I keep seeing a set of snowstorm survival tips from the Bangor Police Department circulating online, and while there’s some very nice advice from some wonderful humans in there, I think there’s an underlying assumption implied by some of the specific advice that this big snowstorm you’re facing is sorta cute by Maine standards. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But I remember the ice storm, and let me tell you, if things get that real for you, on this storm or the next, buying cereal and batteries is just not going to cut it. So here’s my slightly tongue-in-cheek insight on how we actually survive truly bad snow and ice up here in God’s frozen hindquarters.
First: Mainers and “stocking up.”
The reason we survive snow storms so nicely is that we all assume that any report of 1″ or more is heralding the next snow-pocalypse. This is why I am positive that all fiction about looting food stores after the collapse of civilization is grossly optimistic. (One day, people. If the world goes to hell, your local grocery store will be out of everything in less than 24 hours.) Fortunately, most of the weather events don’t turn into the ice storm of ’98, so if you clear out the grocery store of all non-perishable food items every time there’s a whisper of impending snow, you will eventually acquire a stash of dried beans and oatmeal that will carry you through the actual End of the World as We Know It.
Cap’n Crunch? Please. As if the people buying all the bread didn’t clear out all the milk first anyway. Also, little tip: sugary carbs like cereal are going to leave you feeling hangry, anxious, and sock-mouthed pretty fast if that’s all you’ve got on hand. I know stuff like beans, Spam, sardines, Vienna sausages, and other weird canned stuff that can technically be eaten at room temp or below is not going to appeal to anyone who didn’t grow up on the stuff, but non-perishable sources of protein and fat are going to help you feel full longer than cereal and possibly not as many people will have thought to clear the shelves of them, so try to think outside the habits of eating that are normal and reasonable in a functioning civilization.
Nuts and nut butters are also good choices, of course, but I think the bread/milk hoarders tend to at least hit the nut butters, so if you’re later to the legal looting madness we call “stocking up for a storm,” be brave. Canned meat tastes like salt and fat, and human tastebuds are engineered to appreciate that combo, so you’ll adjust. Grab some mustard…there’s probably plenty of that in the store, and mustard can cover a multitude of weird canned food sins.
Elementary school science might come in handy here, but do you know what snow is? That’s right: it’s frozen water. I’m not saying you should eat snow straight as a rule, but in a pinch, you can melt it down and use it to flush toilets or wash dishes or take a sponge bath. If you can boil it (no less than 1 minute at a full, rolling boil), it’s certainly less dangerous than dying of dehydration. So if you got caught without the massive gallons of backup water supply that all seasoned Mainers tend to keep in their basements (swapping out annually, 1/8-1/4 tsp. bleach per gallon of stored water), don’t panic: you’re surrounded by the stuff if you can put in the work to change its physical state and sanitize it.
Third: management of food temperatures.
If you’ve got three feet of snow, you’ve got what could be called a natural ice box. That’s how you keep the milk for the questionable life choice of sugared cereal as a survival food cold. Just…be mindful of the local wildlife population when deciding how to store food outside.
If you’ve got a grill, you’ve got hot food and an option for boiling water, so don’t forget to clear out the remnants of the charcoal section that Home Deport carries in winter, or fill up your propane tanks. If you don’t own appropriate cold weather equipment for grilling in the middle of winter, we will only judge you a little teensy affectionate bit for wearing three pairs of pants. Whatever it takes.
Fourth: management of your temperature.
You can make more body heat than you might think just by sticking the whole family in the same room. (That questionable suggestion of a sponge bath is going to start to sounding brilliant real fast.) Hang towels across the windows if they’re not well-insulated. Old blankets or sheets can help add a layer of air insulation to doors, if needed. Blanket forts make great places to read and play board games and they let you improve the ratio of bodies to air space for minimum heat loss. Propane heaters can be tempting, but read the warning labels: a lot of them (like patio heaters) are not meant to be used in an enclosed space, so be smart and pick up a carbon monoxide detector for good measure. And they will quite possibly set things like polyester on fire, so, you know…don’t stand too close in an effort to get warm.
If you don’t have batteries, don’t panic. As long as you can muddle through without emergency services, you’ll probably survive without power for a couple days. Or weeks. But if you do have batteries, it’s worth managing your power needs sensibly. Priority one is maintaining communication for emergency purposes. This means not playing games or streaming videos on your cell phone or letting your teens spend long hours arguing with their boos about who should hang up first. Not if you don’t have a way to recharge batteries. Additionally: if the phone lines don’t go out (and I have never experienced the phone lines going out, though I imagine plenty of folks don’t have landlines anymore), a corded phone will work without power. You can still get them and they are cheap as dirt, so it’s a sensible communication option to have on hand if you’ve got a landline.
Priority two is keeping light for emergency situations. Cheapo LED flashlights run off a single AAA for a crazy long time, so that’s our go-to flashlight. Two packs are maybe $5 at places like Home Depot and Harbor Freight, and you probably have tons of AAAs from all those times you thought buying a multi-pack of batteries was a good deal only to realize that pretty much nothing runs on AAAs. If you can get one, an LED lantern that can be charged via a solar panel or a handcrank is damn handy for lighting a room a bit if you don’t really want to just go to bed when the sun goes down.
Finally, and in all seriousness: check on people.
This is not a joke or an idle suggestion. Old people and folks with serious medical conditions are at risk for a lot more than heart attacks under tough conditions. They might not have had the transportation to get to the store to stock up. They might not have the physical strength to haul water. They’re more susceptible to lower temperatures. They might need medications or regular life-saving treatments that they can’t get access to if they can’t shovel themselves out. Single-parents with little kids are also going to have a much harder time managing the extra strain that comes with a weather emergency. If you have the strength to make yourself useful, warm yourself up with a little exercise and break up the monotony of waiting for civilization to pull itself together by going door to door to check on your neighbors.
You might just save lives (or at least make some new friends), and there is nothing more badass than taking the time to take care of others in the middle of a community crisis. Just remember the first rule of emergency response: you can’t do any good to anyone if you get yourself killed or seriously injured in an attempt to help, so if a situation would require you to endanger yourself in order to be useful, call the pros. Inform the trained professionals and do what they tell you to do instead of adding one more needed rescue to their list.
So that is the best addendum I can offer to the BPD suggestions. Really and truly, take care of each other and don’t panic. If it gets really hairy, at least you’ll be able to tell the stories of how people came together for the rest of your hopefully long and unsnowy lives.