Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

December 12, 2013

Power outages: Preparedness key during long, cold days of winter

— — I visit my parents at least every other weekend to spend time and see if they need help with anything, but last weekend the forecast included freezing rain. When I called Mom as I usually do on Friday, she urged me to stay home since she doesn’t like loved ones out on the road when the weather is bad. I stayed home for the weekend.

Saturday wasn’t too bad, but the situation changed Sunday morning. I looked out my front door and realized that the patio was coated with ice. I took an experimental step outside and felt slick ice underfoot. A Saturday morning trip for groceries had stocked my shelves, so I stayed home Sunday. My previous adventures with black ice and driving made a Sunday drive unappealing.

The nerve-wracking idea of driving on ice was out of the way, but my next concern was losing my electricity. Like many other residents, I remember previous winter storms that blanketed the region and severed electricity to thousands of people for days or even weeks at a time. There was nothing I could do but wait and watch my lights.

The lights flickered a couple of times, but my electricity never went off. Several thousand people around the region were not so lucky. Some of our people at the Bluefield Daily Telegraph lost their power for several days. It meant several days with no microwave ovens, hot water heaters or lights other than flashlights.

I keep flashlights and one of those crank-powered lanterns ready, and they have helped me several times. I also try to keep food I don’t have to cook ready, too, if my microwave and oven are not an option.

Winter makes heat the biggest worry when the power goes off. In the past, this didn’t worry me much since I would bundle up, but I can’t bundle up a snake and three tarantulas. To get around this problem, I have those heat packs hunters use to stay warm when they’re out stalking deer. You just shake the packs up and they radiate heat, which is a nice thing if you’re cold blooded.

I can’t help thinking during these conditions about the people who have to endure poor housing with little or no heat. I had to deal with heating issues at my last apartment. The landlord exchanged our radiators for baseboard heaters. Those heaters devoured electricity and sent my electric bill to unaffordable heights. I ended using minimal heat to keep the pipes from freezing, and slightly warmer settings for my bathroom and bedroom. It was an unpleasant situation and I was glad when I moved into my present home, but I always think about the people who do not have this option.

The Salvation Army, the Bluefield Union Mission, and other nonprofit entities keep getting more requests for utility assistance when winter temperatures drop to chillier limits. The cold won’t go away the day after Christmas, so local agencies will need help to keep the needy warm this year. The economy is tight, but helping does not demand an act of philanthropy worthy of a millionaire. Aid could be in the form  a few dollars, some decent blankets or other assistance.

Organizations such as Habitat for Humanity help families stay warm by weatherproofing homes. They are another way local people can help the needy get through the winter months.

The winter has not been too severe so far this year. We have had some snow days including one on Thanksgiving, but that was not too bad compared to others I remember. What made the Thanksgiving storm bad was its timing. If it had happened the week before or the week after Thanksgiving, it wouldn’t have been such a source of stress. It was pretty much an ordinary snow event when the holiday is out of the equation. I just hope we won’t have another inconvenient storm right on time for Christmas.

I also hope we don’t have any more winter storms capable of knocking down trees and power lines. Wondering whether you will lose your electricity and wondering when you will get it back when you do lose it is not fun. Will the lights come back immediately or will you wait for a week?

The best thing to do is to be prepared. Have some flashlights ready along with food that doesn’t require cooking and some extra water, and the situation won’t be quite so bad. Those heat packs I mentioned earlier are inexpensive, but be sure to read the instructions.

With some common sense and patience, we can get through the winter without too much trouble. Winter is not pleasant when people are having a bad time financially, but this region’s people have repeatedly shown how they will reach out and help their neighbors weather the cold, tough times.

Greg Jordon is senior reporter for the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

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