This is the current view from my office window…in Tennessee. I moved here from Chicago four years ago because I wanted to be somewhere warm, without that white stuff, and without the single-digit temperatures. To say I feel like I was sold a bill of goods this morning when I woke up to 3 degree temperatures is an understatement. I currently heat my house with a wood burning stove, and while I live in the middle of a forest and am surrounded by "fuel" for said stove, currently that "fuel" resembles blocks of ice. Have you ever tried to start a fire with a block fo ice? It’s no easy task. The reality of my currently situation is no one's fault but my own. I simply did not prepare for this "Act of God." The pile of wood I assumed would be enough to get me through the few cold days we normally get here in Tennessee is overtly inadequate.
Like so many who are currently in rolling blackouts or without power in southern homes that have no heat source, I was caught off guard and grossly unprepared for this polar vortex. It’s as if the pandemic of last year taught me little to nothing. I should have seen it coming, done my due diligence, or at the very least pasted the old proverb of "he who fails to plan, plans to fail" up in a big sign in my office so I could pretend to be more prepared.
But I didn’t. So here I am in the midst of a winter storm, with the temperature inside my home at 49 degrees, and the water in my faucets running in the hopes that I don't break a pipe.
And yet, I feel fortunate at this moment because I know that if my power goes out, I can still heat my home and cook something on the wood burner if I need to. But what about those like my children who live in homes in big cities, or my friends in places like Texas who have no control over their grids? Those are my peeps, and those are the ones I worry about.
It might be a little late at this moment to do something about the current situation, but there's no denying that the roaring 2020's are going to be challenging given the way they have started out. Pandemic - Check. Pandemic and Polar Vortex - Half a Check. Pandemic and Polar Vortex and whatever comes next? Preparation is going to be key.
So here are my thoughts on what I'm going to do from this point forward to make sure I'm not in this situation again. Starting with one thing I did correctly.
INVEST IN A SURVIVAL SYSTEM. They say that in a survival situation most people succumb to their injuries or the elements within 72 hours. In most instances help will arrive or you will be found within that 72 hours. The key is to survive that long. Disaster preparedness checklists more often than not have a survival kit as their number one necessity when planning for a natural disaster. While there are a few "systems" on the market today, or you could try and build one yourself, my go-to is by Uncharted Supply Co. You may have seen their Seventy2 Pro in our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide, but in case you missed it, here is the rundown.
I literally carry the Seventy2 Pro back and forth from my home to my truck when I venture out into any kind of bad weather or wilderness situation. The Pro is a survival kit for two people. It includes things like food and water, first aid, tools, hats, gloves, hand warmers, a shovel, you name it. It gives me a sense of security knowing that I have what I need at my fingertips when I need it. One of my favorite things about this system though is a little more basic. If you have been in an emergency situation before, you realize that you just can't think straight, or quickly enough, unless you're used to those situations (which I'm not). Therefore, having everything clearly marked in BIG BOLD LETTERS is key.
The pack also has basic instructions for things like flesh wounds, broken bones, blisters, and shock. It is the most thought out survival pack I've seen to date, and I've seen a lot of them. They come in one person, two person, and a four person "Basecamp." You can check out the two-person kit that I have here. And yes, this may be a bit of an investment, but the peace of mind is worth it.
KEEP ENOUGH WATER ON HAND. When I first moved to this house there were well issues. I would have to go outside and turn on the "pump" about five times a day just to make sure there was enough water in the tank to do dishes or take a shower, let alone have water to drink In fact, one time during a particularly difficult no-water period, I didn't have water for three days. Let me just say you do not want to be around me if I haven't showered in three days. I should have learned from that and should have water on hand. Sure, there's a lot of snow around and that's going to help with the water supply if I really need it, but I'm definitely going to fill a few jugs of water before I finish this post just in case.
BUY A GOOD SHOVEL (AND ONE OF THOSE SCRAPY THINGS FOR MY TRUCK). I've seen a lot of posts from people just like me who moved south out of the Midwest and left all their snow-tools up north. I'm currently regretting not having a good snow shovel and scraper at the moment. My truck is under a half an inch of ice and covered in snow, and I live in the sticks. If I had to go somewhere now in a hurry, it would be a no-go for about 30 minutes while I defrost my vehicle. It's a good reminder that especially in the age of climate control and global warming, I should be prepared for the higher highs, and the lower lows, and the Acts of God that follow. And, it is too late to think of this now, but in the future a full gas tank is important.
CHECK-IN ON MY FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND NEIGHBORS. This morning my mom announced that she had been out shoveling the Wisconsin snow in a T-shirt and shorts, and no shoes. Don't ask. She's a "tough Ruskie," what can I say? While I just shake my head and laugh knowing my mom loves the cold, it doesn't escape me that my mom lives alone and does crazy stuff like that "just because I can." The dangers of older folks shoveling their own drives, especially if they aren't used to it, is a real and imminent danger to our elderly population. In addition, those that are using alternative heat sources when their power goes out may be at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. The sad news coming out of Texas this morning said that two people, one a child, died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a car being used for heat. Remember to never heat your home with a gas stovetop or oven, and always check on those near and dear to you often to make sure they're safe.
MAKE SURE I HAVE CANNED GOODS (OR AT LEAST GET A LOT OF ENERGY BARS) ON HAND. At this point I could cook on my wood burning stove if I need to, but if you don't have that luxury, then it's a good idea to stock up on energy bars at the very least or canned goods. Looking into an alternative ways of cooking that is safe for extreme situations is also a good idea. Currently, I have five energy bars in my possession. Definitely not enough should I want to be completely prepared for myself (and some of my neighbors). Again, like a few of the suggestions above, this is a matter of "Do as I say, not as I do." Time to Amazon some energy bars to my home -- oh, except that no one is delivering. And, while it may be frozen outside, if there's no other way to boil your water or cook your food, then don't discount the use of your grill as an option - just make sure it stays outside.
REMEMBER THAT MY PETS ARE FAMILY TOO. I have outdoor cats that came with my house. Try as I can, I cannot get them to shelter in place. So, making sure that they can access a warmer spot in this cold is key. Just because they have lived their whole lives outside doesn't mean they are ok in below freezing temperatures. I also have an inside dog that thinks she's an outside dog. She will play outside for hours in the forest behind my home with seemingly blatant disregard to the fact that she should come in when her paws are cold. Keeping an eye on your animals when they are outside and recognizing the signs of them being cold, even if they don't, is just good pet-parenting.
WEAR WOOL AND PRIMALOFT OVER COTTON AND DOWN. I know that cotton kills and that layers are key. Having some good wool layers like those from Voormi or other outdoor brands that keep me warm and wick away wetness is important in situations like this. I'm definitely not afraid to bundle up and wrap myself in a blanket. While I may get a few odd looks from those on the other side of my Zoom calls, who cares? At least it's better than leaving the video on while I head to the bathroom (we've all seen that video already). Also knowing the signs of hypothermia and how to treat it is a key life skill that is valuable whether it's cold outside or not, since hypothermia can easily happen in the dead of winter in cold water - and we spend our days near the water.
REMIND MYSELF THAT THE HIGH QUALITY COOLER IS ALSO GOOD FOR KEEPING THINGS WARM. Of course I could put things from my refrigerator and freezer outside if I needed to, and of course a cooler is good for those situations, but as a reminder just because it's called a cooler doesn't mean it just keeps things cool. It's also a great way to keep hot things hot.
MOST IMPORTANTLY USE MY NOGGIN. Except in a situation of dire emergency, I'm going to stay put. At this point the idea of staying home more than we have already had to in the last year sucks, but if you don't absolutely need to go out - don't. Not only are you risking your safety out in this cold and ice, you just might possibly be taking away the resources needed to help someone in grave need. And, while you may be an expert at driving in snow and ice, not everyone is. It's not you I'm worried about, it's those other yahoos on the road. So think about others before you get behind the wheel and don't go out unless you absolutely have to.
As for me, it's now time to go throw some more logs on the fire and get a big cup of coffee and hunker down in place until the bitter cold disappears. Oh and add more energy bars to my Amazon cart for delivery hopefully by June.