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Mosby: Lessons learned during winter storm

Posted: December 29, 2012 - 2:38pm

Next time we are going to do better. We are going to be more prepared.

Yes, we knew this winter storm was coming, or we should have known, and we weren’t ready when the power went out.

For us, the outage was a little less than 16 hours — more than some, not nearly as much as others. We hunkered down. We had alternative heat in the house, so staying warm wasn’t a problem. Electrically operated cooking devices were. We couldn’t make coffee.

OK, the shortcoming on our part was simply not having camping gear at hand and easy to get up and running. Let’s extend that camping bit. We did not have the patio cooker ready.

A lesson from a dozen years ago when the big ice storm hit was that many folks in our area made good use of gas-fired smokers, grills and such. Yes, they were outside where it was cold, but they provided hot food when indoor stoves were not operative.

When a winter storm is in the forecast, a full tank of propane should be a necessity.

Also good is to have a two-burner camping stove ready to go. These use propane also, most of them in the smaller containers. They need to be used outside, but, yes, we know that some people use them for brief periods indoors. Crack a window if this is the case.

Anytime a winter storm hits the Conway area, portable generators disappear from stores quickly. An investment in a good, reliable generator makes sense. But it should be big enough to get you through the emergency with some heat, some cooking, some lights.

Those little generators you may use for camping are not the thing for a home power outage. They don’t produce enough power to run an electric heater, a coffee maker and a cooking device like and electric skillet — plus lights. The little generators put out 400 to 800 watts, maybe a thousand watts.

What is needed is a larger wheeled generator that can produce 5,000 or more watts. Do a little math. A small electric heater runs on 1,250 to 1,500 watts. Add a coffee maker and that electric skillet or hot place, and you have a total close to the 5,000 watts. Sure, you can unplug the coffee thing then hook up the cooker and still have power for two or three lights.

Generator users pass along a key bit of advice. Start up the machines every four to six months and let them run at least 10 minutes or so. When they are idle for a year, two or three, bad things like drying out and cracking plastic and rubber parts take place. Then they don’t function when an emergency arrives. Just start them once in a while.

Another possibility for cooking is a charcoal grill or a charcoal starter. The latter is a metal bucket item in which you put charcoal in the top then wad up some newspaper in the bottom and light it. It produces a quick, hot fire. Put your kettle or pan for hot water on the top then use the charcoal for cooking when it is ready.

In our house, we have several battery-powered lights, a couple of which are inexpensive things that have a household current charger. In the latest outage, these cheap lights let us down. They were not fully charged. But the battery lights did fine.

Food for emergencies should not be a major hurdle these days with the availability of all sorts of items.

In addition to military-type freeze dried selections, something as simple as instant oatmeal can be handy. If you can heat some water, you can eat.

We mentioned alterative heat. When electricity is off, central heating systems do not work. For many families, this means wood-burning fireplaces as backups. For us, it is wall-mounted gas heaters. Our two kept the house toasty warm in the hours of no power.

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