I have a new lawn ornament in my back yard. A fallen tree.
It fell during the winter storm that hit the East Coast on March 2, 2018. The storm left destruction everywhere. At least nine people died, most from collapsed trees. More than 2 million power customers from Maine to North Carolina lost power. Floods swept through some areas while snow buried others.
On our block alone, wind blew over three fences, whipped roof shingles through the streets and knocked down at least two large trees. The storm also cut our power and cell phone service.
In 30 hours our home’s temperature plunged to a chilly 50 degrees, while our refrigerator’s temperature rose to almost match. My husband couldn’t use his CPAP breathing machine when he slept. We watched as panic buying consumed big box stores, gas stations, restaurants and hotels – all of which, like much of the city, still had power. Our children, who had never experienced an extended power outage, took turns melting down.
“If this is a dream, it’s a nightmare,” my 10-year-old said.
We learned quite a bit.
First, don’t plan on being able to buy what you need, and be ready to get creative with what you have. We went to a big box store to buy ice and batteries and maybe a couple of extra lanterns. Only about half of the residents in our Virginia city lost power Friday. Yet customers had denuded the camping gear section of all lanterns and most flashlights. No size D batteries and few AA packages remained on kiosks. We bought ice for our refrigerator and freezer. However, the next morning I realized the ice wasn’t keeping the fridge cold enough. Since the temperature outside was barely above freezing, I practiced environmental refrigeration and put cold foods outside that we wanted to easily access. I duct taped the fridge and freezer shut to keep my kids out. It sort of worked.
I was glad we keep rolls of duct tape handy. We used it to seal drafty doors and windows as well as the fridge. Batteries were another matter. Are we the only ones who can never keep AA batteries in stock. We didn’t have enough for all our lanterns. The store we went to only had the most expensive AAs left.
While at the store, we saw a man buying a road atlas. With GPS in every phone, do kids even know what that is now? Just for reference, a road atlas is a book with road maps. You can use it to get directions to your location.
Later, we wished we’d bought an atlas too, or at least a local map. We needed to take my son to a birthday party. With no phone service, we couldn’t use GPS to get directions or even call my son’s friend to tell him we were delayed.
With no other way to get information, our battery-powered radio proved useful. It couldn’t tell us when repair trucks were coming, but the news station could at least remind us that we weren’t the only ones without power and tell us why.
Fortunately, our only powered medical equipment is my husband’s CPAP machine. He slept poorly without it, but it wasn’t life-threatening. We’re still planning to get a little battery or generator for it. Make sure you keep powered medical supplies going and safely store refrigerated medicine.
We learned to cater to each individual’s needs. My special needs daughter spent the first day of the blackout asking every 15 minutes if we had a safety plan. So I wrote one for her. It took me about five minutes and included a direction to help our neighbors (her idea). Once she had a safety plan, she was fine.
We had enough lights that every major living space and bedroom was in twilight. But my 10-year-old daughter was still nervous at bedtime. So she and I snuggled on my bed while I read to her, and my husband put an extra lantern in her room. After that, she went to bed without trouble.
We learned to enjoy the moment. Imagine a full day and a half without access to any electronic media, social or not. Yes, that includes most of our lifetimes. My kids hated it. But they and the other neighborhood children found entertainment – in toys they hadn’t used for a while; in marveling at the darkened streets and houses; in climbing and jumping on fallen trees. They were even disappointed that the lights came on before we got to play pick-up sticks with glow sticks. (Next power outage, I promise.)