Preparedness critical to enduring power outages

By Tom Seymour | Nov 10, 2017
Photo by: Tom Seymour A tiny generator makes all the difference during power outages.

Many of us learned a valuable lesson from the ice storm of 1998, vowing not to be caught unawares again, while others were content to chalk that epic storm up to a once-in-a-lifetime event.

The difference between those two mindsets can mean getting through a prolonged power outage comfortably or being caught unprepared and as a consequence, losing all frozen food, being without lights and water and being cold and uncomfortable as well.

Power outages, especially in a heavily wooded state such as Maine, are regular occurrences. But prolonged outages are something entirely different. And given the increasingly unstable climate, we should come to expect more severe storms and as a consequence, more prolonged power outages.

Consider trees

We all love our trees. We love them so much that we seldom view them as potential hazards. But any tree that, if felled, could hit a residence, outbuilding or motor vehicle, is a potential time bomb just waiting to be lit.

During this last storm I sat inside and watched as limbs from nearby white pine trees crashed to the ground with a mighty force. And a short walkabout after the storm disclosed other great pines broken in half, just like so many matchsticks. Then it occurred to me that a number of huge pines stood close enough to my little cottage to totally destroy it if they fell on it.

The question for me now is whether or not to have the pines cut. I love my pines and would miss them, but they do pose a threat. And now, the question is when, rather than if, the next 70-plus mile-per-hour winds will whip through the Pine Tree State. It’s a tough decision that I surely share with hundreds of other Mainers.

For those with trees close to their houses, consider this. Utility companies routinely trim limbs and dangerous trees, trees that would eventually cause problems if they hit power lines. Homeowners might use that same reasoning in deciding whether or not to leave such trees intact.

Portable generators

Back during the 1998 ice storm, portable generators were as scarce as hen’s teeth and twice as expensive. Even after the storm, when stores were well supplied with generators, they were too expensive for many, me included. Full-time writers don’t have much in the way of discretionary funds. And so buying a generator was out of the question.

Besides that, generators are heavy. And people with chronic back pain, such as me, could not begin to carry a full-size generator. So for many of us, generators were something we could not aspire to. But all that has changed.

A close friend, seeing my plight during the last power outage, told me to go upstairs in his garage and bring a certain generator down. “How heavy is it?” I asked. “About 35 pounds,” he said. So upstairs I went. And there I found a small generator that was light enough for me to pick up and carry downstairs.

This was an 800-watt generator, with a peak output of 900 watts, enough to power a refrigerator/freezer or a television or, for me most important, a computer.

My friend said he picked it up on sale for about $90. That’s about $1,000 less than I had thought any generator would cost. But technology has advanced since 1998 and many more companies now manufacture portable generators. And competition always leads to reduced prices for the consumer.

So now, for somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 bucks, anyone can buy a generator that is capable of saving their stored food during a power outage. I quickly learned to hook the generator up to whatever electric device was needed at the time.

The little “generator that could” is now mine, thanks to a dear friend’s largesse. And in time I plan on buying another just like it for “just in case.” And I suggest to readers that anyone who doesn’t own a generator should make it a point to buy one of these new, lightweight, inexpensive generators. They can make all the difference in the world in times of prolonged power interruptions.

Other stuff

Ever notice that every time we have a power outage, people flock to hardware and convenience stores to buy candles and lamp oil? It happens every time. Of course the wise thing to do is stock up on both candles and lamp oil when there is no power outage.

We’re all the same deep down, I think, and we hate to spend money on things that may not be needed anytime soon. But sometimes it pays to be proactive and stock up on emergency items.

When the lights went out at my place Monday morning, I broke out lamps and candles and got everything all set up. Then as darkness fell, there was no mad scramble for candles and lamps, since they were already ready to light.

Running a small generator it’s impossible to have everything in the house hooked up at once. And when the generator’s juice is being used to keep the freezer cold, that means no television and no internet access. So what do we do at night sitting around waiting for the power to return? Well, I like to listen to news on the radio. Which is why I always have a small battery-powered radio ready to go.

People living alone especially find comfort from listening to a radio. I live alone, well off the main road and were it not for the radio, at times like this my contact with the world would be completely severed. The feeling of isolation becomes more pronounced at night, which is when that little radio provides a link to the world at large. I suggest that everyone have a small, portable radio ready for emergency use. In fact, given the relatively low price for these items, it might not hurt to have two, just in case one decides to give up the ghost.

While these are among the last things we think about, paper plates and cups and plastic utensils become invaluable during times of power outages. Buy some now and put them away for future use.

Battery power

Flashlights, lanterns, radios and all kinds of useful devices operate on battery power. So doesn’t it make sense to stock up on batteries? In years past, batteries didn’t last anywhere near as long as they do now and stockpiling them was a waste of money. But today we can buy batteries that are guaranteed for up to five years.

So having an assortment of different size batteries is just another way to be proactive and as such, ready for the next power outage.

Tom’s tips

Planning for the future begins now. But sadly, as soon as power gets restored, most folks put such bad times out of sight and out of mind. But don’t fall into that trap. Prepare now, stock up on those items that will make life easier during the next extended power outage, an outage that will surely come in the not-too-distant future.

A woodstove and oil lamp help warm and light the house during power outages. (Photo by: Tom Seymour)
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