Last night, Buffalo, New York reported almost six feet of snow, and the storm is still howling over the area. Thus far, 8 people have died in New York, New Hampshire, and Michigan during the extreme winter storm that has struck the North Eastern part of the United States. You could literally see a veritable tsunami of snow moving across the lake towards Buffalo.
Roofs are collapsing under the weight of the snow. Doors to homes and businesses are caving in. Motorists are stranded as traffic has completely ground to a halt. One of the victims of the storm died when he froze to death under several feet of snow after his vehicle crashed into a ditch. Yesterday, temperatures in the north east were 20 degrees colder than normal, and today promises to be colder still.
Check out these unbelievable photos from the hardest hit areas:
Because of the extreme snowfall, there is a high probability that the electrical power could go out, as lines sag beneath the tremendous snowfall. Are you prepared for extreme winter weather? With this type of situation, there's a lot more to preparation than just stocking up on an extra loaf of bread and gallon of milk. What if the power goes out? Are you still prepared?
5 off-grid heating options
Last week, Joshua Krause wrote about 5 ways to stay warm when the grid goes down. Here's an excerpt:
Wood heat: Good ole' firewood. There's nothing quite like a hot fireplace on a cold winter day. This is one of the best solutions for anyone living in a rural area, where firewood is relatively cheap and abundant, and can often be gathered in your own backyard. There are however, several drawbacks. Firewood has to be kept dry, and should be chopped and prepped before winter arrives. There's also the issue of ventilation. Without a chimney, or some other form of ventilation, an indoor wood fire is very unsafe, and modification to the home can be quite expensive. But if your home is already set up for a fireplace, then this will be one of the most reliable options.
There is however, a cheap way to add more utility to your fireplace. A wood stove is a great way to not only heat your home, but cook and boil water as well. While some can cost as much as a thousand dollars, you can get a portable military tent heater for a little over a hundred bucks.
Pellet stove: Much like the wood stove, these tend to be rather expensive. However they have a lot of advantages that make them far more attractive than wood burners. The pellets are often made of compressed sawdust, grasses, or coconut shells, which makes them very space efficient. In addition, the heat efficiency of a pellet stove is far superior to a wood stove. It's so efficient, that the government will often give you a tax deduction to mitigate the cost.
The main disadvantage though, is that they usually require a small amount of electricity to operate. Fortunately, there are some non-electric models you can buy, in case the power goes out.
Kerosene: Let's go over some of smaller heating systems for those of you who don't have a chimney. If you live in an apartment or small house, you have the advantage of not needing a big wood stove to heat your home. One of the most portable heaters you can buy is a convection kerosene heater, which can heat up a small room or garage in no time at all. Kerosene is a very energy dense fuel that's been around since the 1800′s. When burned, it gives off so many BTUs that it's often mixed with jet and rocket fuel. You'll still need some ventilation though, so be sure and crack a window while it's running.
Propane: While propane contains about 30 percent less energy per gallon than kerosene, it's probably the best option for most people. Since it won't freeze unless the temperature drops below -44 degrees, it's a very reliable source of heating in the winter. It's also one of the most common fuel sources in the United States, so you'll have a large variety of heaters and stoves to choose from, and you won't have any trouble finding tanks in all sizes. You can buy a small propane heater for about half the cost of a kerosene heater, and you can easily find a propane stove for even less. Much like a kerosene burner, some ventilation is still required.
Candle heating: Realistically, this should only be used as a last resort, but I think it deserves to be mentioned since most preppers tend to keep a lot of candles around for emergency lighting. One of the most popular ways to use candles for heating, is the flowerpot method, which seems to have gone viral on a lot of prepper and survivalist websites.
It involves stacking several clay pots, and attaching them with a long screw lined with washers. You then place the candle underneath, and as it heats the clay and steel, the heat is radiated to the rest of the room. To be honest though, I'm not entirely sold on the idea. Candles are a very weak source of heat, and it seems like the clay is just going to slow down its ability to heat a room. And even if it does work, there's no way you can heat an entire room in the dead of winter with a few candles, no matter what contraption you use.
What you can do however, is heat your personal space. Find the smallest and most insulated room in your house. There should be no need to worry about ventilation. Get yourself a lawn chair or any kind of seat with a thin fabric cushion. Light several candles and place them on the floor directly underneath the seat. While it's certainly not the best option, it should be enough to keep you from freezing to death if all else fails. To really seal the deal, use a few more candles to boil some water. Drinking that will help warm your body from inside. And whatever you do, don't buy candles from the store. They're outrageously expensive for what they're worth. You can find bulk unscented candles for cheap on the internet.
What if you don't have a secondary heating method?
Sometimes things happen before we get our preps in order. If you don't have a secondary heating method, you can still stay relatively warm for at least a couple of days if you are strategic. Even if you do have a secondary heat source, in many cases it's important to conserve your fuel as much as possible.
If you have no additional heat at all, you can usually keep one room tolerable for 2-3 days. If the cold is relentless and the outage lasts longer than that, you may need to seek other shelter. Watch your temperatures. If the daytime temperature in the house dips below 40 degrees, the night time temperature will be even colder, and it won't be safe to stay there, especially if you have children or family members who are more susceptible to illness.
These methods can help you stay cozier during a storm.
- Heat only one room. One year, our furnace went out the day before Christmas. We huddled into a small room with just one window. We closed the door to the bedroom and used a folded quilt at the bottom to better insulate the room. If you don't have a door to the room you've opted to take shelter in, you can hang heavy quilts or blankets in the doorways to block it off from the rest of the house.
- Cover your windows. You can use a plastic shower curtain and duct tape, topped by a heavy quilt to keep the wind from whistling through your windows. Take down the quilt if it's sunny outside for some solar gain, then cover it back up as dark falls. If you have reason to be concerned about OPSEC, use heavy black garbage bags to cover the windows to keep light from escaping.
- Light candles. Even the small flames from candles can add warmth to a small area. Be sure to use them safely by keeping them out of the reach of children and housing them in holders that won't tip over easily.
- Use kerosene lamps. Those charming old-fashioned lamps can also add warmth to the room.
- Use sleeping bags. Cocooning in a sleeping bag conserves body heat better than simply getting under the covers.
- Have a camp-out. This works especially well when you have children because it adds an element of fun to an otherwise stressful situation. Pitch a tent in your closed off room, get inside with a flashlight, and tell stories. When you combine your body heat in a tiny space like that, you'll stay much warmer.
- Get cooking. If you have a propane or gas stove in the kitchen, your cooking method may not require electricity. So bake a cake, roast a turkey, or simmer a soup. You can use it to warm the room while making a hot, delicious feast.
- Heat some rocks. Do you have a place outdoors for a campfire? If so, put some large rocks around the edges of it. They retain heat for hours. When it's bedtime, carefully place the rocks into a cast iron Dutch oven and bring this into the room you're going to be sleeping in. Be sure to protect your floor or surface from the heat of the Dutch oven. The stones will passively emit heat for several hours without the potential of a fire or carbon monoxide poisoning during the night.
How to stay warm with less heat
Not only do we need to be concerned about a power outage due to the weather, but we also need to realize that utility bills could be extraordinarily high this year due to rising prices and an increased need for heat as temperatures plummet. When we lived in our drafty cabin up North, we had to take extra steps to keep warm. Here are some things we learned that will help out in either circumstance.
- Keep your wrists and ankles covered. Wear shirts with sleeves long enough to keep your wrists covered and long socks that keep your ankles covered. You lose a great deal of heat from those two areas.
- Get some long-johns. Wearing long underwear beneath your jeans or PJ's will work like insulation to keep your body heat in. I like the silky kind like this for indoor use, rather than the chunkier waffle-knit outdoor type.
- Wear slippers. You want to select house shoes with a solid bottom rather than the slipper sock type. This forms a barrier between your feet and the cold floor. We keep a basket of inexpensive slippers in varying sizes by the door for visitors because it makes such a big difference. Going around in your stocking feet on a cold floor is a certain way to be chilled right through.
- Get up and get moving. It goes without saying that physical activity will increase your body temperature. If you're cold, get up and clean something, dance with your kids, play tug-of-war with the dog, or do a chore.
- Pile on the blankets. If you're going to be sitting down, have some blankets available for layering. Our reading area has some plush blankets which we top with fluffy comforters for a cozy place to relax.
- Use a hot water bottle. If you're just sitting around try placing a hot water bottle (carefully wrapped to avoid burns) under the blankets with you.
- Use rice bags. If you don't have the cute ready-made rice bags, you can simply place dry rice in a clean sock. Heat this in the microwave, if you use one, for about a minute, or place in a 100 degree oven, watching carefully, for about 10 minutes. I keep some rice bags in a large ceramic crock beside the wood stove so they are constantly warm. You can put your feet on them or tuck them under the blankets on your lap. (The insert from a defunct crockpot will work for this as well.)
- Insulate using items you have. A friend recommended lining the interior walls with bookcases or hanging decorative quilts and blankets on the walls to add an extra layer of insulation. It definitely makes a difference because it keeps heat in and cold air out. If you look at pictures of old castles you will see lovely tapestry wall-hangings – this was to help insulate the stone walls, which absorbed the cold and released it into the space.
- Layer your windows. Our cabin had large lovely picture windows for enjoying the view. However, they were single pane and it's hard to enjoy the view if your teeth are chattering. We took the rather drastic step of basically closing off all the windows but one in each room for the winter. First, we used the shrink film insulator on every window. Then, we insulated further by placing draft blockers at the bottom in the window sill (I just used rolled up polar fleece – I'm not much of a sew-er.) This was topped by a heavy blanket, taking care to overlap the wall and window edges with it. Over that, we hung thermal curtains that remained closed.
- Get a rug. If you have hardwood, tile or laminate flooring, an area rug is a must. Like the blankets on the walls, this is another layer of insulation between you and the great outdoors. We have no basement so our floor is very chilly. A rug in the living room protects our feet from the chill.
- Wear a scarf. No, not like a big heavy wool scarf that you'd wear outdoors – just a small, lightweight one that won't get in your way and annoy you. This serves two purposes. First, it covers a bit more exposed skin. Secondly, it keeps body heat from escaping out the neck of your shirt.
- Burn candles. Especially in a smaller space, a burning candle can raise the temperature a couple of degrees.
- Wear fingerless gloves. Gloves like these allow you to still function by keeping the tips of your fingers uncovered, while still keeping chilly hands bundled up.
- Drink hot beverages. There's a reason Grandma always gave you a mug of cocoa after you finished building that snowman. Warm up from the inside out with a cup of coffee, tea, cider, or hot chocolate. Bonus: Holding the mug makes your hands toasty warm.
- Cuddle. Share your body heat under the blankets when you're watching movies or reading a book.
What if you're stranded due to icy roads?
What if you're not at home when a winter storm strikes? In a previous article about preparing your vehicle for winter, I brought up a couple of situations that occurred last year.
During one scenario, a freak snowstorm struck the Atlanta, Georgia area. Because weather like this is such a rarity, the area was completely unprepared, officials didn't have the experience or equipment needed to deal with it, and traffic gridlocked almost immediately. Hundreds of people were stranded as the freeway turned into a scene reminiscent of The Walking Dead, with bumper-to-bumper vehicles at a standstill. Those without food and water in their vehicles went hungry, and many people ran out of gas as they tried to keep warm. No matter how comfortable you are with winter driving, in a situation like this, you are at the mercy of others who may not be so experienced.
The next situation had a lot more potential for a tragic ending, had it not been for the survival skills of a father of 4 small children. A family of six had taken off for a day of snowy adventure, when their Jeep flipped over in a remote part of the Seven Troughs mountain range in Northwestern Nevada. James Glanton, a miner and experienced hunter, kept his family alive and unscathed for two days in the frigid wilderness using only the items from his vehicle and the environment. Due to his survival skills and the things he had on hand, none of the family members so much as suffered frostbite while awaiting rescue. You can learn more about the hero dad's resourcefulness HERE.
Regardless of why you're stranded somewhere besides your cozy home, you should have supplies in your vehicle to fend off frostbite (or even death) due to frigid conditions.
Include things like:
- A first aid kit
- Winter gear like heavy coats, snow pants, boots, extra socks, hats, gloves, and scarves
- High quality mylar space blankets
- Sleeping bags
- Water purification system like Berkey-to-go or Sawyer Mini
- Small collapsible stove for cooking or heating water
- You can find a much more detailed vehicle emergency kit HERE.
Even if you aren't a prepper, it only makes sense to get ready for a storm.
Unless you think the entire process of weather forecasting is some sort of insane voodoo, then it's pretty undeniable that a big storm is coming. Winters in America have been setting records for bone-numbing, snot-freezing cold for the last couple of years, and it appears that this winter will be no different.
While some folks aren't quite ready to plunge whole-heartedly into prepping, it's hard to deny the common sense factor of preparing for a likely scenario. You should have at the minimum, a two week supply of food and other necessities. Before the power goes out, develop a plan to keep your family warm, even while the mercury outside reaches near-Arctic depths.
Pick up Daisy's new book The Pantry Primer: How to Build a One Year Food Supply in Three Months to help with your prepping needs.Don't forget to Like Freedom Outpost on Facebook, Google Plus, & Twitter. You can also get Freedom Outpost delivered to your Amazon Kindle device here.