Hey there and welcome back. I hope you're having a great new year inspite the weird weather we've been having here on the east coast. Many of those in the South in particular have been having a rough time of it the past two weeks or so, and those in the North aren't doing all that much better. Some of my friends in the North tell me that on the worst nights their heat pumps were having trouble keeping their homes above 50 degrees! Let's face it. It's almost like Mother Nature has either developed a serious case of PMS, or she suddenly decided to hand her beer to God and said "Hey y'all, watch this!" So what does one do to keep yourself and your loved ones safe during such conditions?
Let's be honest with ourselves. Most of us prefer to wait for warmer weather to go hiking, camping, and otherwise enjoying the great outdoors. And for those activities that do involve going out in winter weather; hunting, skiing, and ice skating just to name a few, most of us use cabins or ski lodges. And if you're a long time reader of my (admittedly irregular) rambles, then you probably have a store of food and water laid in in case of an emergency that leaves you home bound (or even cabin bound). But what happens if your vehicle breaks down or slides off the road while going to or from home?
First off, let's be honest with ourselves. You can be the best driver in the world, with tons of experience dealing with driving conditions of all descriptions; but the world is filled with idiots and you can never predict what they're going to do next. And even if there's not an idiot in sight, the unexpected can happen at any time. A patch of black ice on a blind curve, an animal suddenly darting in front of your car, a blow out due to a bad tire, or even just a bit of water in the gas line and you may be stuck out in the middle of nowhere with only what you have with you to keep you save and secure.
So what sort of things should you have on hand for such an emergency? And should you find yourself in such a situation, what should you do, or, perhaps more importantly, not do? First and foremost, shelter needs to be your primary concern. The biggest risk in winter survival is hypothermia, and it doesn't have to be below freezing for hypothermia to become a very real risk. Wind, moisture, quality of clothing, all of these and more can have a direct impact on the onset of hypothermia. Indeed, one can start to develope hypothermia in as little as 30 minutes in 40 degree weather. Get wet in a strong wind and below freezing weather, and severe hypothermia could set in in as little as 5 minutes!
So you leave your car and find shelter as fast as possible, right? Ummm, no. As cold as a car can get, it still offers shelter that may be better than anything else available. Besides, a vehicle, even one as small as a smart car, is a lot easier for searchers to spot than a person on foot. But keeping the car running might not be a great idea either. It isn't hard for snow to block the exhaust if you're in a ditch or a snow drift, in which case carbon monoxide levels inside the car can climb just as quickly as running a car in a closed garage. So the first thing to add to you emergency survival kit is a blanket of some kind.
When I was growing up, my father kept an old army blanket in each of the cars. It was brown wool, ugly as sin, scratchy and itchy, and just as uncomfortable as hell; but as long as it stayed dry it would keep you warm in even the coldest weather. Plus it was cheap, and since it was already ugly no-one really cared if it got stained from being kept in the trunk.
A more modern alternative is a so called "Space Blanket" or survival blanket. These things are light as a feather, and take up almost no room; but they're designed to reflect your body heat back at you. As a result they'll do a wonderful job of keeping you warm in all but the most extreme conditions. Admittedly you'll probably never get it folded up tightly enough to fit it back in the pouch it came in (or at least I never have), but you can still get it folded into an amazingly small package. And besides, they tend to be cheap enough that you can easily replace it if you can't.
Another possibility is to pick up a sleeping bag. They're bulky, and much more expensive; but you can get one designed to keep you warm even at 40 below. The choice is up to you of course, but if you live in a northern area then it might be the best idea yet.
The next thing every emergency kit needs is some way to signal that you're in trouble. The simplest way is to tie a rag to your antenna or hang one out the window, but a white rag would tend to disappear in snow. So most experts recommend something orange. Most auto parts stores have orange clothes specially designed for such an occasion, or you can buy orange triangles made to place on cars and roads.
Another more traditional method is to use flares. They burn bright enough to be seen at a distance even on the brightest day, and, as long as you keep them dry, they last for decades. The draw back is that they only burn for maybe 30 minutes or so, which means that you will have to keep getting out of your car or truck and lighting new ones every half hour until you're found. Not always a good thing when the wind chill hits 10 below.
Yet another thing you can do is to keep an emergency/survival lantern in the car similar to the Siege Compact Lantern I did a video on not too long ago. The Siege is compact (about the size of your fist), light, and has multiple settings from a 200 lumen white light that's too bright to look at, to a red light that can be set to flash. Admittedly, the S.O.S. setting, has they call the flashing red setting, is no where as bright as I might personally like; but it can last for 100's of hours as long as the batteries are good. And even at the highest setting, it can still last for 7 or 8 hours; and believe me, 200 lumens can be seen for quite a distance even at dusk, let alone at night.
So we've covered keeping warm and signaling that you're in trouble. What next? Well I'm assuming you have a cell phone with you, today's world being what it is; but you still need a way to keep it charged, and as I've already mentioned, keeping the car running might not be a good idea. So you should probably pick up a charging stick to keep your phone charged. One of my personal favorites is the Anker Astro E5. Rated at 16000 mAh, this thing can charge two devices at the same time, and can probably charge them at least 2 or 3 times each before it needs to be recharged. It's main drawback? It can take up to 10 hours to recharge it once it dies. Still, if you do as I do and buy two of them, then you can have one recharging at home while you take the other one with you and then the recharging time doesn't matter nearly as much.
There are a host of other things you should probably add to your emergency kit. Things like protein or energy bars in case you get hungry (staying warm takes more energy than you might think), and bottles of water to keep from getting dehydrated if you're stuck for an extended period of time; but once again this ramble is getting just a might bit long. So instead I'm going to talk about something that most of my Northern readers already know, but some of you here in the South might not. What's that you ask? Why, how to dress for cold weather.
Now let's be honest. How you dress can be as much a matter of personality as anything else, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you're not used to dealing with 20 degree and below weather. The most important thing is that the number of layers matter. Look, my dad got transferred to the Pittsburgh, PA area when I was just about to start high school; and the way I dressed used to drive him absolutely bonkers. I would walk to the bus stop wearing a thermal shirt under a t-shirt, and sometimes a flannel shirt with rolled up sleeves over that. I'd then put on a leather jacket and a cut off jean jacket vest over top of it. If it was really cold, say in the teens, I'd even add a pair of old socks that I had cut five finger holes in under my gloves. All in all, I definitely looked like a guy you'd never want your daughter hooking up with; but you know what? That biker/hoodlum look kept me much, much warmer than the fancy ski jackets my dad was always buying me. In fact, more than once I'd be standing there with my leather unzipped, completely comfortable, all the while kids wearing those fancy ski jackets would be huddled together and shivering from the cold. Sure, they may have looked down their noses at me and sneared at me behind my back, but that would have happened anyway since I was from the South and Roots had just recently come out; and I was as warm as a bug in a rug while they were freezing their asses off. And by the time we became seniors, a lot of them had figured that out and were starting to dress more like me.
Now look. I'm not saying you need to dress like you're from the wrong side of the tracks to keep warm. What I am saying is you don't need to go out and buy fancy ski clothes and parkas just to stay warm on the 2 or 3 days it gets really, really cold. Put on a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt under the shirt you'd normally wear, and then add a sweater or sweat shirt before putting on your jacket. Make sure your gloves are good quality, not thin pieces of crap that look good but couldn't keep an ice cube warm in the arctic. Wear socks that go up at least to calf height instead of ankle socks or no socks at all. And last but not least, get yourself a hat. Look. The rest of you except for your hands is covered, and good gloves will cover even them. Besides, you can always stick your hands in your pockets. But your head is going to exposed to all the elements. That's why the mountain folk used to say "If your feet get cold, put on your hat".
But for now I've used up all the time I had and more. So once again I'll wish you smooth sailing. May the wind always be at your back and the sun never in your eyes. And remember. If you're going to do something, no matter how trivial; if it's worth doing at all, it's worth doing with attitude!
Hey there, and welcome back to my little corner of cyberspace. I hope you had a great weekend.
I can imagine many of you are looking a the tittle of this little ramble and wondering just what the hell I'm talking about. "Rational Prepping" some of you are asking, "Is that even a thing?!". Well yes, yes it is. I know many people still think of the prepper community as a group of paranoid, ultra conservative nuts who are absolutely convinced that we're heading for some kind of Zombie Apocalypse complete with a melt down of the "Rule of Law and Order", but in all honesty most of us are really rather rational about things. Most of us are not stock piling huge amounts of ammo in fancy underground bunkers with full cutting edge security systems and built in generators, nor are we spending obscene amounts of money on mountain cabins that could double as modern day forts. What we are doing is looking at the world around us and trying to prepare our families for those things that can and do happen, and seem to be happening on an increasingly regular basis. "Oh come on, what are you talking about" that I just heard is probably coming from that new reader I see hiding in the back corner, so let me show you.
By now anyone who is paying even the least amount of attention knows about the damage done by Hurricane Harvey in Texas last week, but how closely have you really been paying attention? Did you know that it's estimated that the financial cost of the damage is likely to exceed 190 Billion dollars? Or how about the price of gas? I know you've noticed the price of gas has gone up sharply in the past few days. Well that's because almost 20% of all of our oil refineries are in Texas and have been shut down because of Harvey. And it's not just gas prices that are going to be effected! Other items that directly depend on oil refineries for their production include asphalt, fertilizers, linoleum, soap, perfumes, insecticides, and vitamin capsules, just to name a few. Nor was our oil refineries effected by Hurricane Harvey. 60% of our production of ethylene was shut down by the disaster.
Ethylene? Just what in world is that I hear some of you saying. Well I must admit that I had no idea what ethylene was either until a chemical engineer I know sent me an article about it, the same article I shared on my FaceBook feed over the weekend; and it turns out that it can have an even bigger impact on the average American than loosing our oil refineries! Most of our plastics are made from ethylene, including plastic milk jugs and baby diapers. It's also used to make PVC so the production of the most common type of water pipe used in the U.S. will be scarce for the next few months to a year. PVC is also used in the production of doors, windows, signs, electrical cable insulation, and the inflatable rafts you take to the lake or the pool. Ethylene is also used in the production of the plastic used for hang packaged items, as well as antifreeze for our cars, various coolants, clothing, textiles, tires, kitchen wares, carpets, and food containers used at most restaurants. Still other uses are in making detergents, paper, adhesives such as tape and glues, and emulsifiers used to keep various chemicals from separating. No wonder the estimated cost of Hurricane Harvey is 190 Billion Dollars! Let's face it people, we are going to be hurting for the next several months, and Christmas could prove to be rather lean for much of the U.S. Nor may that be all. After all, Irma is wondering through the carribean even now and many meteorologist say that she may prove to be even stronger by the time she makes land fall.
So what is one to do in such a situation? Here is where rational prepping comes into things. If you live in an area where hurricanes are likely, you probably already have many things lined up and in place for such emergencies; but rational preppers understand that because things in todays world are so interconnected a hurricane in Texas will impact everyone in the U.S., even if they live in Maine or Hawaii! So, allowing for the fact that it's probably too late for you to smooth things over this time as much as most of us would like, what do you do for the future when it happens again?
First thing is to build up a reserve of both money and food. Financial experts have been telling us for years that we really should have enough money squirreled away to pay 3 to 6 months of bills in case of an emergency. Admittedly they are mainly talking about some emergency that results in the loss of a job, such as injury or serious illness; but such a slush fund will make the increased prices we will be looking at for the foreseeable future much easier to handle. So how do you save that money? Well I'm no financial expert, but it can be done. The way I'm doing it is by autodraft to a stock fund, namely a fund run by Vanguard. $50.00 a month is automatically taken from my checking account and deposited into a money market account run by Vanguard each month, and when the amount in that money market account reaches 6 months worth of bills, I transfer 3 months worth of bills to an index fund. Viola. Forced savings with little pain and no action required on my part except making sure I don't accidentally spend that $50.00 before it can be transferred. For more ideas you can check out various financial sites such as The Motley Fool and, my current personal favorite, The Penny Hoarder.
As for stock piling food, I'm really not talking about any thing extreme. Simply set up a rotation system and keep 1 to 3 months worth of can goods and frozen food on hand. No real need to lay in a stock of emergency food supplies that have a shelf live measured in years instead of months (though if you want to buy such items such as Wise Foods from me at one of the shows I vend at through out the South I certainly won't complain!). This allows you to have a supply of food on hand you can dip into when prices start forcing you to cut back on what you're buying each week at the grocery store; and when the price companies pay for milk jugs go up because they can't get the ethylene to make them, well ...
A personal garden isn't a bad idea either. Admittedly this is the wrong time of year to be planting one, but you could start planning one for next spring. Many experts tell me that planning out your bed in the fall is actually a good idea, so take a look at web sites dealing with gardening such as Burpee, or possibly HGTV. And don't write off this bit of advice just because you live in an apartment, condo, or high rise. My grandpa was an avid gardener all his live, and even when he moved into an apartment he still gardened. He just changed over to container gardening by placing planters and nice looking pots on his balcony and widow boxes out side his windows. Admittedly I have something of a brown thumb instead of my grandpa's green thumb, but there's plenty of places to get advice on this.
Now there's plenty more things I could say, but once again this ramble is starting to resemble a chapter in a book more than a blog entry so I'll call it good enough for today. Hopefully I've given you a few things to think of and some useful bits, but it's time for me to head off into the real world now. Take care dear reader, I hope your Labor Day is a great one, and remember. If it's worth doing, worth doing at all, then it's worth doing with attitude!