During one of the many winter storms to hit the US this month, one of my online friends (whom I won’t name to protect the innocent) lost power for nearly 48 hours. Those of you who have read FAR Future (and if you haven’t, of course I recommend it) know that I expect chronic energy shortages to make this a common occurrence in a few years. It probably won’t start happening by next summer (as portrayed in the book), but I expect at least some time this decade.
Power outages in the summer are mostly inconvenient. Mostly. During winter, they can be miserable and even deadly. We’ve had winter storms here on Planet Georgia that knocked our power out for over a week. The first one (The Blizzard of ’93) was horrid, because we had nothing in the way of emergency supplies. The most recent one (“Ice2K” in January 2000), we rode out in relative comfort. It was a hassle, but we had learned our lesson.
Both FAR Future and White Pickups are stories of survival, at their base. Indeed, Johnny made the basic needs explicit in the latest episode of White Pickups: food, fuel, water, shelter. For now, let’s assume shelter isn’t an issue — you’re safe in your apartment, but the power’s out and it’s cold outside. Since you’re in your apartment, you (usually) have food too. So now you’re down to needing two essentials, fuel (heat) and water… and hey, maybe the waterworks has backup power? Maybe not.
Unless you live in a rural area like around FAR Manor, chances are the power won’t be out for nine days after a winter storm. Worst case, maybe two or three days. Your food and shelter are intact; all you need to worry about is fuel (heat, light) and water. With a few inexpensive items, you can turn a miserable two or three days into a mere hassle.
Water is self-explanatory. You need it for drinking, washing, and cooking. Either buy a couple gallons at the grocery store, or wash out a couple of containers and fill ’em up. Change out the water every couple of weeks if you fill your own containers; water your plants with it or drink it then refill.
Fuel can be a little more difficult. If you have a gas stove, no problem — open the oven and set it on low, that’s a trick the old-timers know about. You can also cook on a gas stove with or without electricity. But if you have electric appliances…
Depending on your ability to cope with the situation, you can get by with very little or require a lot. But fuel isn’t just heat, it’s light. “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness,” and that goes double for when the power’s out. The nice thing about candles is that they’re portable and can be decorative as well — meaning you can have them out on display instead of stashing them in a closet. A candle holder with a glass chimney is good because it lets you carry it around without dripping hot wax on your hand. Just keep matches or a lighter handy. Oil lamps or kerosene lanterns are nice to have, especially for reading, since they’re brighter. To get more light in a certain direction, put a mirror or square of aluminum foil behind the candle or lamp. Or go with a wind-up flashlight; I bought one for $8 a couple years back and I use it any time I need to venture into the dark.
An inexpensive camp stove can be a big help for warming soup or heating water for coffee (or for washing). It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel with a cup of hot coffee and a clean face! Choose a model that uses sealed propane or butane canisters, they're safer and cleaner. Put them near a window and open the window a crack while in use, to keep a healthy level of oxygen in your dwelling.
When the sun is shining in your windows, open the curtains and let it in. Hang blankets over windows in shadow to keep more heat in. Wearing layers inside can keep you warm, especially if you’re active (walking around). Kerosene heaters can be used safely, but if you have curious pets or children who can knock it over… not a great idea. The fumes from a heater give Mrs. Fetched a headache, so they may not be for you in any case.
If you have a bunch of snow on your balcony, it can help to keep your refrigerated items from spoiling. You can either pack snow into a pot and put it in the fridge, or pack snow and your necessities into a cooler and let it stay out in the sub-freezing weather. You can also melt snow for washing if needed; if you heat it over a stove, stir it to prevent a scorched smell.
Finally, develop a routine — it will help a lot with the psychological part of things. Adjust the curtains, get snow, read, exercise, fix meals, check on your neighbors, call friends or relatives. It gives you a feeling of control over the situation, instead of waiting for the power trucks to show up.
Additions? Corrections? Leave a comment…