The La Niña weather pattern is back in full force this year, with typical below normal temperatures afflicting the northern portions of the United States. Last year under the same pattern, nearly three-quarters of the country had snow on the ground with the highest percentage since experts began keeping records on country-wide snow in 2003.
Last year, winter storm Uri crashed the Texas power grid, leaving millions of people without power, heat or water—some for days. Meteorologists are estimating another bumpy and unpredictable ride for this winter, with increased cold from the Appalachians all the way up to the Great Lakes area. The Great Lakes and north-central United States are also looking at more intense weather than usual with bitter cold and snowstorms prevalent. The Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies may experience a wet winter as well, with freezing temperatures that could mean lots of sleet and ice.
The lesson learned by most from last year’s all-encompassing storms was that preparation is the key to comfort and survivability in the event of a winter power outage. So, we’ve gathered details on how power outages happen and how to stay prepared for one.
What Contributes to a Power Outage?
While some outages are caused by the overloading of a power grid, as occurred in Texas last year, other outages are caused by more mundane, but just as dangerous, conditions.
Ice and Snow on Powerlines and Trees
Fluctuating temperatures can turn rain or freezing rain to ice. When this substance clings to power lines, it can lead to huge issues. For example, just one-half inch of ice can cause power lines to become 500 pounds heavier, causing them to droop or even snap, contributing to power outages. On tree branches, this ice can result in a 30-times heavier branch weight. The result of all that weight is branches that can snap and fall, impacting power lines.
High winds from winter storms can also knock down power lines, causing localized or widespread power outages. Remember, if a power line is down, assume it is energized and stay away from it. Call your local power company or 911 immediately.
Damage from animals and freezing issues at power supply plants can also contribute to power outages. Additionally, damage from automobiles that skid off-road on icy streets and impact power poles can cause power supplies to be disrupted.
Preparing Properly for a Winter Power Outage
Preparation for a winter power outage is a bit different from outages that can occur during warmer months, since keeping warm will be the focus when it comes to your home environment. Alongside tips to create a (safely) heated area with alternatives to electrically powered heat, consider the following:
Basic Tips on Prepping Before the Storm Hits
There are many ways to prepare for a winter storm simply, easily and cost-effectively before it hits.
Food: Consider stocking up on canned or non-perishable items such as energy bars, cereals, crackers and beef jerky. If you have a gas cooktop, ensure you have matches to light the appliance when the electricity is off. If you have electric appliances, consider getting a wood or charcoal-fired grill for cooking—and then stock up on fuel. Also, turn down the thermostat on your refrigerator to keep food colder longer during a power outage and prevent premature spoilage.
Water: Stock up on bottled water for drinking in case municipal supplies become contaminated or if you have a well that won’t pump during an outage. Fill bathtubs with water so you can flush toilets and even wash dishes.
Supplies: Consider stocking up on batteries, flashlights and candles; buying a car charger for your phone; and of course, filling the car with a full tank of gas in case you need to use it to charge devices. Even getting an old-school phone that you can use with a landline can be an important way to reach emergency authorities if the power is out and your chargers fail.
Protect: Insulate your pipes well, especially if you have not already done so. Poorly insulated pipes can freeze and burst during an outage, causing costly damage. If the storm comes on suddenly and you feel your pipes are not properly insulated, shut the main water valve and empty all pipes of water by running it out.
Don’t Forget Fireplace Safety and Safety Requirements for Fuel-Based Heaters
Outside of food and water, your primary concern will be keeping your home heated. To stay safe, consider these tips:
Fireplaces: Use dry, well-seasoned wood to prevent smoke and soot buildup. Crack a window while burning a fire and be sure your damper or flue is open. Never close the damper again until the embers are completely extinguished. Clean ashes from previous fires to keep less than one inch of ash in the fireplace. Finally, get your chimney professionally inspected and cleaned annually and keep a fire extinguisher nearby in case of stray sparks.
Fuel-based Heaters: Kerosene and propane heaters should be used with caution. Always fill them outside your home with high-quality fuel. For kerosene, this should be 1-K grade kerosene. Ensure that you have installed and inspected carbon monoxide detectors in your home to avoid harmful buildup of carbon monoxide levels. Never place anything on top of your heaters and keep them far away from combustible surfaces. Never leave a fuel-based heater unattended and have it inspected annually. Turn off heaters when you leave the room and turn them off before going to bed.
Preparation Now Means a Safer Winter Season
Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare for winter storms and the possibility of power outages. Weather is unpredictable and storms can crop up quickly, making it difficult to gather all the items you will need to keep you and your family as safe—and warm—as possible.
At Townsend Tree, we support utilities, pipeline companies and transportation departments all winter long to ensure power keeps flowing and home and business owners in more than 30 states have access to the power they need.