Letter Re: Lessons from the January Ice Storm

The Ice Storm that just plastered Kentucky brought some reminders of just how bad things can get and how being prepared – in advance – is critical. Within a few hours, everything became coated with a half-inch to an inch of ice: roads, cars, trees, power lines – everything. Throughout the night, we heard crashes as our neighbor’s trees lost massive limbs. We knew it was only a matter of time before trees limbs (which are not properly trimmed back by our utility company in an attempt to cut costs) collapsed on power lines and caused widespread outages. In the morning, everything had turned to crystal. About a quarter million people were without power in our county, but almost everyone in the western half of the state had lost power.

Our county actually did a good job of plowing and salting roads. Unfortunately, it didn’t help as hundreds of traffic lights weren’t working. Traffic was snarled badly and travel times easily doubled. Hundreds of businesses are closed and losing money every day the power stays off. Looking for a generator at the local big box home and garden center? Forget it, quickly sold out. Ice scrapers, gone. Gas cans, gone. Driveway salt, gone. Snow shovels, gone. The sales guy told me they weren’t going to get restocked for the rest of the season.

My daughter called from the university she attends about a four hour drive to the West. Their whole city was without power and water. The university asked students to leave, if possible, and those who couldn’t were sheltered in the campus auditorium. They didn’t have any cots so you had to sleep on the floor or in the auditorium chairs. She wanted me to come pick her up, so as I headed out the next morning on a full tank of gas, my plan was to stop at each significant town on the way to check their power and gas pumping status. Each stop was the same as the next – dead. As I neared the half-way point on my gas gauge, not one city on the way had electricity. It’s as if a nuclear ice bomb had been dropped on the state. I turned back.

It’s amazing when you fully realize how dependent our society has become on electricity. We are being told it will take up to 7 days to completely restore service in our county, which is completely urban. Out in the rural areas, they say it will be two weeks or more. Temperatures have been dropping into the teens at night. Lots of people I know have no alternatives to heat their homes or cook food. Fireplaces, like mine, are electrically controlled gas logs. I can’t even light it manually. I’ve learned a lesson: get what you need before you need it. Get extra. I will be buying a dependable generator once this crisis passes. My next home will be better equipped with alternative sources of heat and power. – J.S.

JWR Replies: Events like the recent ice storm underscore the need to be self -sufficient: Think things through, and prepare systematically: Wood or coal fired stoves with a horizontal cook top. Kerosene lamps and plenty of fuel, a backup power generator, again with plenty of fuel. Extra stored fuel for your vehicle (which would have allowed you to make that 8 hour round-trip). Often overlooked in winter is the need for a backup water supply, and water filtration, even if it mean melting buckets of snow–which is agonizingly slow and laborious.