I am writing this column as Hurricane Sandy is barreling through the greater New York area, after having sorted a load of clean laundry by the light of a group of yahrtzeit candles and having washed my supper dishes with the aid of a clip on barbeque lamp. My electricity went out almost four hours ago and thoughts of what I did right and what I did wrong in preparation for a one of a kind storm that ironically, bears my name are still fresh in my mind.
Hurricane Sandy marks the second time I have had my electricity knocked out by a late October storm, having lost power exactly one year ago for five and a half days during a freak snowstorm that turned my little corner of the world into something that looked more like a war zone than a picturesque hamlet in New York’s Hudson Valley. In light of last year’s storm, I thought I had all my pre-storm preparations under control, but I can tell you right now that I was wrong and I am hoping that as we celebrate the anniversary of last year’s power outage with yet another blackout, I will finally learn my lesson and be better prepared for future meteorological mishaps.
I should add that this is by no means a comprehensive guide to weathering a storm (no pun intended.) Those are available by the dozen on the Internet, although you obviously want to read those before the storm blows through and totally decimates your wireless connection. These are just random tips that I have had the unfortunate opportunity to collect during too many days without electricity.
Lesson Number 1: It doesn’t matter what the season, storms can be very serious business and should be respected, given their ability to wreak havoc with our lives, particularly in this day and age when our lives revolve around numerous items that require electricity. So be it a hurricane, a nor’easter, a blizzard or a tropical storm, don’t underestimate the weather’s ability to do major damage.
Lesson Number 2: Just because you think you are prepared for a storm doesn’t mean you are. I know I have enough flashlights for every member of my family and that I have a basket full of batteries sitting in my closet. Yet, somehow, almost all the flashlights have disappeared and I am almost completely out of AA and D batteries, the two sizes I need for the few flashlights that didn’t mysteriously vanish into thin air. Keep a flashlight next to your bed at night and if you are going out and will be coming back after dark, take a flashlight with you. Unless you have lived through a blackout, you can’t possibly imagine just how dark it can get when there is no power anywhere in your neighborhood.
Lesson Number 3: Flashlights are probably not the only light sources you own. Put your kids to work and have them dig out all the munchkin sized flashlights they have gotten as prizes and those mini booklights they use to read under their blankets at night when they are supposedly fast asleep. A clip-on barbeque lamp has turned out to be the best birthday gift my sister-in-law has ever gotten my husband as it travels from room to room, particularly useful when you don’t want to shower in the dark, and a set of battery operated tea lights we bought as a decorative accent for my daughter’s vort five years ago were the perfect light source to illuminate both the stairs and the upstairs hallway.
Lesson Number 4: You can never have too many yahrtzeit candles in your house. While it is important to only light them on a non-flammable surface, far away from any flammable objects, and it goes without saying that candles are a serious hazard when there are small children around, yahrtzeit candles are easily moved, and with their flames generally confined inside their containers, are far safer than regular candles. Be warned that glass ones have been known to crack, with devastating results, so be sure to buy the metal ones.
Lesson Number 5: Fill your freezer. Not only does a full freezer stay cold longer, but by freezing as much water as you can in advance, you will have a nice supply of very solid blocks of ice to stash in there. Round up all your empty bottles, pots, baking pans and mixing bowls, fill them water and stick them in your freezer at least twenty four hours prior to any impending major weather events. Should you be dealing with a winter storm that involves snow, feel free to harvest the frozen white stuff and put it to good use. Fill a cooler with snow and throw in as many perishables as you can. Pile up pots full of snow and put them in both your freezer and your refrigerator to keep them and their contents at optimal temperature.
Lesson Number 6: Gas appliances totally rock. When you find yourself without power and you still have hot water and the ability to cook, you will be eternally grateful that you have a gas powered hot water heater and oven. Trust me. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt.
Lesson Number 7: Got a winter storm? Having your heat go out is not a fun experience. Pile on the blankets and put on a sweatshirt. Or two. Or three. Whatever you do, given the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, don’t turn on your oven or your cook top to stay warm for long periods of time.
Lesson Number 8: While it may seem old fashioned to have one in the house, having a battery powered or a hand crank radio can be a lifeline when the power goes out in the middle of meteorological mayhem, keeping you informed of what may be crucial information.
Lesson Number 9: While they may hearken back to practically pre-historic times, keep a corded phone somewhere in your house. Once the power goes out, your cordless will be nothing more than a very expensive paperweight and you are going to want to preserve your cell phone battery. As long as the phone lines aren’t down, your corded phone is going to be good to go.
Lesson Number 10: Listen to the weather advisories and follow the advice of local authorities. Yes, they may sometimes blow things out of proportion, but you never know when they may be completely on track with their predictions with, unfortunately, potentially devastating results.
Lesson Number 11: While you want to load up on basic necessities before a storm, remember that you may lose all the food in your refrigerator or freezer should the power go out for an extended period of time. So buy what you need to keep you stocked for a few days, but pre-storm is not the time to pack your refrigerator or your freezer with food.
Lesson Number 12: If you live in an area where the power lines are above ground, maybe, maybe it is time to think about investing in a generator? I know I am!Sandy Eller
About the Author: Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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