Just got to town after 2 1/2 weeks being snowed in. I learned a lot about emergency preparedness, so thought I’d share some of my experience. First know, this storm was not forecast at all, and in this area, if we get 6 inches of snow we think we’ve got a lot! So when 2 1/2 feet of snow fell in two days, the area was totally unprepared. Because of the lack of normal snow, the area is also not prepared with snow plows and other things that help people get back to normal and since the trees are not used to this much snow, there was an incredible amount of tree damage which also took out the power. There are people who will not have power for a couple more weeks yet.
My situation is a little different since I already live off-grid, but, I had challenges others didn’t. My first challenge was the yurt itself. I’d recognized a problem with the installation before- the door opens out onto a small deck- no room for snow- so I was diligently opening the door throughout the day to make sure I could keep it open. I did this last a 1 a.m. and drank water so I’d wake up soon, but unfortunately I slept 6 hours and by the time I got up, the door was blocked- I was trapped inside the yurt. I had just brought in 2 gallons of water (and emptied the compost toilet) the day before, but usually I have a full five gallons of water available. I was almost out of propane for the heater- there was a full tank in the car, now inaccessible and all but three pieces of my firewood were outside under tarps and now over 2 feet of snow. So I had a little situation- no real danger yet, but I needed to take care to conserve water and stay warm. By day four, I was getting low on water so decided it was time to use my last resort plan on the door. As I said, there was very little propane left and I’d saved it to try this. I pointed the heater at the door hoping the warmth would help melt the snow. It certainly wasn’t enough (especially with the added snow from the roof which had slid down), to get the door actualy open, but because the door’s bottom hinges were unattached (due to previous problems) I was able to get enough to melt so I could get my arm out enough to use my machete to break the icy snow and scoop enough to basically push the top out a bit over the snow. This was enough to climb out, go to the car where I had more water (and cat food).
Then it was time to just wait for the snow to melt. It froze every night and most days didn’t get above 35 degrees so, as you can guess, the snow was going no where quickly. Without phone or internet, I was anxious because I knew my sister would be really worried. A week in, a Tracker friend, Michael and two of my neighbors who I didn’t even know, made the mile long hike through deep snow to come up and check on me. I was so incredibly grateful. Michael had brought some supplies and took a message out to my sister. They helped clear the porch and get my other tank of propane up to the yurt.
Then the days just went by with very little movement from the snow. I ran the car for a while every afternoon to charge my Kindle so I could read at night (I read 14 books during the time there : ), and listen to the news on the radio. I kept hoping for more on the weather, but very little was provided. We finally had a couple days in the low forties so I had hopes…but so little melted every day. I had to bring up water from the lower shelter where the rain barrels are and it was a bit unnerving, because even then, the snow was up over my knees. I started to slip once and had images of breaking my leg out there alone by myself. I took great care, but accidents could happen. I’d create scenarios of what I would do just in case something happened. It snowed again on day 10- got a bit depressed and my heater quit working. I had only used it a couple hours first thing in the morning but a little heat is better than none.
By two weeks, I was starting to count my food. I am usually better prepared, but the recent loss of my mother has had my schedule a mess as I deal with the many things needed to handle her estate. I had planned to shop the day after the storm hit, so I was low on fresh food to start with. This was one important lesson about making sure your emergency foods are really kept separate and that you don’t start using them for convenience. I had just added a bunch to my stew though so that did well for a long time and I just kept adding what I could. Finally amaranth and quinoa so it was a breakfast soup. I did end up eating it all eventually so my “unending stew” ended at 6 months- I’d hoped to keep it going a year- just keep adding.
So the last five days I spent shoveling snow (with a regular shovel which was all I had) to try and get the center mound down and where it was deeper. There were many small trees caught in the snow and ice which I had to dig up and many others that had to be cut or moved off the quarter mile driveway. I finally decided to try and drive out (low rider car with no chains- but all wheel drive). Getting down the first part wasn’t too bad, but when it starts up hill I’d get going, get stopped, back up and try again. Slide around. Get out and dig. Try again and I was gradually making it up the driveway. Then at one point I accidentally got off the gravel and was quickly mired in mud. I tried everything I could to get out but finally gave up and decided I’d have to walk out and get help the next day. The next day was a constant alternation of pouring rain and hail. I decided to wait and see if that helped melt the snow. The next day was bright and when I started out I planned to try the car one more time with little hope. I said an empassioned prayer for help. And miraculously, with some maneuvering, I actually got the car out of the mud and back on the snow covered gravel driveway. I had hopes the gravel road would be better than the driveway since it got much more sun. It was better in most places and in some completely clear. The guys had told me a big tree had come down but one of the neighbors had said he’d try and get it down- he hadn’t, but what I discovered was it was high enough that if I cut some branches, I could make a little tunnel. There were other numerous trees down but they were small enough for me to saw and move. Then almost down to the road, there was an apple tree across the road. I was able to cut enough back that my car could squeeze by- thank god for small cars! Getting on the road and driving and going to town was a bit surreal but a welcome relief. The shower, groceries and communication with folks was outstanding!
Lessons for Emergency Preparedness:
* Keep dedicated food and supplies separate from your normal supplies so you know it’s there when you need it. Not just food, but toilet paper, kleenex, coffee, whatever is essential to you. : )
*Keep these things together in a tote (or more if you have more people/supplies). This can be loaded in a car if you need to quickly leave in an emergency.
*** Check the calories! I was surprised to find many of my soups had very few calories- as low as 100 total for the two serving size. The highest was 270 calories. If you each soup three times a day as your meals you will be getting less than 1000 calories. This may be fine in the summer, but staying warm takes calories as does any physical labor. Boxed rice and pasta have more calories- especially if you can add butter or oil. These, however, require water and cooking, so a balance is good. I was thankful for things like almond butter- fat and calories and wished I’d had more carbs available. Dried fruit is good, as is canned fruit. Having dried grains- I had amaranth, quinoa and Michael brought beans. All good. Also granola bars or other protein bars which have needed energy.
*Don’t underestimate what might happen where you live. The Earth is changing. The weather is changing. Think beyond the normal threats to your region.
*Know your water sources. I know when I lived in WA I was surprised when I lost my well water when the power went out. Don’t forget rain water. Rain collection isn’t legal everywhere so check, but if possible, collect rain water. In addition to your garden, it is usable by humans. It’s actually what I use all the time. I use a Brita filter for drinking and don’t even filter for cooking. So it would be good for you in an emergency at least.
* Make sure you have a good emergency kit- candles, fire making, a means to cook (I use a GasOne propane stove which could be used in a house), a means to stay warm, books, cards, games- especially if you have children. There are comprehensive lists available- make sure your home is prepared.
*Make sure you have plenty to stay warm- blankets, sleeping bags, more blankets. I spent most of my time in bed with the covers over my lap and a wool blanket over my head and shoulders- in addition to the hats and gloves and layers of clothing.
* If it’s really cold. Eat something before you go to sleep- you’ll find it helps you get the bed warmed up. Notice in the morning how much colder you feel- even if it’s not even actually colder. Eat something- warm if possible- and the same temperature will feel much better to you.
If something happens, and you’ve prepared, you’ll be safe and have a surprising change to your routines. In many ways, these little emergencies can be fun- problem solving, something new- just try and stay positive, don’t panic and see what all you can learn from the situation.