A Tale of Snow and Ice (or How To Prepare for a Winter Storm)

A Tale of Snow and Ice (or How To Prepare for a Winter Storm)

"Potential for Ice."

These are the three words that you never want to see as a Virginia resident attached to the upcoming weather alert. Things have improved since I was a kid in Yorktown, but ice storms are just a nasty business. No matter how much the power companies clear around power lines, ice storms represent an almost guaranteed power outage in your near future.

It's not like a snow storm, which at least you can enjoy by sledding and the like. It's a hunker-down-and-wait-it-out kind of event.

The snow has started falling, and we're looking at 4-7 inches of snow and sleet before it turns to ice, of which they're predicting 1/4". It's supposed to turn to rain after the fact, but since it's been so cold for the last few days, that means water that will freeze on contact with the ground, even if the air is above 32°F.

Ice storms are nothing new around here. I grew up with them in Yorktown (Southeastern Virginia) and spent many a day/night playing a game by candlelight while the fireplace Vermont Castings wood stove insert kept us warm. My parents still have a wood pile that is at least 5 cords and maybe more.

We'll see how things progress. The power companies have been very active over the last few years clearing branches away from any power lines that are more than house service (meaning from the pole to someone's house). We may get through this powered up.

However, I find that being prepared for an event often makes the event a non-starter. Either it doesn't happen or in happening, it's not that big of an inconvenience. Lots of friends ask me what I do to get ready for a storm, so I figured I might as well document it here.

What We Do For Winter Storms

You need the basics.

The House:

A good snow shovel - Some people insist that the curved neck one is better, but at the end of the day, your technique is what makes or breaks you.

Ice melt - Not just "salt" these days, but most of the mixes are different chemicals (technically "salts") along with traction.

Generator - We have a Honda eu2000i that I've used in various power outages. It can handle a window AC Unit, and it puts out really clean power, so you can run your digital devices directly off it. It also has an eco-throttle, so it slows down when it's not under full draw. To top it off, it has a DC charging connection kit that lets you charge a deep cycle battery (or bank thereof). This should go without saying, but don't run it without proper ventilation.

Battery bank - we have a few deep cycle batteries I picked up from Costco years ago. They're about to be aged out and replaced after 6 years of abuse. These sit on a trickle charger most of the time but they can also be charge from the generator or from either car idling. Spliters and an invertor for AC devices are good things to have.

Alternative Cooking - A Coleman 2 burner camp stove works well and you can connect both larger tanks as well as the simple 1 pound tanks. If you don't have gas service, this lets you cook enough to be comfortable. Other options that are second line are things like a rocket stove.

Alternative Heat - Get a wood stove or fireplace insert installed. The new ones are quite efficient and have less particulates into the house. If you want to go full bore, look into building a rocket mass heater. When tuned properly, you end up with warm water vapor at the end of the chimney. Lots of videos on YouTube, but Paul Wheaton has a great four-disc series on these for those who are so inclined.

Black Out Kit - Where are your candles, flashlights, lighters, lanterns, etc? Have a place for these to live so you can find them in the event that power is lost. Some board games, decks of cards, and the like would be good for passing the time. Candle wise, there's some great jar candles on Amazon that look to be ideal for having around (as opposed to simple stick candles).

The Car:

Winter car kits are something pretty location dependent. We don't get a lot of snow here, so chains aren't a priority.

Small Snow Shovel - we have a collapsing stock one that works great if you need to break away some ice or get out of a snow pile.

Traction Agent - Cat litter works surprisingly well, but there's lots of commercial options as well.

Blankets/Warm Clothes - Having some extra blankets and hoodies in the car is good in case you're stranded overnight somewhere.

De-icer - Keep a can in the house as well.

Scraper/brush combo - nothing worse than trying to clear a car with your arm. Speaking from personal experience here. Spend the $30 and put one in each car.

Food and water - Again, many of the stories you hear of people being stranded end poorly because they had nothing in the car.

USB power plug - Charge your devices from your car. Better than nothing at all.

Signaling tools - flares, but if you're going out into the wilderness or what not, I'd say even things like boating flares (parachute signal flares), whistles, air horn, etc.

I also have my Yaesu VX-7R 2m radio and Satellite phone in the truck at all times, as well as my go bag which has various first aid gear, food, and tools in it. We've also got a Delorme atlas of Virginia in the truck, which is pretty detailed as far as printed maps go. A lot of this is in case I'm called out to assist with Albemarle CERT, so your needs and commitment may vary.

Regardless, stay safe in the storm!