Weather!

Quite a little freshet blew through last night. Apparently it started around 11:30—that’s when my power went out—and carried on into the wee hours. Cassie woke me at one in the morning, barking at the distant thunder and fretting to go out. The wind was blowing so hard it made a weird, symphonic noise: like an orchestra of kazoos.

Almost 300,000 utility customers lost power. Mine came back on around 8:30 this morning. By then, the refrigerator’s interior appeared to be at about room temperature: around 62 degrees. I haven’t dared to open the freezer, but I expect it will be OK, even though, being a cheapie, it’s not well insulated.

This minor episode brought one issue sharply to my attention: I am not prepared for a serious emergency lasting any length of time.

I couldn’t even make a cup of coffee this morning: without power, I can’t grind coffee beans. (OK, OK: I do have a molcajete and yes, yes, I could have ground the darn things by hand. I’d have to be driven to greater depths of desperation to do that, thank you.)

Without a propane grill—I dumped mine in favor of a much nicer charcoal grill—I would be in trouble if the gas went out along with the electric power.

My gas stove will operate during a power outage, but it’s not happy, and the manufacturer inveighs against it. Modern gas ranges have electric igniters, so when the power’s out you have to light the gas with a match or butane lighter. Problem is, the burners want to flicker out; in the absence of a pilot light (which is what used to light gas burners and keep them lit), you risk asphyxiating yourself. Or blowing up the kitchen. You have to stand there next to the stove all the time the burner is going and keep a close eye on it.

I do have water stored, but I forget to empty it over the plants once a month, wash out the carboys, and refill them. Must get my act together there.

And I think it would be a good idea to pick up a camp stove and a couple bottles of propane. Actually, I think one of those stoves will run off a barbecue-sized propane canister, two of which I happen to own. Probably all I need is the stove and a canister refill.

The other thing I don’t have is a cooler. I need to pick up one of those, so I can carry dry ice to stock the freezer during an extended outage.  They’re cheap and can be had readily at yard sales.

There’s food enough in the house to last a month or so. The issue is cooking it. And, in the case of frozen and refrigerated items, storing it.

Really, there’s no excuse not to be prepared. Here’s what I see as the bare minimum to have around the house:

Blankets
Toilet paper
First-aid kit
Analgesics, antihistamine tablets, and any prescriptions you need
Five to ten gallons of clean water
Propane
Propane stove or grill with side burner
Candles
Camping lantern
Flashlights and batteries
Battery-operated radio
Cell phone, BlackBerry, or land-line phone that is not wireless
Supply of food, enough to last from a week to a month
Possibly a five-gallon can of gasoline

Got any other thoughts? What else might one have around the house, just in case?

Update:

In just a couple of days, a slew of ideas have come in, over the transom and through the “Comments” on this post. Here’s a summary:

A hand-cranked radio may be more reliable than a battery-operated one. At the very least, have more than one radio that will operate on something other than AC. And keep a good supply of fresh batteries.

Cash stash. The Katrina disaster proved that cash speaks louder than bank cards or checks. When power goes down and stays down, computerized cash registers quit working. Unable to process bank transactions, many merchants will accept cash when nothing else works.

Barterable goods may come in handy in a crisis that lasts for a lengthy time. Cigarettes, alcohol, and (yes, I’m going to say it!) grass can be traded for food, clothing, bandages, medications, and other necessaries. Also useful: sanitary napkins and tampons, candy, jewelry.

Water purifer and sanitizer. Check camping stores for devices and chemicals designed to disinfect suspect water. Among these are the SteriPEN, iodine tablets or liquid, and chlorine tablets. Remember that water filters do not kill pathogens.

More than a few gallons of clean water may be needed. Adults may need as much as three gallons of drinking water a day.

Remember that a water heater holds 20 to 60 gallons of potable water. Swimming pool and decorative fountain or pond water, while not drinkable without purification, can be used for washing and bathing. Dishes can be washed in ocean, river, or lake water, with plenty of detergent. Rinse in boiling water.

Watch yard sales to collect a stash of candles. Tea lights as well as tapers and pillar candles are good to have on hand. I personally find that tapers put out more light than other types of candles.

Propane camp lanterns or oil lamps are also good to have on hand. Use devices that are sources of combustion outdoors.

Build a stash of matches as well as butane lighters. Keep your matches dry inside Ziploc bags.

All these supplies should be kept in a dry, safe place, out of childrens’ reach.

Some readers have questioned the safety of using a propane stove indoors. City codes require an effective venting system over a gas stove for a reason! That reason is called “carbon monoxide,” an odorless, toxic gas that is a byproduct of burning. If you’re forced to use a propane stove inside because of weather conditions, place it near or on your stovetop and turn on the vent. If you have no power, use it near an open window or place it in the cold firebox of your fireplace with the flue open, and don’t use it for any length of time. It is best to use these devices outdoors.

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Sarah December 8, 2009 at 11:48 am

For Candles you should check your local thrift store. You might also want to consider adding an oil lamp to your list. Candles work but give off very little light.

funny December 8, 2009 at 12:28 pm

@ Sarah: Good idea. The trick is finding some that don’t stink. I really dislike perfumed candles! That’s why I love Ikea: about a square acre of inexpensive candles, most of them odorless.

I’ve found that while pillar candles are very dim, stick candles give out a surprising amount of light. When the weather’s nice in the evening, I can read by the light of a candlestick or two, outdoors on the patio table.

Janet December 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm

I bought a steri-pen for traveling but I also think it is a good idea for emergencies also. They sterilize the water so that is safe to drink. It’s a little pricey but you can often find them on sale or get an older model. And you have to keep spare batteries for them. Overall, it makes me feel better about not stocking up on water like I should.
Here is one example.
http://www.rei.com/product/761906

Vickey December 9, 2009 at 8:50 am

Cell phones & blackberries won’t do any good in a widespread outage – towers go down. We also realized this morning during our own power outage in upstate New York that battery operated radios are fallible – apparently there’s something wrong with the electrical portion of that power source in our radio (not dead batteries, dead connections or…). Looks like we’re getting a hand-crank radio this Christmas.

5-10 gallons is probably not enough water, particularly in a desert setting. 3 gallons per person per day, a 1 week supply minimum is recommended.

funny December 9, 2009 at 10:07 am

@ Janet & Vicky: Excellent thoughts!

Friends’ cells were operating while our power was out, presumably because whatever runs a cell keeps running unless everything in sight goes down. It’s probably a good idea to have more than one battery-operated radio in the house–unfancy models can be had very inexpensively. Also be sure your batteries are functional. A hand-cranked model, assuming it works, will free you from dependence on batteries as well as electricity.

In addition to carboys of drinking water, a water heater contains 40 gallons of water (more or less). In hot climates where every other house has a pool, pool water can be used for washing and bathing. This will make drinking water go a lot further, and, for that matter, the pool water can be sanitized, by boiling if you have enough fuel or with iodine or even chlorine.

I’ve not seen a pen-like sterilizer. However, iodine tablets are available in camping stores and are very cheap. It’s not something you’d want to use over the long haul, but in an emergency, one tablet or 5 drops of 2% tincture of iodine will disinfect a quart of water.

Revanche December 9, 2009 at 1:46 pm

I like tea lights in addition to full sized candles and definitely matches! Also a lighter or two. I like to be redundant because lack of light is awful.

Not being a coffee drinker, I have to ask, does it defeat the purpose of grinding coffee beans if you grind enough beans to last a week at a time?

I would include some empty storage containers (a few Tupperware and some ziplocks, and plastic baggies) as well, just because you never know when you might need to wrap something up.

funny December 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm

@ Revanche: It’s a Yuppie affectation: we coffee snobs are convinced that coffee is better when it’s fresh-ground. Somehow if you keep beans tightly wrapped in a freezer and only grind enough for a single brew, this magically causes the coffee to be ever-so-superior.

{sniff!}

But I hafta say, I do make a mean cuppa coffee. ;-)

Revanche December 11, 2009 at 7:04 pm

Heh. Ok, I’ll take your word for it as I only enjoy the aromas of coffee and never the taste. :)

mizdenny April 26, 2010 at 1:31 am

for those that live in hot areas (desert climates) make a solar oven to do cooking its really easy but for those in colder climes (like mine) thats no help if i had to i would go to park/campsite area & make a fire & cook (and make coffee )

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