Urban Winter Devastation – Will You Survive?
What Do You Do When Your City Shuts Down?
As I sit here writing this the majority of the greater Seattle area is wrapped up in a blanket of snow and ice that has brought people and businesses to a virtual standstill. While the actual damage the storm has caused to the area has been minimal, it is a great warning to everyone that they need to be more prepared to survive winter storms when they’re living in the city.
The first danger from winter storms when you’re living in an urban area is the driving conditions. Often times the road turn to skating rinks in the late afternoon and early evening hours just before people start heading home. This leads to extreme congestion, accidents and sometimes even makes it impossible to make it back. Some simple preparations to keep most people out of trouble and the first is making sure that your car is prepared. Simple questions to ask are:
- Is there gas in the car?
- Do I have an emergency kit ready?
- Do I have a warm blanket and extra clothes in the car?
- What sort of tires to have on hand are they in good shape?
- Do I really need to be out driving?
- Do I have at least a basic set of chains?
- Do I Have a Shovel in the car?
The essential question, of course, is can you stay off the roads entirely? Staying home is always your best choice and helps keep emergency services running by keeping your vehicle off the road. In the event, you are out on the roads and your car breaks down or gets stuck, it is important to stay with it. Oftentimes we see news footage of people abandoning their cars along the road and walking to what they perceive as safety. The first problem with this is that now their car is sitting along or on the road, and impeding traffic and road crews. The second problem is that you’re much safer in your car than outside and walking along the road. If you have warm clothes a blanket and an emergency kit in your car you can safely stay inside until emergency services arrive.
If the conditions are such that you will need to stay home for several days you really should be prepared. Ideally, everyone should have a two to three-day survival kit put together in case of a calamity. Stop and think about what essentials would you need if you had to stay home for a week without going to the store. While we don’t all have room to set aside mountains of reserve supplies, almost everyone has room in a closet or under a bed for some nonperishable food and a few gallons of water.
The most difficult thing that most urban dwellers try and deal with is the lack of electricity. While this storm did not cause widespread power outages, it is not uncommon for winter storms to knock out power for hours or even days in some areas. Modern people adapted to living with electricity are often at a loss for what to do in this situation. Losing power oftentimes means losing heat, the ability to cook, refrigeration and the loss of the TV and Internet.
Luckily unless the situation is extreme, most houses will not freeze up in a matter of one or two days. Even in extreme cold simple measures like keeping the water running just a little will often be enough to keep pipes from bursting. Staying warm inside a home without heat is not comfortable but is generally survival by simply wearing warm clothing. Most portable heaters should be used with caution as the majority of them produce carbon monoxide. During every winter storm, there are multiple reports of people becoming sick or dying from exposure to carbon monoxide, usually as a result of trying to heat their homes with propane stoves, charcoal, or kerosene heaters.
Cooking without power is always a challenge and while most food can be eaten cold, a hot meal or warm drink can go a long way towards keeping spirits up and your body warm during an emergency. If you don’t have a gas stove or other way to cook, consider buying or making a small alcohol stove and including it in your emergency kit. Conversely keeping food cold often baffles people when the power goes out. The first rule, of course, is not to open the door on your refrigerator or freezer any more than you have to. Additionally, if it is below freezing outside you can use that to your advantage to keep your perishable food cold.
As with any storm or natural disaster, the key to getting through it safely, with the least amount of stress possible is to be prepared and informed. In most situations you can ride out winter storms in the city simply by having the supplies you need on hand, waiting for the weather change and services to be restored.