Blackouts And Winter Storms

By Katie Langrock

June 25, 2010 5 min read

Remember when you were a kid and a blackout meant it was time to bust out the candles, blankets and Ouija board for a rockin' night of ghost stories and board games? If it was summertime, the neighborhood kids would get together in the pitch darkness for a game of blackout tag. If it was winter, Dad would start a roaring fire and would count the seconds between the lightning and thunder, giving appropriate oohs and aahs as they echoed through the night sky.

Blackouts can be a blast. But they also can be extremely dangerous, especially in the winter months. And now that you are an adult, it's important to know how to keep you and your family safe so even the worst of blackouts can be enjoyed.

Though blackouts cannot be predicted, winter storms can. When you hear a warning for a winter storm, especially if you are in an area prone to blackouts, you must prepare for the worst. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, "Heavy snowfall and extreme cold can immobilize an entire region. Even areas that normally experience mild winters can be hit with a major snowstorm or extreme cold. Winter storms can result in flooding, storm surge, closed highways, blocked roads, downed power lines and hypothermia." Planning ahead can save your life.

Yes, it is important to stock up on canned food and water, but too many people make the mad dash for the supermarket and end their blackout preparation with that. "Winter storms and extreme cold could be the cause of your death, no matter how much water and food you store for emergencies," according to 1-800-Prepare. "It's just as important to prepare to stay warm so that you don't succumb to hypothermia in your car or at home."

Here are some tips on how to prepare for a blackout:

--If you have a wood-burning stove, barbecue or fireplace, be sure to stock up on plenty of firewood.

--Locate all of your batteries, matches, candles and flashlights and your emergency survival kit. If you don't have such a kit, buy one. They often include light sticks, whistles, solar blankets, food and water rations, thermometers, can openers, hand-crank flashlights and radios, and much more. You can purchase one at

--Make sure you have appropriate clothing, preferably wool and multiple layers, along with warm hats, gloves and socks. You also should add blankets to your bed.

--Cook food in advance that can be eaten cold or easily reheated over a fire. Be sure to have plenty of food and water in case the blackout lasts longer than expected.

--Turn the refrigerator and freezer to their lowest settings, and shut off your water so the pipes don't freeze and burst. If you are unable to turn off your water in time, let all the faucets drip water. By keeping the water flowing -- even a little -- you will prevent the pipes from bursting.

When blackouts occur, you are often stuck. But that doesn't mean there is nothing you can do to improve your situation. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has created a set of guidelines you should follow during a blackout or winter storm.

Here are some of FEMA's tips for surviving a blackout:

--Listen to your radio (make sure you have the right batteries!) for weather updates and emergency information.

--Eat regularly and drink ample fluids, but avoid caffeine and alcohol.

--Avoid overexertion.

--Watch for signs of frostbite. These include loss of feeling and pale extremities, such as fingers, toes, earlobes and the tip of the nose. If symptoms are detected, get medical help.

--Watch for signs of hypothermia. These include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. If symptoms of hypothermia are detected, get the victim to a warm location, and remove wet clothing. Warm the center of the body first, and give warm nonalcoholic beverages if the victim is conscious. Get medical help as soon as possible.

--Conserve fuel. Close off heat to some rooms.

--Maintain ventilation when using kerosene heaters to prevent the buildup of toxic fumes. Refuel kerosene heaters outside, and keep them at least three feet from flammable objects.

--Drive only if absolutely necessary. If you must drive, only drive during daylight hours and stay on main roads.

To get more tips from FEMA on how to survive winter storms and blackouts, go to

Last but not least, don't forget to dust off that old Ouija board. Once you and your family are protected, a blackout can be a source of some good fun. Locate all your favorite board games, books and musical instruments, and make an impromptu vacation out of it. What better excuse to take a few days off work and snuggle up with the ones you love?

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