Lessons learned from a recent storm.

This past weekend was…er…enlightening. (Pun intentional).

We had been having some pretty hot weather for the east coast, and this past Friday was no different.  The weather report called for a chance of thunderstorms, and I looked forward to the potential for rain for the garden.

It was around 6 pm when my husband pulled up in the driveway.  I stepped outdoors to greet him, and the first thing we noticed was how unnaturally still the air was.  It had clouded up, too, so I thought, “Aha, this is my chance to get a few more plants transplanted and then the rain will water them really well.”

Little did I know that within the hour, we would be hit by terrible storms.  The last time I saw lightening like this, a tornado had come within a mile of our home.  We were discussing heading to the basement, when the power went off.  And then my husband’s Blackberry started emitting an emergency alarm.  When he checked it, the message said, “Seek shelter now.”

So we did.  We headed to the basement with our flashlights and candles and pets.
Turns out we were in the path of a Derecho,  that passed over us with a fury.

That was the beginning of our 48 hours without electricity.  At the time of this writing, there are still hundreds of thousands of people in our area that are without power.  The power company is predicting it may a week before some of it is restored.  We were very fortunate to only have damage to trees and the corn in our garden.  Others had damage to their homes, vehicles, and some lost their lives.

Here are some thoughts that we processed through this experience.  Perhaps they will be useful to you.

Don’t panic
It seems basic enough, but if you find yourself in the dark all of a sudden and you need to hunt for a flashlight or a candle and matches, perhaps alarms are going off…take a deep breath, and TAKE YOUR TIME.  The LAST thing you need is a twisted ankle or other injury.

If you have pets, they will be stressed
at that moment, too, and will likely be
right under your feet!

So, again, feel your way slowly
and be extra careful.

Remember your cell phone can act as
temporary emergency light to help you
find your way to your supplies.

Creature comforts
Finding yourself sitting in the basement riding out a vicious storm is not a relaxing task.  A little pre- planning could ensure that you at least have a comfortable place to sit, and perhaps a bin with a deck of cards, books, some bottles of water, an emergency radio and lantern.  If you wear reading glasses and have an old pair to spare, this is a good place to store them.

Speaking of creatures…our pets were wild eyed!  Focusing on comforting them can have a calming effect on children and adults alike.

Test your Plan
Going 48 hours without electricity was definitely a way for us to test our emergency plans and take notes for making them even better and more efficient for the next time.  We now have crank flashlights at strategic locations, making it easier to navigate stairs in the event of a power outage.   We have a centralized location for batteries, radios, and lanterns.  We established a routine for making sure cell phones, lights, and radios that needed recharging would be recharged for the next evening in case the electricity didn’t come back on.

Speaking of cell phones, ours were not reliable for the first 24 hours.  Either all circuits were busy, or they just wouldn’t connect, or we kept getting cut off.  Many people we talked to experienced this frustration as they desperately called to see if family or friends were OK  in the aftermath of the storm.

It doesn’t matter how ‘prepared’ you think you are, you will never really know how your plan will work until you test it.  Even then, there may be unexpected glitches.
In this case, see #1.

Test your equipment
One of our learning curves involved a tow rope that I had never had occasion to use.  We were attempting to clear some of the downed trees and limbs on our property the next day, by hooking them to my vehicle and dragging them over to the brush pile.  It seemed like a good plan.  I handed the rope to my husband who looked at it dubiously.  It had come in a prepackaged kit and it turned out to be worthless.  He hooked it all up–I started forward and heard the snap.  I got out and the frayed end was just lying on the ground, mocking me with its cheerful orange color.  I’m pretty sure the tree mocked me too.  Fortunately we had a chain we could fetch and made a note to purchase a more reliable and sturdy replacement for me to keep in my vehicle.

A positive–We patted ourselves on the back for investing in Blackout Buddy–a flash light that stays plugged into an outlet. When the power goes off, it automatically lights up, making it easier to find your way.  We plan to get a few more of these, and this brand ended up being the more reliable one too.

Also, my new favorite emergency task light is the Goal Zero Light a Life which delivers a soft, comfortably diffused light that is still bright enough to be able to see fine details.  It has a carabiner – type clip built into the top of it for easy hanging.  Other lights that we have were a bit too harsh and ‘beam-like’ and were tiring to the eyes and I soon found myself giving up on the notion of reading.

So make sure your equipment is good quality and that you have proven its dependability to yourself. This involves making sure you know how to operate it.  If you have tools and equipment on hand and have not tested them, your learning curve could cost you your life.

Consider your climate
Somehow it is always the cold that I am planning for.  We have made sure we have enough wood for heat, warm clothing, etc.  I had never really given thought to the other seasons, since they are generally more temperate.

But we had some brutal heat to contend with in those 48 hours without power.  No power means no air conditioning.  Having plenty of water on hand, as well as electrolyte replacements was something we really came to appreciate.  It is impossible to stress how important provisions for water are.  Do not put this off another day.

Make sure you have a plan for cooling yourself, whether it’s a fan, or a cool wet bandana tied around your neck.  Perhaps spending time in the basement, maybe even sleeping there.

Do you recognize the signs of heat stroke or how to help someone who might be experiencing the symptoms of heat stroke?  Those particularly at risk are infants, athletes, the elderly, and those who work outside in the heat.  Even pets can be affected.  This information is important so be sure to read up on it and be alert for signs.

Consider your humanity
In times of stress we all get weary.  We’re operating in Code Red mode.  We’re exerting ourselves physically–possibly much more than normal.  And trying to sleep can seem impossible,for many reasons.  This makes for some pretty worn out folks.

Reminding ourselves that we are dealing with others who may be tired– testy–sweaty–perhaps grieving a loss, helps us to be a little more forgiving when others get prickly. And we may need that same forgiving spirit directed toward us as well.

A kind word.  A smile.  Lending a hand.  A cup of water.  These can make all the difference.  Taking a break to  rest, or just some personal space are important too.  Trying to recreate some sense of routine is comforting, especially for children.

I hope something here is helpful to you.

Ironically, a few days prior to this storm, our family had discussed planning to cut the power off and test our plan, tools, and equipment.  A test of the emergency system we will be relying on in the event of an emergency.

Turns out the decision was made for us!  Although it was exhausting, I think we are all the better for it. I am more confident than ever in our preparations.  And with that confidence has come a deeper peace of mind.

Why not try this on your own?  Plan a day, or weekend to ensure that you are happy with your plan, your tools, and your equipment.  You’ll be glad you did.


Holly Cooley




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8 Comments on "Lessons learned from a recent storm."

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  1. chris conley says:

    You must be in virginia

  2. Yes, this storm hit Virginia, West Virginia and DC pretty hard.

    • chris conley says:

      Yea I’m in lynchburg. As soon as the storm was over I drove to boston until power came back. the people who stayed had to pay 75 bux a day in gas for their generators, until the gas ran out that is

    • Beth says:

      Great article, thanks for sharing! Nothing like first hand experience. One suggestion to share given to me by an EMS from our CERT training program…
      If cell phones don’t connect (common during a disaster), send Text Messages instead. Unlike a call which requires a constant connection, Text messages will sit on servers and queue up, until they can make the next jump in the network, and so on. It may take a hour or so to get through, but they will eventually. You can also text to 911 in many districts as well, just be sure to give your location. And remember that texts may take a while, so don’t say “We will be at X location in 60 minutes”, instead say “We’ll be at X location at 5pm Tuesday.”

  3. Great article! The storms that came through took power out for days for some people. This is great information for future use.

  4. Laury says:

    This was very informative, Holly.  We live in tornado country, Central Illinois.  It’s just a fact of life.  Storms will come.  We baton down the hatches and ride them out.  And you’re right.  We always prepare for cold weather and forget about the warm weather when we might lose our power.  Very good article!

  5. Thanks for sharing your story Holly!

  6. jedi1111 says:

    Amazon has battery powered fans that are pretty large.  Of course you better have a big supply of batteries to power it. A mister might not be a bad investment either. They can cool the surrounding air up to 10 degrees.  I would read the reviews before purchasing as some are more effective than others.  Even buying those hand held fans that are attached to a water spray bottle are good for keeping cool in a no air conditioner situation. Just fill it with ice water for maximum effect.

    As far as heat goes, one of those propane powered big buddy heaters is a good idea.  Just make sure you watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning.  Vent the window a bit and invest in a battery powered carbon monoxide detector. Also keep a good supply of propane canisters.

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