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Lessons From the Oklahoma Ice Storm of 2006, by Dr. Prepper

What I have found most useful from many useful articles on SurvivalBlog are the ones that honestly deal with personal experiences of stressful events, for example, those who have gone through hurricanes, floods, other natural storms, or man-made events. While it is useful from a planning perspective to speculate how things might be in an event that changes the world for us, there is nothing like learning from other’s experiences and what they thought went well and not so well.

My family and I discovered first hand the value of preparation as well as the cost of the lack of it during a particularly severe ice storm in Oklahoma in the winter of 2006. It was about three weeks before Christmas, and we had three of four kids at home, my elderly mom, my elderly father-in-law all living with us, and my oldest daughter’s future husband as a guest for four weeks. I had kept some food and bottled water items in storage in a rather haphazard manner and a 4000-watt generator [1]. We had a water well for our house and two acres with a septic system but no garden. Our heat was a natural gas furnace with an electric blower, but we did have a fireplace with built-in conductive and electric blower air circulator. However, I had only a small amount of stored dry wood.

Sometime during the night of the ice storm, power went out and we woke up to a chilly house. What news we could got from a portable radio indicated very widespread damage to the above ground electrical grid, and we eventually learned that over 600,000 people in Oklahoma were without power. We ran out of wood for our fireplace in 24 hours, and by then there was little to be found in nearby stores. I was able to use my generator to keep us in limited lights and the refrigerator and freezer running. We could use the microwave, if I left the water well pump and lights off. Fortunately, some years previously I had an electrician set up a connection to the house for the generator the kept us isolated from the public grid and allowed me to set only the breaker switches on that we needed.

In past experience, power was usually restored in a matter of hours, so we kept thinking it would be back on anytime. However as we entered a second day reports were in the news that restoring power was going to be slow due to the massive area that was affected. With temperatures remaining in the low 30s for the next week, our elderly parents were struggling to stay warm, not to mention the rest of us, so we decided to attempt to get a room in a local hotel, and I drove my mother to my brother’s home in Kansas. In retrospect we were fortunate to have found a hotel room available the same day so we were able to stay warm for the next three days until power was restored.

What I Learned

  1. Many natural disasters have little to no warning. An ice storm was predicted a few days in advance, but there are too many variables to accurately know the severity and precise locations of any given storm. This may be the case with any natural disaster– earthquake, flood, tornado, et cetera. It is far better to make the best preparations you can in advance. It can and often will happen to anyone.
  2. Having a generator and stable fuel is highly valuable. In many other descriptions I have read, using a generator is often considered a liability due to noise (drawing attention), limits of fuel, and fuel stability requirements. However, it is far more likely you will experience a natural disaster with most services restored in days to weeks than a true TEOTWAWKI [2]. Yes, if possible, having a less noticeable source of power is optimal in case that were to occur, but I believe you are more likely to need a viable source for a few days or weeks from a natural event that is recoverable in a relatively short time. Since this event I have had to use my generator two more times after community power loss to avoid food spoilage and to keep our water flowing. I have since added a second 1800-watt generator [3], which I actually inherited, and learned you don’t have to run a generator continually to preserve cold or frozen food. You can run it for a couple of hours every 6-8 hours, depending on the size of your generator and the efficiency of your refrigerator/freezer. As local gas stations were also without power, gasoline was unavailable or we had to drive quite a distance to get it. I had been lax in monitoring my fuel for both generator and vehicles, which could have become a significant problem. It is good advice that has been stated multiple times in SurvialBlog that you don’t want your fuel tanks for vehicles to get below half full, and if you are using gasoline for your small engines use non-ethanol gas, a fuel stabilizer, and keep your stored fuel away from the living area.
  3. A source of heat with adequate fuel other than what your utility provides is essential. We were able to maintain fairly comfortable inside temperature in the main living area of our home, until we ran out of my poorly prepared (and unprotected from weather) wood supply. I could use the excuse of not wanting to spend a lot of money on wood, but our two acres was mostly wooded with plenty of dead and dry wood available if I had taken the time and effort to cut it up.
  4. An alternative source for light is extremely helpful. Sure, if you have a generator, you have a light source, but it is not practical to have lights on in every room of the house on a generator. We had a small supply of flashlights [4] and candles, but I had neglected my Coleman lantern [5] so it was of little use. Today there are great options for solar lights that hold their energy for many months and inexpensive portable solar power sources for keeping cell phones and tablets charged as well as rechargeable batteries. Since 2006 I have used all of these options effectively.
  5. In retrospect, I think the best food source in preparation would have been freeze-dried foods. We had dry cereal, some canned fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, and bottled water, but milk for cereal runs out quickly (and stores do as well). With even a small camping stove or grill, you can boil water easily (if you have prepped some fuel), and today there is a wide variety of choices for freeze dried foods. They may have been available 10 years ago, but I had never thought about it and clearly much more is available now. Obviously freeze dried is not adequate for long-term survival, but again term-limited natural disasters are more likely what most of us will experience in the near future. My plans will certainly include other food options, including a garden, but I am building on the freeze dried.
  6. Develop relationships with your neighbors. During this experience, we were aquainted with our neighbors but never really made much contact with them in those powerless days. In recent years, I have made an effort to visit more with my neighbors, especially the elderly to make sure they have my phone number and I theirs. It has lead to conversations about preparedness and better relationships. Although phones may be out, they won’t be surprised when I knock on their door to check on them if an event occurs.
  7. Preparation must include all ages living with you. I had not thought much about the limitations of our elderly parents living with us. Had I spent anytime thinking about it, it would be clear to me that my 89-year-old mom would not be able to tolerate limited heating options. I could have at least given earlier warning to my brother to be sure he could accommodate her with little warning. Fortunately, they were already used to her visits. At the time our youngest child was 16, so we did not have to be concerned about small children, but certainly many folks have to be planning for their young children.
  8. Prep for living rather than live to prep. Prepping can easily become all consuming such that it can dominate your life. We have decided that being prepared is important but not such that it causes my wife and I to neglect our commitment to family and faith. We are blessed that our kids want us to live near them and be involved in their lives and the lives of our grandkids. Therefore, we have opted to uproot ourselves for our comfortable “retreat” to live near our family despite its urban location, big city lifestyle, and “just in time” food sources. I want my grandkids to know me as the grandpa who was taking time to swing them on their swing everyday or chase them around the house rather than always working on my solar panels. Yes, they will help me in the garden, but they need the play time as well.
  9. Even with the best preparation, it may be necessary to leave your home for another safer or more comfortable place. If a hotel room had not been available for us, we would have had serious difficulty. Since that time, we have joined two other trusted families and invested in a second home on a lake (fish!) in another state away from the big city that will serve as our retreat. It is large enough to hold us all if needed. My 4WD pickup is our bug out vehicle, and I keep several 5-gallon cans of stabilized fuel in a storage shed on the property.

The advice of “Beans, Bullets, and Band-Aids” is important for planning for the possibility of TEOTWAWKI, which certainly can happen in the future, but I believe recent history indicates we are more likely to have to deal with a temporary event that we should be prepared for at any time. Once we are prepared for an event that might last from three days to two weeks then begin working on other possibilities. We happen to spend extended time each year in three different locations, due to work and family. These locations vary widely in geography, potential disaster events, and weather. I need to have minimal preparations at each locale in place while continuing to develop long-term preparations and skills. Thanks for reading!