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Be prepared for power outages

January 12, 2011

It's been 13 years since the January ice storm of 1998. Those of us that lived through it will never forget it. It was a weather event so incredible, so extreme, so destructive, so unusually long in duration, that it borders on myth; the stuff of legend. Warm, wet, sub-tropical air remained above cold, dense arctic air for twelve consecutive days, a condition that generated prolonged periods of freezing rain and unprecedented, excessive icing. The storm lasted for 12 days, becoming larger and more devastating with each day.

Before it was over, an area of approximately 4.6 million northern New York acres was affected, with about 3 million acres of forest and infrastructure left significantly damaged in its wake. As a direct result, New York maple producers lost an estimated $6.4 million in production statewide, according to the North East (State) Foresters Association (NEFA). Lost production in Clinton County was reported at 100 percent. Dairy farmers were unable to milk or transport milk. The loss to U.S. and Canadian farmers was estimated at $12.7 million.

Millions of people in seven states and two Canadian provinces found themselves without power; in the cold, in the dark, without running water, for a week, two weeks, three weeks, and in some case, even longer. The ice storm of 1998 was almost certainly the most destructive storm of the century.

North Country residents are certainly no strangers to harsh, dangerous, unpredictable weather. Hammering rains, hail, sleet, snowstorms, blizzards, flooding, prolonged periods of sub-zero temperatures, heat waves, drought; somehow we manage to take all of these things in stride. Many of us, nonetheless, remain unprepared.

The electricity in your home can fail at anytime and power outages can last for prolonged periods of time. And for much of the year, interruptions in electric service can generally be tolerated. But, winter power failures can leave homes without heat, lighting, water or a way to cook food. And weather conditions, like ice, can make getting out (or in) difficult; even impossible. What's more, during an emergency, community services organizations such as police and fire departments may be unable to respond right away

Preparing now for outages can make keeping you and your family safe and warm during an extended winter power failure, a lot easier.

You should have an emergency survival kit with provisions stored where you can readily and easily get to it. It should contain emergency lighting; i.e. flashlights and/or lanterns (some have fluorescent bulbs) with spare batteries and bulbs, candles and / or kerosene or oil lamps (which are generally brighter than candles and easier to read by) with matches or lighters, and a battery powered radio with spare batteries. If you have outdoor solar lighting outside, you may be able to bring those lights inside during the evening. Even if they don't provide very much illumination, they can help you find your way around in the dark.

You should also have an emergency stockpile of canned, dried, and ready-to-eat foodstuffs, water (If you think that you may experience a power outage, it's a good idea to fill the bathtub with water. If nothing else, you can use it to flush the toilet.), extra blankets and additional warm clothing on hand.

Open the refrigerator or freezer only when it is absolutely necessary. If you have an electric cook stove, you can cook outside on a grill or camp stove, but that isn't a very enjoyable task in inclement weather.

Many of us have emergency heat in the form of a woodstove or fireplace, which will keep at least one room comfortable and livable. You may be able to cook, or at least heat food up on top of your woodstove, or in your fireplace. If you use a propane or kerosene heater for back up emergency heat, you need to be absolutely sure that the room you use it in is adequate ventilation.

It's a good idea to turn off or disconnect all electrical appliances, electrical equipment, and most lighting. Leave just one or two lights on, however, so you'll know when power has been restored.

It's also a good idea to keep a first aid kit ready. And if you have someone in your family with special medical needs or in a delicate condition, it's a good idea to notify both the police and your utility company.

Consider purchasing an inexpensive inverter that you can run from your car. An inverter will allow you to power appliances that require small amounts of electricity for short periods of time.



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