My home lost power last Saturday in the middle of the night. It was unusually cold for this part of Virginia, and I think the cold plus everyone cranking their heat crushed the power network. I woke up to my home network’s uninterruptible power supply screeching at 2AM. I shut the computers down and went back to bed. I was confident my mutant ability to resist cold and my three dogs would keep me warm. The power came on and went off again twice more, finally taking a long nap at about 3:30AM.
By the time I woke up the house was about 52°F downstairs. My friend Stilts was visiting, and we were both hungry. I used my mobile phone to call our favorite breakfast place, and they had power. Stilts headed home after breakfast, and I settled in to play a little game. That little game was “how well could I handle a minor power outage in the winter?”
The first thing I did was consider what food, if any, I should take out of the fridge and prepare immediately. I figured my food would be okay as long as I kept the door shut and I got power back within twelve hours.
I knew I didn’t need my portable propane heater, but damn I wanted some coffee. I put my tea kettle on the side burner on my propane grill outside:
I learned something: the flame on the grill isn’t concentrated like a traditional natural gas burner. It took FOREVER to heat the water up so I could make coffee. I wonder if it would be better to put a metal plate of some kind between the burner and the kettle next time. I made a really nice cup of coffee, though.
I learned something else: keeping coffee in bean form until you’re ready to brew maximizes taste, but puts you at risk when you run out of power. My coffee mill is great, but doesn’t work for shit when the lights are out. I had just enough coffee to make my single cup; after that I was going to have to leave the house. Keeping morale up is important during a disruption of service, and having a warm cup of tea or coffee on a cold day may go a long way.
I also learned that one of my neighbors has a generator. There is conflicting theory among the preparedness community about how much you tip your readiness hand to your neighbors. One school of thought is that the more help in a crisis the merrier, so even if your neighbors show up empty-handed you can have them do something. The other train of thought is that those who are not prepared will become envious of those who are, and in times of extreme crisis someone with stockpiled food and water would be a tempting target. I am not sure if I would have kicked off the generator for a half-day power outage. However, now I know that someone else in the area has some disaster preparedness capabilities, too. I should probably go introduce myself.
There was plenty of food in the house, especially for such a short disruption. The water still worked, so that makes everything a lot easier. I have several weeks of food in the house that just takes heat and water to prepare. I wasn’t even hungry by the time the power came back on at about 1:30PM.
So really, it wasn’t a big deal at all. However, it was a nice opportunity to see how I’d fare in a longer disruption of service. It also helped me realize a few shortcomings. I now grind a full day’s worth of coffee if I’m low. While I haven’t figured out the best way to efficiently heat the tea kettle, my experience gives me an idea of what to expect next time.