How do (or don’t) you prepare for a winter storm?
When winter hits the North Country, it packs a punch. People who have lived here for more than 20 years will remember the insanity that was the ice storm of 1998. Trees fell, ice jams overflowed rivers, and hundreds of people took refuge at Red Cross shelters. The National Guard even had to be helicoptered in for assistance.
Such an ice storm is not an everyday occurrence; nevertheless, Adirondack residents tend to be prepared to some degree for any level of winter storm, whether that’s a cute flurry or a full-blown blizzard.
I’m a 25-year-old kid still trying to transition to adulthood, so my emergency provisions for a winter storm are laughable. As long as I have my guitar, something to read, a blanket, beer, extra socks and a jar of my favorite sunflower butter, I’d feel safe. But I’m not the one from whom you should take advice.
Franklin County Emergency Preparedness Director Ricky Provost said extra food, water and warm clothing are basic necessities for any winter event. But there are some aspects to weathering the storm people don’t know. He said suffocation can be a problem during blizzards.
“One of the things we really try to avoid is carbon monoxide and other gas poisonings,” he said. “So many heaters these days vent through the wall instead of a chimney. If you’re working with propane or kerosene, make sure your vents are cleared and the air can flow.”
If you own a backup generator, Provost recommended being knowledgeable of the machine before you start it up.
“If you’re going to run a generator, run it outside, not in the home,” he said. “And don’t grill inside, either. I know it’s cold out and some people want a warm meal, but we actually had a few cases of people bringing their propane grills inside to cook during the ’98 ice storm — none of them fatalities, though.”
State Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Ranger Scott van Laer said one of the most important things if the power goes out is keeping his Ray Brook home warm.
“I have a geothermal home, so if the electricity goes out, the heat goes, too,” he said. “Fortunately, we have a wood-burning stove.”
Like Provost, van Laer mentioned the importance of knowledge of generators.
“I was up here during the ice storm of 1998, and there were a few cases of people dying of asphyxiation because their generators weren’t properly connected to their homes,” he said.
He also recommended keeping a well-sharpened chainsaw on hand in case your driveway is cut off by downed trees.
“Whenever you use a chainsaw, always sharpen it right after,” he said. “You might say, ‘Oh, I’ll do it the next time I use it,’ and then you keep pushing it off, and it’s useless when you really need it.”
For food, van Laer said he tends to be stocked up for a couple of weeks, so if a massive storm hits, he and his family should be in good shape.
“It just seems to be part of life in the Adirondacks,” he said. “I don’t have to think about it. We just always have food that can last a few weeks. I think we do benefit from being up in the mountains in regard to food. If the power for the refrigerator goes out, that’s fine. I’ve got a freezer outside, so we rarely have to worry about food going bad. It’s different if we have a blackout in the summer, but that doesn’t happen too often.”
On an entertainment level, Van Laer said he appreciates when the TV and internet go down.
“I, like most people, tend to rely way too much on technology these days,” he said. “So it feels pretty good to get away from all that every now and then. You can talk to someone, or play an instrument or read a book. No one in our house has any major health issues that require electricity, so it’s really not that bad. The kids don’t mind it, and they wind up enjoying the time.”
Kiki Sarko, who co-owns the Waterhole in Saranac Lake, said some of her necessities for a winter blackout are candles, water bottles, a book, a head lamp, board games and a bottle of wine.
“I hate to say alcohol is on my list, but yeah, definitely some red wine,” she said. “I like cocktails, but those require ice, which requires a freezer, which you don’t want to open if you’ve got no power.”
Sarko cooks for all the bands who play at the Waterhole, so her house’s kitchen is always stocked with canned and dry goods she can cook on her gas stove, she said.
“I try to keep a lot of rice and beans in the house,” she said. “I could eat that forever.”
Even when the lights go out at the Waterhole, Sarko said the bar stays open, and plenty of people tend to show up. Last year, the Stinky Boots String Band was playing a show in the downstairs bar when the power went out. Sarko said other than the volume, nothing changed, and the band continued to play unplugged.
“People tend to just gravitate toward here when there’s an outage,” she said. “We light a few candles, and it’s great to be a cash-only business in that situation. If we were working with a (electronic point-of-sale) system, we’d probably have to close.”
Growing up in Syracuse and living in Rochester for a while, snowstorms and blackouts are nothing new to Sarko. She sees them as entertaining occasions that bring people together.
“Snowstorms should be fun,” she said. “You hang out with friends, or maybe one person still does have power so everyone goes over to their house.
“You see a lot of camaraderie on those nights,” she continued. “Your phone is gonna die, you’ve got no charger, there’s no internet, so you might as well meet up with some friends. It makes you feel like a kid again.”
Younger folks with well-enough-paying jobs might be able to ride out a storm without much difficulty, but the situation can be different for less-wealthy people, as well as, older folks who rely on at-home medical equipment and services.
Essex County Emergency Services Director Don Jaquish said families should have a plan in case they need to relocate a sick or elderly loved one.
“Some people rely on generators, but they can be finicky, so I recommend relocation as the best option,” he said.
If you don’t have a lot of money to budget for a winter storm, Jaquish recommended calling your county’s emergency services department. He said county emergency warming stations where people can get food, coffee and other supplies are somewhat popular during storms, but Red Cross shelters are seldom used.
“People seem to want to stay in their homes during those situations,” he said.
“Try to have enough food and water for three days,” he continued, “but if it gets bad after that, give us a call and we’ll try to get assistance from other agencies like the Red Cross or the United Way.”