The Blackout of 2012

This week a devastating storm hit the NY area, including my home state of NJ.  I am fortunate to live far enough from the shore that I was merely inconvenienced by being without power for 4 days, as compared with so many people who have lost their homes, businesses, and possibly even their lives to this storm.

That being said, even being without power for a few days is a big wake-up call as to how dependent we are on electricity for our way of life.  Without power we obviously have no light, but we also have no heat, refrigeration, internet and, after some time, no cell service or gasoline.

These last two were the most scary for us – it is amazing how much we take for granted being able to reach our friends and family whenever we need to, but as the cell towers ran out of their battery back-ups, our communication channels were taken away.  In the age of cordless phones, even land lines weren’t much help, so we did our best to find each other, send texts that might not be received for hours (if at all), and hope everyone was ok.

The gas is another issue entirely – with the power down, not only were gas stations shut down, but there were huge delays in getting gas to the stations that were able to pump it out.  This led to people waiting on lines for hours to not only fill their cars, but their generators, and the feeling of being trapped in a place that was getting colder by the day.

I was very fortunate in so many ways this week.  Not only did I have a home that, while dark and cold, had running water and no actual damage from the storm, but I also had the ability to flee to Vermont for a few days with my family.  We just returned yesterday evening to an outrageously messy house (apparently we turn into huge slobs in the dark!), but we have light and heat and the ability to start returning to life as usual, unlike so many others out there whose lives may be forever changed.

I have to admit, even being one of the lucky ones, we were not nearly as prepared for this storm as we should have been.  This is the third storm to hit my area in the past 15 months that has left people without power for a week or more, but during the first two last year my home did not lose power at all, so we got a little overconfident.  I prepared for mostly for a house full of guests, not a power outage of our own.  After this experience, however, we will think differently next time!  There is really no downside to taking a few precautions just in case, and a lot of upside.  And so, I wanted to record some of the little but helpful things we learned along the way in case you ever find yourself anticipating one of these storms (and also as a reminder to myself for what to do next time!)*:

 

Before the Storm

  • Stock up on flashlights/lanterns (LED), batteries, candles (sturdy or flameless), and matches, and KNOW WHERE THEY ARE!  We carried our one flashlight around for hours as our lights were flickering with the crazy winds, wondering when the moment would come.  Better planning here would have definitely been helpful.
  • Ensure you have cash on hand.  Once the power went out, obviously ATMs were out of commission, and any businesses that did remain open were cash only.
  • Fill your cars with gas.  I don’t think I ever realized how important this was, but I was so thankful to have a full tank of gas to leave town when we needed to.
  • Buy bags of ice and store in a cooler.  These will come in handy if the power goes out.
  • Ensure you have a few days worth of bottled water in case the storm leads to poor water quality.
  • Stock up on less-perishable and easy to prepare foods such as bread, peanut butter, apples, pears, bananas, granola/nut/protein bars, crackers, hard cheeses, pasta (if your water is not dependent on an electric pump), canned salmon/tuna, cold cereal, granola, oats, dried fruit, nuts, and baked goods.
  • If you have an electric pump and anticipate you might lose running water, fill bath tubs with water, which can later be used for flushing toilets.
  • Keep any electronic devices plugged in to keep a full charge in case the power does go out.
  • If practical, buy an adapter to charge your phone in the car.
  • Get rid of any ice cream in the freezer!  If you lose power you’ll want to keep the door closed as long as possible, but ice cream is packed in cardboard which is not water tight.  Melted ice cream in your freezer is a mess – just ask my hubby!  So while you’re waiting for the storm to pass, have a little ice cream party 🙂
When the lights go out
  • Get in touch with family and friends and coordinate any plans as soon as possible in case communication gets tough.
  • If you have running water and a gas stove and/or grill, get creative with cooking – using our stove top, we made oatmeal, hot cocoa (to use up some milk), pasta, and reheated leftovers in a skillet.  We also heated water to make coffee (using a french press) and tea, and to warm up a sink filled with water and dirty dishes to facilitate washing.
  • Dump some of that ice you have in a cooler in containers in the fridge – bowls of ice did a great job of turning our fridge into a giant cooler, letting us open and close as needed while still keeping food cool for days.
  • I found that items in my freezer were mostly still solid when I finally opened the door after about 36 hours, so keep that freezer door shut!  Once opened, items can be moved to that cooler with ice for monitoring.  Any items that start to thaw should be used as soon as possible.

 

 

*This is by no means an exhaustive list of the things you should do in the event of a serious storm – there are many other resources out there for ideas on the safest places in your home, first aid, evacuation, etc.  This is just meant to provide some ideas in the case of a power outage in an otherwise safe environment.  Please use caution and do your research to be as prepared as possible!

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