How to Prepare for a Winter Power Outage

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.

Wind

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.

Other Issues

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.

After the Storm — How to Stay Safe in the Wake of a Major Storm

Rainstorms are an important resource for our waterways and aquifers, bringing life-giving water for irrigation, drinking water and more. But there is a significant difference in a gentle shower and a violent downpour that can result in destruction of houses and even loss of life. And as our world grows warmer, the propensity for violent storms is on the increase.

Rising sea levels caused by melting polar ice can contribute to a storm’s destructive capacity with higher storm surges and more flooding. And scientists are currently exploring a connection between warming seas and an increase in the intensity of cold winter storms along the eastern half of the United States.

For most, however, the time between June and November is peak tropical storm and hurricane season. In the recent past, storms experienced during this timeframe have shown an alarming increase in intensity. For one thing, they are getting wetter. Rainfall rates during these storms are increasing and one storm can now produce more water than ever before, thanks to the warming trend. To illustrate this, scientists noted that Hurricane Harvey, a storm that touched ground in the U.S. in 2017, dumped more than 40 inches of rain during its journey across the southeastern states — more rain than had ever been recorded in history.

Thunderstorm depicting lightning and strong rain.

Another notable change is storm intensity, which researchers say is increasing by about 8% each decade. Intensity includes damaging winds as well as rainfall. What’s more alarming is the ability of these storms to intensify quickly, with some wind speeds increasing by 35 mph over a one-day period.

For homeowners, businesses and the utilities that serve them, this trend can be not only troubling — but dangerous. A storm’s danger doesn’t just pass when the storm fizzles out. Flooding, high winds and other factors contribute to sustained dangerous conditions after a storm has passed. While we currently can’t do anything to stop storms from evolving, we can protect ourselves from these dangerous conditions with some simple safety tips.

Tips for Staying Safe After a Storm has passed

Many people breathe a sigh of relief after a major storm has passed, counting their blessings, particularly if the storm caused no damage to their home or business. But even though the sun may be shining, there are still many dangers that exist after a major storm.

Here is what you should know to keep yourself safe:

Stay Clear from Downed Power Lines

It is common for power lines to be on the ground following an intense storm. Sometimes they can be arcing or throwing sparks, but other times they can seem dead. However, any utility line— from telephone wires to television cable lines — can be in contact with power lines that are energized, and any contact with them can cause electrical shock and even death.

If you see a downed power line, report it to your local utility and warn others to stay away from it. Never touch it, drive over it in a car or touch anything metal that is in the line’s vicinity. A downed line can energize metal objects that are near it such as culverts or fences.

If Your Power is Out, Use Flashlights Instead of Candles

While it might be tempting to use candles to light certain areas of your home in a power outage, this is a fire hazard and should be avoided if you can. Make sure you have plenty of flashlights or even battery-operated candles and a supply of extra batteries on hand for emergencies.

Be Careful When Clearing Tree Damage After a Storm

You might want to get right back to business after a storm — and that could mean clearing downed trees or vegetation from your home or place of work. This is a dangerous proposition, particularly if the trees are growing near electric or other utility lines.

If there are limbs down or tree damage, call your utility immediately. Electricity from sparks and arcing can cause a fire and even jump from the tree to a person nearby if the tree is still live and especially if it is wet. Any live wire touching a tree can electrify not only the tree, but also the ground around it, making the entire area dangerous.

Your utility will call in a professional tree-trimming service that will take care of the broken branches, limbs and other vegetation in a safe manner that will protect you — and your house or business — from additional harm.

For Utilities, Townsend Tree is the Answer to After-Storm Safety

If you’re a utility, chances are you will be flooded with calls from residential and business customers experiencing issues with downed lines after a storm passes. Many of these lines may be in contact with surrounding vegetation or may have been downed by broken tree limbs or other issues with surrounding trees. A downed line surrounded by vegetation and debris can pose a serious threat to untrained or unaware individuals in the area, so it is to your advantage to manage the situation as quickly as possible.

To manage risk for your customers — and for your utility — it is smart to call in experts to remove any dangerous vegetation and clear the area for your workers. Townsend Tree has leading-edge knowledge in storm damage relief procedures, including power line clearance, hazardous tree removal and removal and processing of debris. Our team of tree clearing professionals can easily assess the situation and provide a fast, cost-effective solution that will clear the area safely and efficiently to help keep your workers and your customers safe.