Weather-related power outages have doubled since 2003, according to a by Climate Central, a non-profit research company, so you might be due for some time in the dark this stormy season. Sure, the first 30 minutes are fun, but an entire day (or several) without electricity could be dangerous. Here's what you need to know — and do — before and during the storm.
BEFORE THE STORM
Stock your emergency kit.
"Building a home emergency kit is an important first step in being prepared before a storm hits," says Amy A. Artuso, program manager at the . She suggests checking your kit every six months — and again right before a storm hits — to replace expired items.
What should be in it? Lots of stuff! Fill it with a hand-crank or battery-powered radio, flashlights, a first aid kit (with gauze, tape, bandages, antibiotic ointment, aspirin, a blanket, non-latex gloves, scissors, hydrocortisone, thermometer, tweezers, and an instant cold compress), extra batteries, a whistle, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, and a tool kit. Keep the items in one easy-to-access plastic container.
Fill your car with gas.
Traffic signals are often affected during an outage, so you'll want to avoid unnecessary travel. But fill your tank before the storm in case you so need to use your car and gas stations are closed. Artuso also recommends having a vehicle emergency supply kit (use to build one). If you have a back-up generator for your house, get gas for that, too.
Stock up on food and water.
Forget bread and milk; what you really need is nonperishable food and water. The NSC suggests stocking up with enough water for three days — one gallon of water per person per day. You'll also need food for at least three days and a can opener. Artuso recommends protein-packed foods that don't require cooking, like tuna, peanut butter and granola bars. And don't forget to have plenty of food for your pets!
Fill the bathtub with water.
If your home uses a well or relies on electricity to pump water, you could be without it. You can go without showering for awhile, but you'll still need to use the toilet. You have one flush with the water that's already in the toilet tank. After that, use a bucket or a pitcher to transfer about one gallon of water from the tub to the toilet bowl for each flush.
ATMs and credit card machines need electricity to work, of course. If supermarkets or convenience stores are actually open during an outage, you might find that you need cash to pay for your goods.
Know your risks.
If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes or tornadoes, check to see what the NSC recommends.
DURING THE STORM
Don't rely on candles.
Candles can certainly set a calming mood during a blackout, but they're not recommended due to risk of fire. Use flashlights to light your way instead, Artuso says.
Be smart about generators.
"Portable generators can safely power important electrical equipment — freezers, refrigerators, lighting, and more — in the event of a power outage," says Artuso. "However, they can also be very hazardous." Read and follow the manufacturer's guidelines before operating the generator and never use it inside your home or other enclosed areas because it emits carbon monoxide.
"Fatal fumes can build up, and fans, open doors or windows do not provide enough ventilation for fresh air," says Artuso. Even with your generator outside, be sure to have a battery-powered carbon monoxide detector in the area just in case. When it comes time to refuel, let the generator cool for at least two minutes before filling it up: "Gasoline and vapors are extremely flammable," she adds.
Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed.
This helps food stay at the appropriate temperature longer. "Food should be safe as long as the power is out for no more than four hours," says Artuso.
After the storm, discard any perishable foods (like meat, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy and leftovers) that have been above 40 degrees for over two hours. "Never taste food to determine its safety. You cannot rely on appearance or odor to determine whether food is safe," Artuso says. Evaluate each item separately, and use this to help you decide what can stay and what should go.
Here's a helpful freezer trick: Before the storm, freeze water in a small, open container and, once it's solid, put a penny on top. After the storm, check the ice. If the ice has melted, or the penny is now frozen into the water, then the freezer defrosted. If the penny is still on top, then your food is generally safe.
Turn off or disconnect appliances and electronics in use when the power went out. The power might return with momentary surges or spikes that can damage the equipment, according to , a preparedness website run by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Leave one light on so that you know when the power returns.
Again, the traffic lights in your area are probably out too, so stay off the road. Use your hand-crank or battery-powered radio to listen to important announcements and take the advice of local experts. In severe cases, the authorities may be evacuating the area.