The power was out when I began this column. There was a flicker of hope Sunday afternoon, Jan. 8, as lights came on for several minutes only to go out again time after time. Those without generators relied on candles, flashlights and camp lanterns to function throughout the dark night.
At daybreak the news was the same. No estimated time of power restoration.
I asked the Google app on my smartphone how long food keeps safely in a freezer during a power outage. According to the Food and Drug Administration, a full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours if the door remains closed. The regular refrigerator is much more vulnerable to spoilage.
My husband and I discussed the virtues of a generator. Maybe it would be a good investment. We have an unopened sampler pack from Idaho Steaks in our freezer. A call to Lowes indicated there was a run on generators and they were out of stock. Of course we really weren’t going to make a trip in the storm to search for a generator.
Someone texted the power could be out till Thursday — four days. We considered our food supply. A box of food from a summer backpacking trip became very useful. It contained packets of instant oatmeal, Starbucks Via Instant Columbia Coffee, powdered milk, Maruchan Instant Ramen Noodle Soup and Cliff energy bars. There were also crackers and a jar of peanut butter in the cupboard and a bowl of bananas and apples on the counter.
This winter storm makes me realize how unprepared we are for a power outage. Much of life is plugged in. My winter exercise routine is dependent on an electric treadmill. My blankets are heated by electricity and even my toothbrush is electric. My occupation, writing, depends on a computer, which uses electricity. (Presently I am working with a big, yellow legal tablet and a pen.) My smartphone and camera must be charged. This month I am enrolled in an online class with assignments pending. The lectures and the work I have completed are in my computer files. Last night I worked on what I could in dim candlelight with paper and pen. I am thankful the instructor said he was flexible on deadlines.
The news that LMUD would restore power for an hour or two to sections of customers made us ecstatic. The municipality would use emergency backup power provided by Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s alternative feed, but the source is unstable. We waited our turn and when it came at 3 p.m. we raced to get a hot shower and recharge lanterns and other essential items. We cooked spinach and cheese omelets and made toast.
We learned the damaged lines that caused the LMUD outage had not been located. Outside snow was falling once again instead of heavy rains.
But it’s winter and we live in the mountains. So why didn’t we have D batteries stocked for the one camp lantern that is no longer working? Why weren’t there more ready to eat foods in the house?
Allstate Insurance advises customers to consider three things well in advance of a power outage: how to stay warm, how to see in the dark and how to prepare food.
We have a woodstove so heating the house is not a problem, but I know people who do not have a second heat source. Wrapping up in a blanket and taping bubble wrap on the windows was one suggestion provided by the insurance company for staying warm.
Storing a weeks worth of food that doesn’t require refrigeration and is simple to prepare is also recommended by Allstate. For example, jerky, dried and canned fruit, nuts granola bars, peanut butter, fruit/applesauce cups and tuna packs.
Keeping a thermometer in the refrigerator will monitor food safety. Food is no longer safe to eat if the temperature is 40 degrees or higher for two or more hours.
Late Monday night, Jan. 9, the power was permanently restored. Tuesday morning we put the food we had moved outdoors to stay cold back in the fridge and went back to our regular routine.
Will we be better prepared next time? It is difficult to get the mindset of a power outage once electricity powers the light switch, the stove and refrigerator, the computer, television and water heater. It is no longer so important, but preparation for a power outage is still fairly high on our priority list.