When severe weather knocks out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses, utility crews work around the clock to restore service. But somebody is always going to be the last one to get plugged back in...and it could be you.
This story was originally published in November, 2014.
If you’re already waiting around for the power to come back on, it’s too late to do prep like charging batteries or buying a generator. But there are some things you can do right now to protect your home and family…and maybe even reclaim some creature comforts.
- Is this an emergency? - Assess whether the outage is creating a threat or just an inconvenience. Are there wires down on your property? Are you unable to get in or out of your home? Is there someone inside with a medical condition? Has the internal temperature gone from “chilly” to “dangerously cold”? If not, then you’re likely going to be okay for a couple of days. Just make sure you have land or cellular phone service in case you need to call 911.
- Dress warmly – Dress in layers as you would if you were going outside, and feel free to put on hats, gloves, and scarves. If you don’t have thermal underwear, put a pair of pajamas on underneath your clothes. If you can, take a warm shower to raise your body heat - insulated tanks can keep water hot for up to three days; even an electric tank will still have hot water for several hours.
- Go under cover - At night, extra blankets - or even a sleeping bag -can help. Bring some extra company to bed. Let the little kids bundle together. Have the dog snuggle up to you...after all, the term “three dog night” comes from pioneers who used their dogs’ body heat to stay warm when they slept.
- Use caution with heating devices – If you have a fireplace or a woodstove, you can curl up in front of them - at a safe distance. Close your doors and curtains to keep the warm air in the smallest proximity possible. DON’T use barbeques, gas grills, kerosene heaters, or any other outdoor heater inside your home. These emit carbon monoxide and can be deadly when used indoors.
- It may be too late for your fridge, but your freezer's probably fine – If your power’s been out for longer than four hours, you’ll want to avoid certain perishables, like milk or deli meats, which should be discarded if they’ve been in temperatures higher than 40 degrees for more than two hours.. If there are items you can salvage – like juice or cheese – you can keep them covered in a dry, cool spot - maybe your garage or porch. Don't open your freezer, because it will maintain its temperature for 24-48 hours if unopened. If your power is out for longer, pack frozen food in a cooler filled with ice or snow. For a complete list from the USDA of which foods to keep or discard, click here.
- Keep your pipes from freezing – In a bathroom or kitchen sink, start with a slow drip from the hot water valve, then a faster drip from the cold water valve. This should be all you need to do unless your home heat is out for a prolonged period or temperatures drop significantly. Know where your water main is located in case you need to do an emergency shut off.
- Stay connected – If you’re reading this, then we’ll assume you’ve got some connectivity. It’s good for staying in touch with people and checking the news. Do what you can to save your battery, including closing apps like games and photo filters, and shutting off settings for wifi and Bluetooth. NHPR's newscasts happen at the top of the hour and you can stream audio on your phone even if your radio is dead. Don’t bother searching for that old over-the-air battery-operated television you’ve been keeping for such an emergency. TV stations now broadcast digitally, so you won’t find anything on the UHF or VHF bands anymore.
- Get a little bit of power –Find an office or public building and borrow an electrical outlet for a while to charge your phone or laptop. If you have an adapter you can use your car (safely - not in your closed garage) to recharge your battery. Pro-tip: Charge your phone in “airplane” mode…that trick will get most devices a full recharge in half the time.
- Find new quarters – Granite Staters may be known for being flinty, but we also know when not to take chances. If things have gotten too cold or too hazardous to stay in your home and you don’t have a friend or relative with power – call 2-1-1 or visit this website. This N.H. emergency number will connect you with information about emergency shelters.
- Be Zen – Patience is a virtue, even when you feel like you’re on the bottom of your utility's repair list. There are hundreds of people working to restore power – many of them with homes just as dark and cold as yours. If you’ve reported your neighborhood outage, you don’t need to keep calling back or sending angry tweets. It might feel good for a minute, but it won't speed things up. Also, unless you have a legitimate hazard or life-threatening emergency, don’t call 9-1-1. To see the latest updates from your utility provider, click on the links below: