Surviving the Big Chill

Baby, it's cold outside and you might lose power. One tough woman's preparations — and the promise she'll have coffee no matter how hard it snows

By Rebecca Lindland/Preparation Concierge

Here comes the next big snowstorm about to hammer the Midwest and Northeast. Snowstorms conjure up feelings of both dread and delight. I love nothing more than watching the snow fall from the safety of my very own home, but I also dread the threat of getting stuck inside and losing power. For hours. For days. Or longer.

So, I have a plan. It involves power banks, solar lanterns, iced coffee, and pizza. (The order of importance? Arguable.)

I am responsible for my home, my own safety, and the safety of my two beloved rescue kitties. A damsel in distress I am not.

I’ve lived most of my life in the Northeast (when I’m not living in desert climes — as far away as the Middle East!) and I'm usually blessedly alone, as I forgot to get married. So I am responsible for my home, my own safety, and the safety of my two beloved rescue kitties. A damsel in distress I am not.

Storms always bring the threat of power outages, whether it’s from snow-heavy branches pulling down electrical wires or a more widespread issue of blown transformers. Regardless, it’s a known threat that needs to be mitigated.

The author, Rebecca Lindland, keeping comfy in Alaska

When I bought my fixer upper in Connecticut the same week as Super Storm Sandy in 2012, I installed propane and solar panels as soon as I could. I looked into installing a hard-wired generator, but the estimates were between $12,000 and $18,000. Yikes! Frankly, that’s a lot of mortgage payments, so I haven’t done it. Instead, I’ve compiled a plan that costs less than $500. Here are a few of my tips and tricks for surviving winter weather in style, comfort, and coffee.

What to do if the electricity goes out

Losing power in winter is a bummer. After all, it’s snow season, which means that it's also the season of dark and cold. (And you can forget about reruns of Game of Thrones if you've got no juice.) Once I hear that a winter storm is on its way, I first make sure that all of my extra power stations are fully charged, which can be done while I’m doing other prep work. Plug stuff in now, worry less later.

I turn up the heat in the house so the house retains warmth — extra insurance in case of a power outage

One of those power stations is this 150-watt unit SUAOKI Portable Power Station, purchased on Amazon for a very reasonable price. This unit has several output options, including two 110V AC outlets and 4 USB ports. It is best suited for small electronics, so I prioritize my phone, tablet, and wi-fi JetPack hot spot.

If you have medical equipment such as a CPAP machine, you’ll need something more powerful (and, frankly, expensive). If you don't want to go the way of a gas or diesel generator, consider something like the Goal Zero Yeti 1400, a portable power station with 1500 watts, which is capable of running larger appliances for short periods. It runs on lithium batteries, kind of like your computer, or a Tesla. It is serious business, and the future of emergency electricity.

I have a small hand crank solar powered flashlight/radio with AM and FM bands, and a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather band for emergency updates. This device fits in my palm, and has a flashlight as well as a cell phone charger. In particularly bad storms, there's no guarantee you'll have internet access, and of course the ever-helpful Alexa will be silenced, so this can serve as your information source for the outside world."

Next up: Heat and light. I have small battery-operated lanterns that provide up to 12 hours of continuous light with new batteries, and I always have spare batteries for easy replacement. These small lanterns are much, much safer than candles, and give off excellent light. I keep them in the kitchen for easy locating, distributing them throughout the house when needed. Goal Zero also makes these nifty solar lanterns, which can be recharged by USB, by solar panels, or even by using hand crank.

Before the storm rolls in, I turn up the heat in the house — extra insurance in case of a power outage, so that the house retains extra warmth. I also close my thermal insulated curtains over my large windows for extra protection. My fireplace is propane/gas, so I put that on for added heat. If you've got a wood-burning fireplace, bring in fresh starter logs and plenty of additional wood for thorough drying, and set up in advance for easy lighting. As with any fire, make sure the screen is safe and secure, especially with kids and pets around.

The last time I lost power, it was for 36 hours. My house got down to 55F even with the fireplace on during the night, so I make sure I have several sets of warm, comfortable clothes readily accessible. In particularly bad storms, I’ve had to go outside to clear off branches, so I have warm, dry clothes already out when I come back in. Dig out extra wool or down blankets, too. Remember, the goal is preparation, style and comfort.

Got the munchies?

Food is a key element of surviving a snowstorm, as we know from the panicked bread and milk purchases that often ensue at the mere mention of snow. But the menu can change if power goes out, so I shop carefully and early to avoid the crazy crowds (more on that later).

Again, run those errands early, before the storm, and well before everybody else is doing the same thing. I hit the ATM for a week’s worth of cash just in case my local stores and banks lose power afterwards. I also pay some loving attention to my car: I fill up with gas, check windshield wiper blades and washer fluid level, locate my scraper/brush and shovel, and verify my oil and tire pressure via my car’s app. A healthy car is a happy and reliable car.

Pizza is the ultimate snowstorm food. Eat it for breakfast, lunch or dinner; warm, room temperature or cold

I also make sure I have plenty of environmentally- and pet-safe rock salt/snow melt on hand for my steps and driveway.

Cold weather also means broken water pipes, even if they’re well-wrapped, so think ahead to your water needs. Fill up your tub; the water can be used to flush toilets and to wash faces. Buy plenty of bottled water for teeth brushing and drinking. Inexpensive store-brand gallon containers work just fine. I love myself, but Fiji water isn’t necessary. I have plenty of adult drinks around, too: I'm not a cavewoman, after all.

I also ensure a supply of “flexible foods.” Those are the foods that can be eaten at a variety of temperatures and times of day. For me, this is pizza. I either make, or order, a large pizza prior to the storm, which I can eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner, warm, room temperature or cold. It’s really the perfect snowstorm food. (Note: Don't depend upon delivery, pizza or otherwise. It’s just rude to expect your local delivery person to brave ice and snow!)

Yes, I also stock up on fruits and veggies that don’t need to be refrigerated, and the proverbial bread for peanut butter/Nutella and jelly sandwiches. Pop-top cans of tuna fish are a good option, using the little packets of mayonnaise from to-go meals for the dressing part. And don’t forget about your pets. Make sure they have plenty of food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

And, coffee, damnit!

Once I’m home and already making things, I make a pitcher of iced black coffee, enough for at least two days, just in case I lose power. I can survive a lot of things with proper caffeine, and there’s no guarantee I can get to the nearest coffee shop. I take my coffee black, but I also don’t want to chance the cream going off from lack of refrigeration, so don’t add cream unless absolutely necessary. If you must have cream, stock a small container of powered cream, again just in case.

One caveat to the room-temperature menu: if your cooktop is gas, there’s a good chance you can light it with a standard multi-purpose long-handled utility lighter, which you should always have on hand. If that’s the case, voila, suddenly you’ve all sorts of options for food and drink, including boiling water, cooking soups, pastas, etc. Keep in mind most ovens made after 1990 without a standard pilot light cannot be lit in this manner.

We’ve covered food, water, power, heat, and light. The next priority? Entertainment, especially with kids. A major snowstorm is a great time to pull out games (Sleeping Queens is a new, super fun one we like!), puzzles, cards, even old family photo albums. Make these things readily available so you’re not digging through a dark, cold closet. Even if you don’t lose power, forced home confinement is the perfect time for some old fashioned family bonding.

The bottom line? If you've done the prep work, it will take away the worry and allow you to actually take advantage of the weather for some reading, relaxing, and catching up with yourself. Maybe even sorting through that cold, dark closet, or pruning your wardrobe. There’s nothing quite like a snow day. Enjoy the winter wonderland!

Rebecca Lindland is a lifelong automotive enthusiast motivated by a baseline fear of getting caught unprepared. She’s lived in San Francisco, New York City, Boston, and most recently in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Pocket sized — she's five feet tall and full of ferocity — Rebecca has taken several self-defense courses just in case she needs to incapacitate polo-shirt-wearing villains as she navigates the mean streets of southern Connecticut, where she currently lives. She has two passport-toting kitties, loves dogs, and if you need technology broken, she’s your girl. Follow her @rebelcarchick.

About us: Preparation Concierge is devoted to emergency planning and disaster preparation. We offer users level 101 information and advice, and a smartly curated list of gear, food, and water solutions. We take a particular interest in urban and suburban areas — these populations are especially fragile and susceptible to disasters, and are often the most unprepared.

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