I thought I was prepared for disaster.
I've always joked that my pantry is still Y2K-ready. (Youngsters: Y2K was when we were encouraged to prepare for end times because computers were not ready to switch from 1999 to 2000.)
Now, when I say ready, I don't mean I have a bucket that houses a 30-day supply of "food." (Side note: If you haven't looked at the offering of "emergency food" on the Costco website, it's both horrifying and fascinating — a year supply of food starts at around $999.) But I have canned goods, a hand-operated can opener and a solid supply of beverages, including plenty of the adult variety.
Thirty hours without power last week showed me how ill-prepared I actually am. I'm guessing many of the estimated 20,000 Colorado Springs households also without power as hurricane-force winds rocked our city learned the same thing.
It left me wondering, what could I have done better? Should I invest in a generator?
Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says maybe I don't need a generator — the event was unusual. "The biggest challenge was that wind didn't die down," he says.
That prevented crews from assessing the situation, and they couldn't climb poles or be lifted up in buckets to fix problems. Thus, he says, "We got behind the curve."
As I ventured around town — not much to do in a house without electricity — all conversations turned to the wind. We're no strangers to gusts, but this strong for this long? That was new. Utilities CEO Jerry Forte called it a once-in-20-years event.
Monday, I went to a friend's house. She fed me lunch and let me plug in to her power so I could meet work deadlines. Later, I braved the winds and went to a movie.
Returning home, I learned how much I take light for granted and how dark my house and street can be. My phone was 100 percent charged, so I mostly stayed off social media (rationing my phone charge just like the pioneers, right?) and settled in to read by candlelight.
Here I made two mistakes. First, my collection of candles has many lovely scents. To get enough lumens I had to light a few — mixing jasmine and Gemini scents was gross. But the bigger mistake was candles at all, according to the emergency manager at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Tim Stoecklein. I called him once my power was back to ask advice on how to be better prepared.
"No. 1, don't use candles because of the fire hazard," he said. Oops. Instead, he says, use LED flashlights or lanterns. For reading, a headlamp is handy. I keep a giant Maglite flashlight next to my bed. I was surprised it lit up — I always thought of it more as personal security. Stoecklein also suggests having a battery-powered radio with weather bands (or a weather radio) for summer storm outages.
By Tuesday morning, even with the warmth, my house was about 56 degrees. My daughter had to get ready for school, and tragedy struck: There was no power for the hair straightener.
Me? I needed coffee. And a phone charge. I spent a few hours at a coffee shop powering up. If we faced a second night without power, we would find someone to take us in. But the power was back by late afternoon.
With the exception of houses hit with trees, the damage for most of us was in our refrigerators. That long without power means playing Russian roulette if you decided to eat some items in your fridge. The county set up a food disposal site. When I lived in Mountain Shadows, I had two freezers full of food — all lost when my house went a few days without power during the Waldo Canyon Fire. These days, I don't keep as much in stock. Trash day was the Wednesday after the storm, so cleaning out the fridge felt more like the chance at a fresh start than a true loss.
When power is out, Stoecklein says, keep the fridge and freezer shut as much as possible. In a multi-day outage, move that food or start consuming whatever might go bad first. He suggested using a grill, but in that wind, I wasn't sure mine was still there.
I've ordered LED lanterns and will keep an eye out for deals on generators. I'd like to think buying a generator will mean we will never need it, much as washing my car always ensures rain.
Still, it's all about lessons learned. Because something like this surely will happen again.