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You have to laugh at the irony that life hands you. As I write this piece on ice storm preparedness, my area is in the midst of an ice storm. Good thing I planned ahead. Winter ice storms can be a tricky natural hazard to navigate. At best, an ice storm leaves you cooped up in your home with a full pantry and all utilities operating normally. On your worst day, utilities are out, supplies are low, and you can’t even step out the door without slipping and busting your skull. Your best bet is to hunker down and ride it out. But you’ll need some supplies for that. Here’s what you need to have in order before the next batch of icy weather hits your hometown.
The low temps and high humidity during most icy weather are a great recipe for hypothermia. Consider alternate heat sources for your home in the event of a power failure. If you already have a wood stove or fireplace, wood heat is a great solution. Just keep some firewood indoors and handy. Small non-electric heaters are another good option. Kerosene heaters can run without electricity and heat a large room or two adjoining rooms. They are smelly, though, and fuel spills are common when refilling the reservoir. Propane heaters that are designed for indoor operation are another option, although these will only heat one small room, and those small propane canisters can be expensive.
If the ice knocks out your power, then the water may soon follow in urban areas. If you’re on your own well, the water is gone as soon as the power fails. Store ample drinking water supplies for your family in a place that is cool but not prone to freezing. Gallon jugs are easy to carry and their size can help with water rationing. Five-gallon water cooler jugs are nice for volume, but hard to pour. Allot three gallons per family member to get you through the average emergency. It’s wise to have disinfection options on hand to resupply from other water sources, should you run out.
Food and Cooking
Stock up on some foods that you know your family will like, and pay special attention to foods that are ready to eat. MREs are good, but they are expensive and may be rejected by picky eaters. Easy-to-cook foods can be manageable, if you plan ahead with a cooking source. Sterno cans, alcohol stoves, and MRE heaters will heat up some foods for you, without any ventilation issues. Other types of camping stoves can serve your needs with proper ventilation. But double tasking is always the best approach. If your wood stove is going, cook on top of that. If your fireplace is roaring, safely suspend a pot over the flames. If none of these are an option for you, eat cold foods. Peanut butter and crackers, canned meats and crackers, cold sandwiches, and all kinds of snacks, including fruit and raw veggies, can be eaten without the bother or dangers of cooking. Don’t forget to have extra food for your pets, too.
First Aid Supplies
Emergencies and injuries seem to go hand in hand, which makes first aid gear an important part of your self-reliance strategies. If you don’t have a kit right now, buy a pre-stocked one from the store. Then, beef it up by adding your most commonly used medications and additional supplies for extended wound management, such as extra gauze, dressings, and antibiotic ointments. Check out the FEMA website for information on first aid supplies.
While a room full of candles may sound like a warm, relaxing place, it’s a serious fire hazard. The last thing you need during an ice storm is for your house to catch fire and the firefighters not be able to reach you. Buy several different items that provide battery powered light for your home, and keep the candles to a minimum. Choose LEDs, which will give you plenty of light, are easy on the batteries, and will last forever. Keep extra batteries on hand, though, in case you get caught in the dark longer than expected.
Unless you’re driving a salt truck backwards, you’re probably not going anywhere during a really bad ice storm. Even the best snow tires or chains are worthless on thick, slippery ice. And you better pray that nobody in your family needs a trip to the ER. Walking to salted main roads and flagging down a ride might be your only ticket out of there, should you have to leave your home. Crampons or some other over-shoe ice cleat, like Yaktrax, can allow you to walk on ice more safely.
Have you ever been forced to shelter-in-place during and after an ice storm? Tell us what items you’re thankful that you had on hand — or wish you had — in the comments.