keep your phones charged up.  Don’t forget that many cars can charge your devices and battery packs without running the car.  That way you won’t waste gas or asphyxiate your family!
  7. Kids and pets. Obviously, the best solution is to take them to Grandma’s House, if she still has power.  However, if that isn’t an option, consider a few warm days in a hotel.  Pets can be problematic, since a hotel (or Grandma) may not be willing to let Rover trash the place!  A family member may have to stay in Frigid Acres until the power comes back on.  Or, until you can get someone with power to babysit your dog, cat, or fish.

I want to re-state the hotel option, since this often gets overlooked until it’s too late.  You need to decide quickly if it is worth it to spend a night (or nights), in a hotel room, or tough it out at home.  With a large power outage local hotel rooms fill up quickly.  You’ll need to move fast if you are going to get one!

What it all comes down to for most people is how much cold is too much?  For me, once the house gets below the mid-60s it’s time to go!  But hey, that’s just me.

I hope these suggestions will help you in the event of an outage.  Obviously, some of these tips apply in summer as well.  Thankfully, there’s not much chance of freezing to death in the summer!

Please do your homework and determine what level of preparedness you are comfortable with and plan accordingly.  After all, Fred and Wilma knew how to survive when it all hit the fan, will you?

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