Must Have Supply List for a Severe Winter Storm

What a snow storm!

Three days plus 90 minutes without electricity, 3 days without tap water (after power was restored), and 6 days without cable TV & Internet service. Not to mention pulling two people out of a ditch, shoveling 2 rather long driveways by hand, and the personal discomfort of bathing from the heated pot of defrosted snow for 6 days.

Perhaps I made a mistake asking Santa Claus for 2 feet of snow for Christmas and not including in the fine print that he:

  • not knock out the power with 13 inches of snow.
  • not make me defrost snow to use for bathing and waste disposal.
  • not make me go without CNBC and ESPN for a whole week.
  • not shut down my Internet connection for 6 days.

Very funny Santa! Ha – ha – ha. You got me again! (You fat bastard.)

I’ve experienced severe winter weather chaos before, but this storm definitely takes first prize. Having grown up in the Appalachian mountains and experienced 3 to 4 feet of snow as a kid, and thrived during the infamous Raleigh-Durham ice storm of 2002 when 4 to 5 inches of sleet shut down basic infrastructure almost immediately (electricity, transportation, water, etc.), I know a thing or two about being snowed in.

So you can bet that I’ve done the strategic planning to attenuate the snowstorm after effects and greatly reduce any chance of supply shortfalls well in advance of this storm arriving, as well as made a few larger purchases to make sure if it ever happened again, the problems related to the storm would be nothing more than a minor inconvenience.

Today, after finally getting to shower like a normal human (man was it swell!) and finally getting email access to swap “horror stories” with friends around town, I’d say we performed better than your average household. In fact, other than a home with an electric generator to operate a satellite television and a cistern to provide hot water, I’d say we had a very comfortable roughing it experience when you consider many people were forced to rely upon assistance from the National Guard and disaster relief organizations.

Must Have Supply List for a Severe Winter Storm

After having so much free time on my hands, I jotted down a bare necessities list, as well as a nice to have luxury list of items that you might want to consider acquiring if you live in an area where a serious snow storm can shut down the basic life giving services you rely upon.

  1. Drinking Water. If you suspect severe weather coming your way, gather as much fresh water in clean containers as you think you will need, then triple it. I like triple redundant fail safes whenever possible, so unless you want to eat snow or collect rainwater, store as much drinking water as you can in non-leachable containers.
  2. Ready to Eat Foods. You can go as high end or low tech as you want with your emergency foodstuffs. Anything from high calorie MREs and energy bars to as basic as crackers and vanilla wafers should do the job, but make sure that all you need to do is break the seal and chow down. Anywhere from 2 to 3 days reserve is a good place to start, but a little extra never hurts. I store and consume these foods until they near their expiration date, then restock as necessary.
  3. Heating source. Whether you have a wood, coal, gas fireplace, or some other type of non-electric portable heater, it’s useless if you don’t have the accompanying fuel to operate it. Keep a small to medium stockpile around for emergencies, and if you must, go hunting for more prior to the storm doing its damage. If you planned well, your heating source will double as a cooking station.
  4. Emergency Lighting. Having 2 or 3 handheld flashlights around is a must have year round, but if you didn’t buy the batteries, candle light is the next best thing. Most people have a few scented candles around the house anyway, so unless the power is out for more than 3 days, you should be good to go. I keep a dozen 12 inch dinner table candles in the pantry for exactly this type of event. You could also use old school oil lamps if you’re lucky enough to have them with the proper fuel source.
  5. Batteries. Being a Lowe’s and Home Depot junkie, I’m always on the lookout for summertime clearance sales bulk sized packages of non-rechargeable batteries. As it turned out, having multiple 24 packs of AA, AAA, D and 9-volt batteries was a pretty good idea. Had I been an unethical person, I could have made a killing selling individual batteries for $5 a pop once every store in town sold out. Better to have too many than too few so the adage goes.
  6. Ways to Make Fire. Call me a pessimist, but I’m betting there were a few households that didn’t have a way to light a candle or start a fire. At the very least, one should keep a small number of matches or a few cigarette lighters in a safe, easy to remember location that can easily be found once the lights go out.
  7. Cash. No power and no Internet service typically mean your debit and credit cards are useless. So you’re going to need an ample supply of cash money to buy whatever you need until modern technology is restored and/or your local bank re-opens its doors since the ATMs are also useless. We keep $300 in cash for emergency use only in the house, as well as around $50 on our persons at any given time. (I suppose I could have bought $1750 worth of store credit with an American Eagle gold coin, but I probably would have gotten a very confused look from the cashier.)
  8. Disposable Water. Unless you want throw your “honey pots” out of your bathroom window Medieval Times style or do your business out in the cold, you might want to fill your cistern or a bathtub full of potable water to use for waste disposal. It may sound extreme, but you may need it for washing dishes, filling the storage tank of your toilets, or maybe even putting out a fire caused by candle light (in case you do not have a fire extinguisher). Most homes are dependent upon water being pumped from treatment centers, so when the power goes out, those pumps stop working and the taps eventually go dry. Ironically, that’s when the snow on the ground goes from nuisance to life saver.
  9. News and Information. Using an old school AM/FM radio (my alarm clock has one) is still one of the mainstays of the Emergency Alert System, so when the Internet “breaks” and your cable TV provider can’t deliver, falling back to the early 1900’s standby is one of the easiest ways to gather information. A television with rabbit ears could also be a suitable means for picking up local channels or public broadcast television.
  10. Cell phone. If you’re like me and rely solely upon a cheap VoIP home telephone, any disruption in your Internet service means you’re back to using smoke signals without a cell phone. I’m not saying that everyone needs one (my girlfriend carries our only cell phone), but they are extremely handy when landline connections are severed. A case for satellite TV (DIRECTV or Dish Network) could be made since a few of my friends, who also had a generator, got to watch football this weekend and I didn’t.

Nice to Have Luxury Items

For those who have experienced this sort of thing before or have a well thought out plan, you probably have a list of “luxury items” that provide some semblance of modern living even though the power is out.

Here are a few from my stockpile or wish list:

  1. Gas Powered Generator. They’re expensive and can be difficult to install, but nothing is more morale boosting than having electricity when your neighbors don’t. Considering the cost of diesel fuel these days, they’ll cost you anywhere from $2 to $4 per hour to run, but if you’ve got the dough to spend and don’t mind feeding the gas guzzler once a day, then a backup generator deserves the top spot on the luxury item list.
  2. Cast Iron Wood Stove with Flat Cooktop. Our home doesn’t have the traditional open fireplace. Instead, we have a brick & mortar mantle with a cast iron wood burning stove. It can heat most of the home if called upon, but also provides an easy alternative for cooking when the power is out. We ate very well thanks to our wood stove, and I would highly recommend making one of these a high priority item if/when you’re buying a home in the future.
  3. Gas Grill. Many people have the standard propane powered grill sitting on their deck, so dust off the snow and pretend you’re cooking at a tailgate celebration before the big game. It may be 20 degrees outside, but you’ll be surprised at what you’re willing to do when you’ve been eating vanilla wafers and energy bars for two days straight. Plus, the meat in your freezer will begin to defrost after 2-3 days without power, so better to grill it up before it spoils or fighting off the scavengers by storing it in the snow. A charcoal grill works just as well, maybe better, if you have ample charcoal and/or firewood to use as fuel.
  4. Camping Stove/Kerosene Heater. I have a portable Coleman cooking stove for camping trips, which can double as a gas grill, as well as a last ditch means of keeping warm. The most I’ve ever gotten out of the fuel source was around 4 hours of continuous cook time, but it’s an extremely convenient and useful tool to keep in your arsenal. Kerosene heaters also work equally well as a food prep and heating station, but not nearly as portable. (Note the triple redundancy of items 2 through 4.)
  5. Things to Keep Your Mind Occupied. The most difficult thing about having no power, at least for me, is keeping my mind occupied. Moreover, it’s probably even more difficult when you’ve got children in the house, so having multiple playthings around to keep them occupied is certainly high on the luxury item list. Shoveling snow, gathering firewood and “doing stuff” with your significant other are great ways to keep yourself busy, but a few good books or boardgames to pass the time never hurts. I read a few of my old psychology and biochemistry textbooks, as well as a dusted off an old Tom Clancy novel to avoid going stir crazy.
  6. Solar Energy Chargers. Even though your cell phone will work in a power outage, it will not last forever without a recharge every 2 to 4 days. If you’re an avid camper that can’t go without your Blackberry or iPhone, a portable solar energy recharging device for your mobile phone might be the way to go.
  7. Best Snow Shovel Money Can Buy. Nothing like 13 inches of snow to make you realize how indispensible a well-made snow shovel is worth. If you disagree, try shoveling snow with a regular sized dirt shovel and see how long it takes you compared to a snow shovel.
  8. A 4×4 Truck/SUV. If you absolutely have to be driving (as I did to pull my girlfriend out of a ditch), nothing beats the reliability of a 4×4 in snowy weather. Yes, the gas mileage is less than desirable and they’re not as cost effective as a Honda Accord, but in times of inclement weather, which would you rather have? If you live in an area where snow is a legitimate concern, having at least one vehicle with four wheel drive capability is option/upgrade you might want to put on your wish list.
  9. Wireless Internet Card. If you have an Internet enabled cell phone, you’re probably in good shape if you’re just checking email or sending a few text messages. However, if you’re an Internet power user (you have a web based business or a blogger), keeping a wireless laptop card for your laptop might be a good backup plan. Considering that Comcast hooked me with their “satellite is so unreliable” sales pitch, but failed me for 6 days straight with both no cable TV and no Internet service, giving them the boot is a viable option. Alternatively, my switch from landline DSL service may have been a mistake considering how dependent I am on them for entertainment and business purposes.
  10. Emergency Road Side Kit. While many would agree some parts of this kit are a year around necessity, I think it’s a bad idea to be on the road during a severe weather event. If you must travel, a good roadside emergency kit for a 4×4 vehicle during a snowstorm will contain:  1 large blanket, 2 emergency flares, a flashlight with fresh batteries, a Leatherman utility tool, extra oil and radiator fluid, jumper cables, 1 bag gravel (kitty litter works well), 2 bottled waters and pack of energy bars, matches, a dirt shovel and snow shovel, and a 30 foot towing chain. Yes, it’s overkill, but you’ll thank me if I’m the one that stops to pull you out of a ditch.

All in all, this ad hoc camping trip wasn’t all that bad.

Sure, you can probably make a few jokes that I’m some sort of wannabe survivalist, but from my vantage point, many people have a tendency to wait until last minute, and in the worst case scenario as I just experienced firsthand, the last minute would simply have been too late. So I would rather be called a survivalist (there are far worse insults) than stand in Black Friday like waiting lines for hours in the freezing temperatures just to get a few gallons of rationed kerosene and a few MREs.