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Two Letters Re: Lessons Learned from the Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2010

Dear Editor:
The Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2010 is now melting away and as usual there were lessons learned.   Many of these should have been “known” before but we are never as prepared as we should be.  In that vein I am going to rehash several things that went right, a few that went wrong, and others that we can improve on the next time that “life as usual” is not.

First, the setting: I live in Southwestern Oklahoma and have been here for almost three years.  About January 22nd we started getting word of an impending ice/snow storm scheduled to hit on about January 28th.  As the storm came together we received updates that refined the details.  The reports of January 27th were remarkably accurate to what we would receive as well as the specific times that each type of precipitation would start to fall.

In our town it started to rain at about 7 a.m. on January 28th.   As the temperature dropped that rain froze on metal objects, then on trees and plants, and finally on roads.  At approximately 3 p.m. the rain changed over to sleet and ice pellets and by 9 p.m. we were getting snow.  Unfortunately an inch+ of ice and two inches of sleet/ ice had already destroyed many trees and power lines (both the small distribution lines in town and the major transmission lines into town) were down.
Electricity went out about 11 a.m. and was restored by 3 p.m.  It went out again at 4 p.m. and would remain off at our house for the next six days.  This power outage was universal for every house in town and every town within a 30 mile radius.  I should mention that throughout the storm we had full water, sewer, and natural gas service.  There was concern at one point that the sewers would back up, (the sewer lagoons are at an elevation where the sewage has to be pumped to them) and those concerns brought about the possibility of the city turning off the water to prevent sewer backup but power was restored before this eventuality.

Second, the good news list.  Now that we are settled into what we hope is our last home, we keep on hand sufficient food to last for approximately six months.  With reasonable rationing we could go even longer.  We have a good rotation system and keep on hand about four months worth of food that we eat every day and two months worth of emergency type rations.

We enjoy camping and backpacking and have all the equipment to do both activities year round and be comfortable.  This includes lighter weight stoves, packs, tents and sleeping bags and water purifiers to campsite sized Coleman cook stoves, lanterns, Dutch ovens, tents, cots and heavy sleeping bags.  While most of this equipment was not used it was comforting to know that if the situation continued to deteriorate, that we could adapt.

We bought a standard frame house with brick veneer when we moved to Oklahoma which is approximately 35 years old.  We haven’t spent money on kitchen, bathroom or carpet upgrades but we have put 20 inches of blown insulation throughout (to include over the garage and the porches) and we replaced all of the original double pane aluminum frame windows with energy efficient vinyl frame windows.  Realizing that it is possible to do better, we were still pleased that during one seventeen hour period without any heat source in the house, outside temperatures from 17 to 26 degrees, and 20 mph winds, the temperature in the house only dropped five degrees from 67 to 62.

The house has two hot water heaters-one electric that services two bathrooms and one natural gas that services the kitchen and laundry room.  It was very easy to take hot water to the bathtubs and perform personal hygiene.  Showers were courtesy of the two gallon watering bucket that my wife uses to keep the sun room flowers fresh.

The regular phone system remained operational throughout the storm and recovery period.  However, folks that only had cordless phone systems could not access the lines.  In some cases phones with integrated answering systems could dial out but the phones would not ring if the ringer depended on plug in electricity.  We have one of the old style rotary phones that works perfectly on the telephone line current and were able to send and receive calls.

We topped off all the vehicles and gas cans a couple of days before the storm.  I anticipated trouble getting more fuel trucks to town.  What I did not think about was the gas station could not pump gas without electricity anyway.  Ultimately one old fashioned gas station in town hooked up a generator and could run receipts in his office.  Credit cards did not work so cash or an established charge account with the owner was the way to do business.
Third, what we can do better.  We have a lot of candles.  I have not done an inventory but there are boxes of them.  We discovered that candles that are about an inch in diameter are optimal.  Larger candles, 2-1/2 to 4 inches burn down in the center and leave a candle rim that blocks light. Ultimately they just shine a small circle of light on the ceiling.  We also learned that the best candles put out very little light.  We have a couple of antique oil lamps but they are for decoration and did not have wicks in them.  We are going to acquire more oil lamps, maintain them, and keep sufficient oil on hand for 4-to-6 months.

In the brain dead category we have Coleman stoves and lamps that are dual fuel.  Unfortunately I gave all of our Coleman fuel to the Boy Scouts so we failed in “Being Prepared”.  We shifted to our propane stoves.  I need to point out that these stoves should not be used indoors.  We cooked outside on the patio.  When we do get around to remodeling the kitchen I am going to replace the stove top with a gas appliance.  While we did not bake, we did have the capability by placing a Dutch oven on the propane stove.

In the final analysis we look at the Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2010 as being the most lavish camping trip that we have ever been on.  We never felt as though there were any true hardships and after the initial storm period we spent a lot of time outdoors enjoying the snow and volunteering at the local Red Cross warming/feeding center doing whatever was asked of us.  We look forward to implementing a few changes and the next opportunity to test our preparedness.

I am new to reading your blog and love it! I wanted to comment on the ice storm post. I live in Oklahoma so we know all about these ice storms. I started reading a lot of blogs on prepping and storing food during the holidays. I decided to make a menu and strict food budget so I could afford to buy extra food for long-term storage. I bought a month’s worth of food this January. I also bought my first water storage container – a 7 gallon Aqua-Tainer from Wal-Mart. Last year, I had a gas heater mounted on my dining room wall, preparing myself for the next inevitable ice storm. A few days before the storm, I bought emergency candles and I am so glad I did! We didn’t lose power (thankfully!), but our little town was cleaned out of generators, candles, Coleman stoves, propane, kerosene….everything. I went to Wal-Mart a few days later (when power was still out all over the county) and the shelves were completely empty in some areas. That was a wake-up call to me. In just a few short days, stores can be emptied. It is wise to not wait until the last minute. I am a single mom and a teacher and I know how difficult it is to come up with extra money to help become better prepared. I am doing a little each month and will sleep soundly knowing that my kids will be warm and fed if anything happens. By the way, the ice storm hit seven days ago and people are still without power.

Thanks for the wonderful blog and such useful information! – Kay in Oklahoma