When the Ice Storm struck our region in January 1998, my wife and I were able to survive five days without power because we had a wood stove and a shed full of firewood.
While others were forced to huddle in emergency shelters or overpriced hotel rooms, we survived quite comfortably on our supplemental heating source.
Since that time, however, we’ve moved to a new house that is heated entirely by electricity.
Every winter since, there comes a time when my wife begins to fret about potential hypothermia.
“What if the power goes out? What will we do for warmth? What will become of my babies?”
Usually I just shrug and say that the ruthless efficiency of the Plattsburgh Municipal Lighting Department does not allow for prolonged outages.
Still, with yet another stretch of sub-zero days this past week — thus scientifically disproving global warming — it does seem like a good idea to prepare for the worst.
What can people do if the power goes out or they run out of heating fuel and they don’t want to leave their home or purchase an expensive generator?
Do not attempt to warm your house with your car’s exhaust or a gas stove or charcoal briquettes. Fortunately, there are numerous safer and easier options.
The most obvious is to burn stuff, mankind’s oldest method of heating. Assuming you don’t already have a fireplace or wood stove, it’s perfectly acceptable to set a roaring fire in your living room, or convert your electric stove into a wood stove. This may invalidate your homeowner’s insurance, but you won’t need a permit unless you plan to burn outside.
Books, boxes, furniture, trash, bedding, carpet, shoes, paintings, socks, certain musical instruments and hardwood floors can all be set aflame to provide life-giving BTUs of heat. Warning: some home electronics can explode when deliberately set on fire. For safety’s sake, please set your fire inside a ring of stones or bricks or leftover holiday fruitcakes.
Another time-tested method of staying warm is to dress in layers. Lots and lots of layers. Scientists have shown that 14 layers of clothing, of any material, will keep a human warm in temperatures down to 30 degrees below zero. Realize that there are only so many layers of the same-sized clothes that you can physically put on, so make sure to borrow from your larger family members.
If 14 layers of clothing are not enough, try setting the outer layer on fire (natural fibers only!), which will warm both you and those around you.
Similarly, there are sleeping bags that can keep you warm in temperatures well below zero. Those who are good at sewing could easily refashion one of these into the greatest set of thermal underwear ever. Those who aren’t good at sewing could still cut out a few holes for feet and an arm or two and just hop in. It’s functional, and stylish.
If you have a large family, or know your neighbors very well — or would like to know your neighbors well — why not just huddle together for warmth? For eons, penguins have survived temperatures only slightly warmer than our January by forming a tight circle and sharing body warmth. Please, however, be polite, like the penguins, and take turns rotating to the outside of the circle.
Remember when Luke Skywalker survived the ice planet Hoth by sleeping inside the guts of a sliced up tauntaun? Of course you do. You probably don’t have a 12-foot-tall beast of burden around, but some may have a horse, cow or llama. That failing, if you have a couple of regular-sized dogs or a large housecat that you’re not particularly fond of … please don’t tell the SPCA that you got the idea from me.
Science and technology, as always, have some solutions as well.
Users of the iPhone can download a space heater app that utilizes every available circuit to provide enough heat for a 400-square-foot area. This will, however, use up your battery in 14 seconds.
Ever go to a school science fair? Seventy percent of projects are working models of volcanic eruptions, and nothing on earth puts off more heat than an active volcano. Have your kids build one the size of your entire kitchen and it could heat half the neighborhood.
Alternately, geologists tell us that the earth’s core is some 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. If you could dig down even halfway, 900 miles or so — granted, difficult with frozen ground — you’d have enough free heat to last a lifetime.
If that’s not realistic, anyone can get portable heat at their local pharmacy. A thin layer of an analgesic heat rub, such as Bengay or Icy Hot, can be applied to the entire body to both warm the skin and soothe sore muscles.
Similarly, a dozen or so of those hand warmers you put in your gloves could warm an entire person for up to eight hours. Just place them strategically: one in each sock, a couple in the underwear, one under each armpit …
My mom always said that warmth was a state of mind. Try quiet meditation while maintaining images of warmth in your frontal lobe: a cup of steaming coffee, a fluffy down comforter, a sun-soaked beach, the burning flames of Hell.
If that doesn’t work for you, try doing what my mom actually did: move to Florida for the winter.
Yeah, they’ve got hurricanes, killer whales and early bird dinner specials, but it almost never gets to 14 degrees below.
Email Steve Ouellette:firstname.lastname@example.org