Sunday, February 15, 2015

Surviving the Snowpocalypse ... in the Suburbs

The Farmer's Almanac warned us this year that we'd have a snowy winter in the northeastern US, and they were right. In fact, this winter has dumped nearly 100" of snow on us, and it's not over, yet. While we've had a few disappointing storms (like the one this weekend) where predictions were hyped up to the point that businesses closed and municipalities imposed parking and driving bans, only to have the storm fizzle, most of the significant storms predicted came through with record snowfalls and bitter temperatures. We've had one, actual, blizzard that was a joy to clean up, and lots of little events.

It's interesting, to me, the hysteria that occurs in advance of a snowstorm, even here in Maine. Suddenly, usually sane people, start to panic and worry that they might not survive the storm, and they rush out to the store to stock-up on supplies. Food items are the funniest, and I can't, for the life of me, figure out why no one ever has any bread or milk in their homes, until there is word of an impending storm, or why those two items are the things that everyone suddenly needs.

First, let me say that the average storm lasts for about a day. Let me make it clearer. We might get stuck at home, not able to get to a store, for ONE DAY. One. If I can't survive in my house for a day, there's something terribly wrong with my lifestyle, and rather than trying to buy something to get me through the dark, dark weather-imposed quarantine, I should, maybe, take that break from regular life to reevaluate my priorities.

Yeah, okay, I'm a prepper, and my general philosophy and lifestyle entails a preparedness level that would allow me to survive, at home for a while. But even the average person should be able to just stay home, without any added supplies, for a day. Just a day. One, stinking day.

That said, weather emergencies are no joke in some parts of the country. We're laughing up here at this weekend's storm. The weather reports hyped it up as being the next blizzard with all of the warning and fanfare of the most recent past events. We ended up with 7", and for us, it's kind of a joke after the last two weeks of storms that have left us with waist-deep snow. What's seven more, measly, inches on top of what we already have?

Snow, up here, is an inevitability. The question is not "if", but when, with regard to snow events, and so to not be always somewhat prepared when one lives in a place like Maine is just silly.

That's not true of other places, and there is probably a good reason to be concerned about word of snow. Up here every town has a fleet of snow removal equipment, every home has a snow shovel (or three) and most have snow blowers or other such equipment, and every one has a neighbor with a generator. I'm thinking of a You Might Be From Maine If skit (a la Jeff Foxworthy's You Might Be a Redneck), and one of the items would be, "You might be from Maine if, you know someone with a snow plow", because we all do. I'm not sure I'd ever even seen a snow plow before I moved to Maine, but now, as soon as the leaves fall from the trees, we start seeing the plows on the road, and in the middle of it all, every other car on the road has a plow. My daughters count them, like the punch-buggies back in my day.

The weather forecast for much of the US south for the next day or two includes snow or ice (which is actually much worse than snow), and I thought I might be able to offer some advice for preparing.

First, don't go to the grocery store. Unless you always just eat out and have absolutely NO food in your house, or this is your normal shopping day, the day before a major storm is the absolute worst time to go. The crowds will be ridiculous and everyone will be agitated. It's better to do without than to have to deal with that. Plus, food is not (or should not be) your biggest concern with regard to preparedness.

That said, if you really don't have any food in your house because you always eat out, don't break with tradition. Go to your favorite take-out place and order extra - a couple of meals worth ... maybe some appetizers you've never tried, as a treat to get you through the storm. Put it in the fridge and eat it while you're stuck at home. The storm won't last for more than a day or so, and by the time your provisions run out, the restaurant will probably be back open and ready to serve**.

Second, do go to the hardware store. You'll find all of the supplies you really need, plus a few you might not have thought of. Items to stock-up in preparation for snow and ice include:
  • Snow/ice melt. Icy stairs are no joke, and as a medical transcriptionist and someone who lives with ice as a usual part of my winter landscape, I know how foolhardy it is to discount the speed with which one's feet slip out from under one's body. We keep a bucket of snow melt next to the door all winter.
  • A flat blade shovel. It doesn't have to be a snow shovel, and the best shovel we've ever had for snow removal is actually a grain shovel, but it shouldn't be a pointed digging shovel ... of course, any shovel beats the hell out of using a cookie sheet. So, get what you can.
  • Strike anywhere matches, not lighters. You can get a lighter, but you should also have plenty of matches. Lighters don't work so good in the cold.
  • A lantern, preferably an oil lantern and oil to go with it (although cooking oil can be used with a wick for emergency lighting). One reason I recommend an oil lantern over a battery-operated camp lantern is that, if one ends up needing the lantern, it's because the electricity is out, and if the electricity is out, that means there's probably no heat. An oil lantern can help heat a very small room.
  • Candles. These are not just for light, but also for cooking and heat. Speaking of heat, if losing electricity is really a concern, be sure to pick up some clay pots (which can be reused in the spring for planting flowers) to make an emergency, small space heater. Won't find those supplies at the grocery store!
  • Canning jars. Don't laugh. If one is really concerned about preparedness, canning supplies are really useful to have on hand. Instead of going to the grocery store and getting a bunch of bottled water in (questionably safe) plastic bottles, get some quart-sized canning jars, fill them with water from the tap, and boil them in a hot water bath (preferably with something else that's being canned anyway). It's safe, clean drinking water, and no fighting with others at the grocery check out counter. Additionally, canning jars can be used for making oil lamps with stuff you probably have at home already. All you need is oil (olive oil works) and some wicking material, like a piece of an old cotton t-shirt.
  • Gloves. I know, people should already have gloves, but those who don't live, full-time, with ice and snow will forget that it's cold having to touch ice and snow, and really, even in very cold temperatures (below 20°) if I have on a pair of gloves and boots with warm socks, I can be outside shoveling in just a pair of jeans and a sweater. In fact, if I'm shoveling, having the extra layer of coat is too much if the temperature is in the double digits.

I've found some really cool items at my hardware stores that are useful for emergency preparedness. There are a lot of items that allow one to be very comfortable in a powered-down situation. We even found a wind-up clock at our local hardware store once. And if one must have comfort food, up near the cash registers, they usually have candy bars.

Of course, in the end, being prepared is less about what supplies you have and more about what's in your head. Mostly, we should just take the advice of Mr. Bobby McFerrin - Don't Worry. Spring is only a few weeks away.

**For the record, I do NOT recommend this type of lifestyle, but if you really don't cook, not ever, there's no reason to go to the grocery store to get a bunch of stuff you're not going to use, just because there's going to be a storm. And unless you really did JUST run out of something RIGHT before the storm is supposed to occur, there's no reason to rush out to the grocery store.


  1. Hi! It's funny you should mention the food shopping craziness that goes on before a storm. I counted 10 (yes 10!) loaves of bread in someone's shopping cart the other day. There was no bread left on the shelves and another woman shopping there asked the 10 loaf woman if she would please give her one of those loaves and the woman said NO! I need them! Ha ha! The next day, it was 40 degrees out and all was well. I live in NJ and we do have storms here but like you said, usually the next day or so you can get out.

  2. Good idea. Sadly a lot of people wait to get gas until after a storm. I remember right after Hurricane Sandy the lines (miles long) of people who didn't bother to gas up. While a hurricane is more severe, I'd gas up just in case... And candles and clay pots, cool!