After the Storm


[A bit different, but there is a “I did this so you don’t have to” angle on this story from our editor about emergency preparedness. It is, after all Emergency Preparedness month. Originally published on his blog. – Editor]

storm-treeOur house is on the northeast corner  of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, not far from the Hood Canal Bridge. Although we get about half the rain of Seattle, there are the occasional windy storms that come through here. This weekend was one of those; a extra-windy affair with rain, that usually happens once or twice a year around here.

The weather forecasters predicted very windy conditions, with gusts up to 55mph. Since there are a lot of trees in Washington, there was the real possibility of falling trees causing damage to the electrical lines, resulting in power outages.

There was several days of warnings about the storm, so plenty of time to lay in supplies. If there were electrical outages, they might last 12 to 48 hours or more.

We had a similar storm last year, with a power outage of about 8 hours, starting in the evening. But this storm was supposed to hit mid-day. I figured that would be the case again with this storm.

So I did some minor preparation at home. I knew that I had plenty of flashlights – and batteries. We had some canned food, plus fresh fruit, some energy bars, and four cases of bottled water. We have a small chest freezer with some meat in there, and a good propane BBQ grill with an extra fuel canister. I figured we could handle a short power outage, even if it did happen overnight.

Storm On The Road

The storm came as scheduled on Saturday. We had family in town, so had planned a trip across Hood Canal bridge to Silverdale to visit the local marine museum with my daughter’s’ family (husband, wife, two and four year old). We went across the bridge, and it was a little windy, but not too bad. Enough wind that there were 2-3 foot ‘rollers’ and a bit of whitecaps. But winds gusts under 20mph. The bridge will close if the winds get over 45mph.

We made it to SIlverdale OK, had a great visit in the museum (a hands-on place with lots of touching of the sea critters, to the delight of the grandchildren). It started to rain a bit more when we got there, but not really a downpour.

After the marine museum, a trip to a hamburger restaurant. Lots of people there; it was lunch time, but service was good. It was a bit windy outside, maybe 15-20mph, and some rain. There was a bit of light flickering due to power issues while we were inside, and one 10-second outage, but all was well.

During lunch, I was watching the roads (via Waze and Google Maps), and notices some slowdowns on the usual route home that appeared to be just traffic-related. The drive back home is about 35 miles; some four-lane divided highway, some two-way undivided before the bridge.

After lunch, we went over to the local Costco to look for a replacement laptop (didn’t find the right one). But I thought it would be a good idea to get a LED lantern and some extra batteries – extra batteries are usually a good idea. (the Costco Kirkland brand is a good value).

The Costco was the usual Saturday-busy, but we got out OK. And back into the car for the trip home. The traffic on the four-lane highway wasn’t too bad. But then we got to the about 10 mile two-lane highway part. That was backed up solid and stopped. It looked like traffic was coming from the other direction, so figured there was just more traffic than usual.

While stopped, I was checking out the traffic, seeing if there was another way that might be better. But there are really only two ways to the Hood Canal Bridge. Our usual route was jam-packed.

And, my cellphone was no help. No bars, so no traffic help from Waze or Google Maps. The wind had knocked out the power (trees into power lines), so no idea which way was the best way home. After sitting in nearly one spot for about 30 minutes (the “this should start moving in a few minutes” kind of wait), I decided to turn around and try the other direction home. That turned out to have less traffic to the bridge, although the ‘long way’ around.

We crossed the bridge (more rollers and white caps on the water) with some crosswinds. The bridge had been closed for a couple of hours due to the wind, which caused the big backup on the main route to the bridge. Our alternate route wasn’t as busy, and the bridge was open by the time we go there. Then on to the two lane road to our small town. And on that road, you could see several power lines that have been downed (but off the road) by trees. It didn’t look good for power when we got home.

Back Home and It Is Dark

And, that was correct. No automatic garage door when we pushed the button. In to the front door to a dark and power-free house. It was about 430pm, so plenty of light from the big windows in the main room. But it was time to prepare for darkness – find the flashlights (where were they?) check the batteries (several flashlights were dead, but I did have replacement batteries), and set up the LED camp light. The water was still running, though.

A reminder to everyone to stay out of the refrigerator and freezer (the ice cream cake we brought home to celebrate a birthday was a bit soggy due to the long ride home, but still good). There were hard-back books for a some, ebooks for others, and a movie on an iPad for the kids. When it got dark outside (and inside), we turned on the LED camp light (a nice amount of light) until it was bedtime for the kids, with flashlights issued as needed.

With that over, some quiet time for the adults, then off to bed about 10pm. I was able to keep up with the local power company’s efforts via social media on my phone; the cell towers were still working.

There were many power lines down in the area; the Olympic Peninsula around our home had about 12,000 customers in the dark, with much larger impacts throughout the region. Crews were (and still are) working on things, but big trees falling on power lines does cause some damage that takes a while to repair.

I use a CPAP machine for my sleep apnea. That didn’t work, of course, and sleep was difficult for me because of that. Power was finally restored around 3:30am for us. Up early for church, where everyone swapped power outage and storm stories. Some people in more rural areas were still powerless that morning, and throughout the day. Some still are, as I write this on Sunday night.

Reviewing Things

Now all of that is a rather long preface to ‘I did this so you don’t have to’. I read a few blog sites that talk about ‘prepping’. After thinking about my preparations for the wind storm, how did I do?

Well, I did have some flashlights, although it took a bit to find them all, and get them working. The food in the freezer and refrigerator stayed cold, because the power outage wasn’t very long (and it was a good excuse to eat extra ice cream cake). I didn’t have to worry about a cold night; I do have a propane fireplace, and the propane tank is full, but the nights are mild (around 55-65F) this time of year.

There was food that could be used for an extensive power outage, although not that much. I did have water (the municipal water supply was working through the outage). Lots of toilet paper, so that is covered. There would have been cold showers in the morning, though, since I have an electric water heater.

But my flashlight supply wasn’t really ready; I did have to do some digging around in the garage a bit to find working ones. The new LED lantern was a good purchase; we’ll get another the next trip to Costco. And I have lots of spare batteries, along with two crank-type LED flashlights, one with a radio.

My cell phone was mostly charged, but my backup cell phone battery pack was not (I had used it the weekend before, and hadn’t thought to charge it yet). My CPAP machine only runs on house power, so I didn’t sleep that well – getting one that runs on 12v might be a good idea.

Food supplies were passable, but an extended outage might result in a not-healthy diet. Our personal medicine supply was good. My first aid supply is very basic – bandages and antiseptic cream. I have some antiseptic hand wash stuff, but not enough for an extended period of time.

There were lots of trees down in my area. I had an alder tree, about six inches in circumference, that split and fell, luckily not on my house. A neighbor helped cut the damaged branch – he can use it for his wood stove, but I’ll need to cut the rest of the tree down – so where is my bow saw?

Lessons Learned

Looking back, I probably could have prepared better. There was several days warning of the impending wind storm, and I knew that the area is prone to power outages during wind storms. More and varied food might be better. I may need to consider a small generator to keep the refrigerator and freezer cold.

Perhaps heading out on the road just before a storm hits is something that is less than ideal.

When the power came back on, I didn’t think to check the status of frozen meats in the freezer; since the outage wasn’t that long, and we kept the doors shut, I think the frozen food is OK.

I was prepared to cook on the propane grill; I had an extra propane tank. But it might be a good idea to get a small two-burner propane stove, which would be more efficient than the propane grill for some meals. Both cars were full of gas, so I could have charged my cell phone batteries there, but I need to ensure my cell phone ‘battery-brick’ is kept charged, and maybe buy an extra one. II

I could use more LED flashlights, and batteries. Maybe even a solar battery charger.(I did order a couple of solar-powered flashlights to try out.) And another LED camp light or two. And I need to organize the emergency supplies to have them in a central space, so I can find them. (I still haven’t found my LED head lamp.)

I need to be aware of alternate routes in the area. Perhaps a paper map would be better for when the cell phone towers are dead because of power outages, or at least an on-line map study before the next emergency.

Perhaps an alternate power supply for my CPAP. Getting enough rest during an emergency is a Good Thing.

So, maybe an overall grade of C+? Good enough for this short outage, but I need to think (and act on) additional things to get ready for the next one. Whatever the emergency is.

What about you? Have you thought about your emergency preparation status? Are you ready for a short-term power outage? Could you survive on what you have in your house right now? Let us know in the comments.

7 comments on “After the Storm

  1. The 120vac CAPA, many people run them off a 12v inverter. You’d have to do some home work to make sure the inverter is large enough but they are not spendy and it will be more than happy to sit on a shelf in the garage & wait for the next power outage.

  2. Regarding LED flashlights, IMO the best deal in the universe is the
    “SIPIK SK-68 260lm Zooming Flashlight” which is currently on sale for $5.60, with free shipping to the USA:

    Please note that “to the USA” stuff. While this is an absurdly low price, it will take a couple of weeks to arrive, inasmuch as it’s sent via “slow boat from China.”

    That said, I cannot express just how fantastic a deal is — you won’t believe anything I say until you have this sucker in your hands and turn it on. Suffice it to say it’s INSANELY bright, and has pretty decent battery life, too. I own several of these things and I _still_ can’t wrap my mind around just how much light they are able to milk out of a single AA cell.

    My $0.02 is to buy as many as you can reasonably afford — put one in your pocket (it’s just a tad larger than your thumb!) and put one in each room. Put one (or two) in each vehicle, and give a few away to friends and relatives.

    Secret Undocumented Bonus Feature: If you unscrew the aspheric lens, you will have a nice wide beam of light, which will illuminate anything from a desktop to a room. You can stand it on its base and let the “bounce light” from the ceiling light up the room. Yes, the room. Yes, you can light up a room with a single AA cell. (No, it won’t be “klieglight bright,” but it will be far from pitch-dark.)

    StdDisc: I have no connection with the company other than as a satisfied customer.

    • Thanks for the flashlight tip!

      I just went to look at the link, and this appears to be a light I have seen recommended by several prepper groups.

  3. Some PAP machines have 12 volt adapters, e.g.

    Inverters are handy general-purpose devices. Be sure to get a “full sine wave” if you are running anything that is picky about power quality, e.g. a laptop. Batteries need to be “deep cycle” — car batteries are for starting and will be quickly ruined by inverter use.

    Headlamps can be more handy than flashlights, as they allow you to work with both hands free. Burn time is probably more important than light output.

    Petzl makes excellent headlamps which are not particularly cheap. The Tikka 2 Plus is a good model:

    Regarding generators, be aware that the cheap ones are basically disposable. They will wear out very quickly. The Honda EU2000i has always been about $1000 and is a remarkable little machine. Mine appears to be a lifetime investment after hundreds of hours of use.

    It looks like preparedness is a good thing for the northwest per this new article: “An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when.”

    Hope this info is useful

    • Thanks for all of the replies. The current plan is to head over to Harbor Freight Tools and pick up some cheap LED flashlights (I’ve got a couple of powerful ones, but a pile of cheapos will be handy to scatter around the house and car), and a few more headlamps, along with a few other items. They have some DC converters; so will have to research those a bit too.

      I also picked up another LED camping lantern at Costco today, along with some more batteries. Another trip there will build up some food supplies, along with a trip to the local LDS Food Storage Center for a few things.

      And there’s an upcoming trip to the local Dollar Store to get some small plastic containers for storage of various items, plus some basic first aid supplies, matched, lighters, etc. I already have some big plastic storage tubs left over from the last move. Everything will get stored and labeled in the big tubs.

      There’s a newer CPAP machine in my future, which will determine the 12v adapter I get. Still thinking about the generator; that’s a bigger purchase that will need to be budgeted.

  4. Make up a power budget of all of your essential handheld devices and work out a way to charge them multiple times. Anything from ‘power banks’ to solar chargers to camp stoves that have 1a USB thermocouple powered USB ports are available. I tend to keep a cheap 10a usb power bank plugged into the media port in my car, it’s always charged. Monoprice is one great place for good prices on power banks, chargers, and cables

    For about $50 you can get a 14a USB power bank with an integrated solar panel on the back side. I forget the maker but the unit shows up on Gawker Kinja Deals from time to time.

    Keeping laptops charged is a different problem. I’ve found that 19-20vdc at 5 amps is a good supply to shoot for. The old solution of using a car inverter still works even if it does commit you to running the car engine and putting up with the inefficiencies of multiple voltage conversions.

    There are any number of solar panel companies that will sell you compact panels set up for both USB 5v and the nearly-common 19-20 vdc needed for laptop charging. Compared to simply going for 5v USB charging, adding laptop power to your budget can get kind of expensive.

    Another thing to consider is an ‘old-fashioned’ handheld GPS unit or even smartphone software that uses ‘real’ GPS signals instead of depending on cell tower triangulation and your data plan to download maps on-demand.

    Thanks to smartphone GPS, n-1 generation handhelds from Garmin are incredibly inexpensive at second-hand or pawn shops. Get yourself one with an L or LMT designation and you even get free map updates for life. Nearly all of these will charge on a conventional USB port.

    If your smartphone has a real GPS receiver onboard, consider software like Co-Pilot. $10 for the basic software and another $30 or so for the mapsets of your choice (their US/Canada set is very good and updated almost as often as Garmin maps are) and your phone(s) is all set.

  5. Regarding GPS, there are a number of free apps available, IMO the best-of-breed being “Navmii” which in addition to being fairly full-featured in its no-pay incarnation, can use the free map database (I forget the name offhand, a number of GPS apps use it). You can download free maps for whatever states you need. (Many other country maps, too.) Not as nice as having a full-USA map database in a “real” GPS, but, uses only as much storage space as necessary, and, is something you’ll always have with you.

    The for-pay version has more features, but I haven’t really explored what it has to offer, since the free edition has all I need. (I think the pay edition has an option for heads-up display, where it shows the imagery in mirrored form, which is reflected off of your windshield. Might be useful in heavy fog, snow whiteout, or country driving at night with both headlights burned out (a double-murphy strike) — not that anyone should be driving in such conditions.

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