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Polar Vortex 2022

The December 2022 winter storm was one for the record books. Some places were hit harder than others though we all experienced it one way or another. In my neck of the woods, it was just cold. Really really cold.

By cold, I mean the kind of cold that makes icicles form on men's beards. The kind of cold that makes you re-think how badly you need to make that trip to the store. Most of all, the kind of cold that (if you've experienced it) sends your mind and body into 'emergency mode' trying to make sure everything around you doesn't fall apart in an instant.

Freezing Temperatures

"There's a cold front moving in"

Winter in the Appalachians means you never know how to dress. One day it could be 65 degrees and the next it could be 35. Unless you live in higher elevations it is usually not too much to worry about. Extended freezing temperatures though, that's another matter. Freezing temperatures were just what we were getting, at least 4-5 days' worth.

I've experienced enough bad winters to know what to expect and to be at least moderately prepared. I remember going for weeks at a time without electricity and/or running water. Enough to know it's not something I enjoy but something I know I am capable of managing through if need be.

In my area of the world, we haven't had times quite so bad in recent years. Seeing what some of my friends who are new homeowners have gone through the past few weeks; I thought it might be a good idea to share some tips to help others manage these cold times. *These tips are meant to help, and have helped me, but aren't a guarantee as circumstances can vary.

The sky looked foreboding

It Pays To Be Prepared

  • Know and keep handy emergency numbers including power and water companies.

  • Seal up drafts in your home. Keep some old towels handy to place under doorways. Close off areas of the house that aren't in use (areas without water pipes). For instance, I close off my upstairs. No one is up there and there are no bathrooms etc. So, I only have to worry about heating the downstairs area.

  • If you plan on leaving town; if freezing temperatures are expected, don't turn your thermostat all the way off. Keep it at least 40-50. Hopefully, that will keep your home warm enough to keep the water pipes from freezing.

  • Conserve oil by finding that 'happy' thermostat setting that will keep you comfortably warm without running constantly to keep up. If you have a heat pump, I believe they have an emergency setting that should keep it steady.

  • Make sure your phone(s) are charged.

  • If you use electric space heaters, they should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. If you have no other option but to use a power strip, you may want to unplug them at night and only run them on a low setting. Check the outlet often by feeling if it is getting too warm.

  • Help offset your heating bill by investing in rechargeable heated socks. I love mine. If my feet are warm, I am warm. You can find these in the $20-$30 range give or take. They are totally worth it. An electric blanket can also add to your comfort on cold nights.

  • After cooking in your oven (and it's off), leave the oven door cracked. Don't let that extra bit of heat go to waste.

  • Check your pet's water bowl throughout the day. They will be drinking more to stay hydrated. If they are outdoors, their water could be frozen. Make sure they have an adequate area to escape the cold or better yet, let them inside.

  • Store away the garden water hose before winter. Make sure it is unattached from the spigot. As an extra measure, I have heat tape around my spigot.

Protect Those Pipes

One of my main concerns is the power going out. Power runs everything from the furnace to the phone. It is also key in the event my worst winter nightmare happens, the water freezing, in getting things warm and thawed. If worse comes to worst, I have a wood stove. So, I won't be without the means to survive. Having electricity is far better though - let us pray.

Having no power is bad, having no power or water is worse. Been there, done that. It doesn't take long to reflect on how spoiled we have become. My ancestors lived without power on top of the mountains for some years and had to draw their own water from the creek. Sometimes I think I would love it but not in the winter. No, not at all in the winter.

If the outside temperature is up and down; you're probably not going to have a water-freezing issue with your pipes. The ground will likely be warm enough. Certainly though, if the temperature drops below 30 degrees and stays there for some hours.... Better safe than sorry in my opinion.

A couple of weeks ago, the temperature here was below 20 degrees for a few days. I think the lowest it reached was like -6 with a wind chill factor of -32. That's an emergency cold. That is a frostbite really quick kind of cold. Stay home if you can and try to keep the water from freezing up.

Tips to keep the water from freezing

  • Make sure areas of your home that have water access (kitchen, bathroom, laundry room) are not closed off.

  • Leave a faucet running in a slow stream the size of a number 2 pencil. Use cold water, not hot. You should do this on each line. For instance; I turn on the kitchen faucet and the bathroom sink faucet.

  • Open the cabinets under the kitchen and bathroom sinks. The air under there is colder so it helps to let some warm air in.

  • If you have a pipe freeze and can locate it; you can try to thaw it using a hair dryer or a heat lamp shining on that area.

Keep Calm & Don't Forget To Breathe

If you do suffer a power or water outage; don't fret. First, phone your neighbors and see if they are experiencing an outage. This will help determine if the problem is solely on your end. Phone the power and/or water companies too and report it if it hasn't been already. The quicker they know about it, the quicker it can be fixed. If the water issue is on your end, you'll need a reputable plumber's number handy.

It pays to be prepared. One thing I've learned is, if it can go wrong, it likely will if you live long enough. That being said, it's never as bad as it seems. It can't rain all the time. The best we can do is hang in there and be there for one another as best as we can. I hope these tips can be of help to someone. My younger brother was the inspiration for this blog. He's a new homeowner and wasn't aware of these little things we do because we've lived through them. Lord knows I'm still finding out some of them myself. Thank you so much for reading.

Take care and God bless. Stay warm and safe.

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