Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What to Do When the Power Goes Out

Millie writes:

Though we live in a city instead of on a semi-remote island like Mollie and Doctor John, we too have to deal with difficult weather occasionally. Right now we're on storm watch – the same storm that dumped all that snow on poor Mollie's garden is headed our way.

There's something about snow and ice in an urban environment that grinds the whole city to a standstill. People forget everything they ever knew about driving or even walking in slippery conditions, the news people go into overdrive and the schools shut down completely. (One memorable day a couple of years ago the Superintendent shut all the schools because there was the possibility of snow in the forecast. The kids liked that; the School Board did not.)

Anyway, today the school buses are on snow routes and everyone's scanning the skies. Lance and I just went out to pay bills and stock up on groceries, so as far as we're concerned, let 'er rip – once the kids are safely home, that is. Usually the worst that happens here is that the power goes out for a few hours, but there are several things on our disaster-preparedness checklist.

Light Up
Find all the flashlights and candles and put them in one easily-accessible spot. (This is a good job for a small child.) Check the flashlights to be sure they work, and buy some fresh batteries if you need extras. Find matches or a lighter, too – don't put them with the candles until your kids are past the “firebug” age, though. Don't be tempted to use a propane lantern in the house – they're odorless but do emit carbon monoxide. For double the light, mass candles on top of a mirror. Hey, while you're at it – charge your cell phones in case the landline goes out too!

Frozen Foods
Haul your largest ice chest into the kitchen, and put the perishables you are most likely to use into the ice chest (with lots of ice, natch). This will prevent you from needing to open the doors on the freezer or the refrigerator and will keep the rest of the food from spoiling as quickly. If you have room in your freezer, keep a few cleaned-and-capped juice jugs full of frozen water for the ice chest; they will keep the food cold without melting all over things like egg cartons.

“Storm Central”
It seems to work best to keep everyone in the same room as much as possible, so build a family-sized “nest” in the room that stays warmest. Haul in blankets, pillows and bean bag chairs as well as games, books, decks of cards and art supplies. Bring your ice chest and other food and drink in there too (don't forget the paper towels, it'll get messy) and you shouldn't have to leave Storm Central except to go to the bathroom.

Auxiliary Heating
Propane heaters aren't safe for inside use but some kerosene heaters are okay as long as you leave a window cracked open so that CO doesn't build up – using a CO detector is a good idea, too. If you have a generator you may be able to run your electric heater. A wood-burning fireplace or a pellet stove is great, and you can make S'mores. Otherwise sit close together and share blankets!

If you have advance notice, do a lot of baking and boiling before the storm hits. Fried or roasted chicken can be stored in the ice chest and eaten cold, and so can roast beef, ham or pork. Make cookies, fruit pies and cupcakes. Make hard-boiled eggs and muffins. Fill a clean milk jug or two with drinking water in case that goes out, too (put another jug in the bathroom – if the water goes out you'll need it to flush the toilet). If you can get to a store, stock up on bottled water and juices, fruit (canned and fresh) and margarine in a tub.

This is where you'll get a chance to shine, because the more creative you are the better the experience will be. Kids get scared if their parents seem scared, so if you treat the whole thing as a huge adventure they may enjoy themselves just like they're on vacation. Say you're going to play Pioneers (or Explorers or whatever) and live without electricity! How exciting! Tell stories, read aloud (a library stop before snow flies is another good preparedness idea) and play board games. If it's not actually dangerous, go outside and experience the weather first-hand – stomp in puddles or make snowmen. Make snow ice cream or snow candy (pour molasses on the snow and eat it when it freezes; it's actually kind of disgusting but it's so interesting kids won't care how it tastes). Start journals. Teach them to knit. Write skits and perform them. As a last resort, make sure the cupboard is well-stocked with AA's and let the kids play video games until their eyes fall out.

Outside Pets
If you have pets that can't come inside, make sure to get them ready for extra-cold weather. Provide wind-proof shelter, if possible, and check frequently to make sure that their water hasn't frozen. They may also need more food to stay warm. We make sure to put a heating lamp in the chicken coop and keep it on throughout the cold snap.

Make a Record
Take pictures! This is one of those things you'll talk about for years afterward (“Remember the time it was so cold we all had to sleep in sleeping bags in the dining room?”) but never seem to think to document at the time. Take a picture of the marathon Monopoly game and the seven-foot snow demon. Record the kids singing a duet while your husband accompanies them on spoons. Look around yourself and notice that you're getting some concentrated family time without having to take a sick day or compete with the crowds at Disneyland.

Come to think of it – I can't wait! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!


  1. These are all excellent ideas. I think I'm gonna go bake my little head off and fill all our containers with water.

  2. By the way, if your driveway is 80' long by 10' wide, and six inches of snow falls, you will have about 15 cubic yards to shovel. Park at the end by the street and shovel nothing at all.


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