Lessons to Learn From a Tech-Age Ice Storm

by Catherine J. Frompovich

Everyone thinks it will never happen to them, and then it does. You and your family become unwilling captives of an event that demands your hunkering down for your safety and well-being. It can be a hurricane, snowstorm, or like I lived through, an ice storm that brought the Southeastern part of Pennsylvania into what people were calling “Snowmageddon”– one snow storm after another, often every other day, since November. If that wasn’t bad enough, we experienced a brutal weather ‘centerpiece’, the “ice apocalypse” that downed power lines for over 715,000 people early in February 2014. Most folks had no choice but to shelter in place at home.

After several days in icy frigid weather without power, light, heat, food refrigeration, phone service, cable, the Internet and all the high tech appliances – even cell phones at one time – modern life made us servants to, life stood still and we had to scramble to survive in what seemed like returning to a pre-technological world of make believe. However, it was all too real and many were totally unprepared. No school, no work, and no services – it seemed like no anything!

As a result, I got to thinking how readers would react if confronted with such out-of-control circumstances and what you should know to do when Old Man Winter turns worse than wicked. Some of my thoughts are below. As I write this, the sixth day of the ice apocalypse, more than 35,000 are still without power. I have power and can access my computer word program but no Internet service, so I will submit this when I’m able to connect to the outside world.

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I hope my ideas and suggestions will encourage readers to prepare a “bug out bag,” evacuation plan, or shelter-in-place strategy, especially in order to gear up for the rest of this 2014 winter since Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania’s weather prognosticating groundhog, claims there will be six more winter weeks before astrological spring arrives. That critter surely must know something because he no sooner made his prediction on February 2nd than the weather socked it to us on February 5th, and it just does not want to let up. Several inches more of snow as I write this!

If I seem to be rambling along, please bear with me because in the end, I think it will be well worth your time. 

First and Foremost: Stay Out of Harm’s Way

Stay indoors away from windows, sliding glass doors, and near solid walls, preferably in the center of the house to maximize using warmer areas of the house. Those who live in “Tornado Alley” know how important it is to seek proper shelter within the house. During winter storms, like the ice apocalypse, tree limbs, whole trees, power lines and poles can burst into flames or come crashing down onto anything standing in their way, including you if you are out and about walking or playing.

One of my nine lives was used up when a huge tree uprooted and crashed onto the street where I had just walked only 25 steps before.

Discourage playing in snow, as clothing will become wet, cannot be dried and you will be wet and cold. Frost bite can set in within 15 minutes, so remember that.

Cars and Personal Vehicles

  1. Battery: If your vehicle’s battery is more than 3 years old, consider replacing it so that when very cold temperatures challenge its starting capability, it will be up to the task and start your vehicle. Your vehicle eventually may become your ‘lifeline’.
  2. Vehicle Charger with USB Port: This device uses the vehicle’s cigarette lighter to recharge a cell phone and/or any electronic device that uses a USB port like a laptop computer simultaneously while charging the cell phone. Every person who has a cell phone needs this charger, I believe. BTW, make certain the car’s lighter fuses are in working order in the vehicle otherwise the charger doesn’t work.
  3. Blankets: For families, have one heavy duty blanket per family member wrapped in large plastic trash bags to keep them clean in the trunk of the car. This is a must for cold weather survival on the road, for loss of power, evacuation or sheltering in place.
  4. Gasoline/Diesel Fuel: If there are several vehicles in a family, keep at least one car/vehicle with a full tank of gas. That car should contain the blankets, vehicle charger, and newer battery. When there are power outages, gas stations may not be able to pump gas. Also, if you have to evacuate, a full tank can get you farther than having to worry how far you can go with only a quarter tank of gasoline or diesel.
  5. Windshield Wiper Fluid: Make certain you use the type that will not freeze! Keep an extra gallon of it in the trunk of the car.
Bottled Water is a must regardless of what type of disaster happens. Always have at least one case (12 liter glass bottles) of water stored within easy access regardless of whether you have municipal water or a well pump that needs electricity to operate.

If you have a well pump, check out online what’s available to draw water from the well without electric power.

Battery-operated Radio with fresh batteries is a must so that you can access important information and updates regarding power outages, safety measures, and/or warming shelters.

Dwellings – Family Homes

  1. Lanterns, battery-operated: Consider having 1 large lantern with enough extra fresh batteries for each floor of the house. If you evacuate, take lanterns with you. 
  2. Flashlight with extra batteries in each bedroom in case the problem occurs during sleeping hours. For small children consider giving each child a different-colored glow light to carry so the child can be identified easily by his/her flashlight. If you evacuate, take glow lights with you. 
  3. Room thermometer: an old fashion type rather than a digital so you can see when you have to run faucets to keep pipes from freezing. More info under Water Pipes.
  4. Appliances NOT to use: Kerosene heaters, charcoal grills, or any device (e.g., generator in the house or garage) that makes or emits fumes or carbon monoxide, including scented candles. It should be noted that burning candles ‘eat up’ oxygen in the room and can cause dizziness while under stress, such as no power and no heat.

Plumbing and Water Pipes

Without heat pipes will freeze, especially those pipes that run along the outside walls of the house, e.g., under the kitchen sink inside the wall of the house/foundation, powder room, and laundry room, or if there is no basement and the house sits on a cement slab, like many townhouses do.

Frozen pipes can cause thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of water and/or mold damage.

Beforehand, learn the proper procedures for your dwelling’s specific plumbing situation. However, some suggestions to check out would be:

1. Short term frigid weather, no heat in house and inside house temperature is 50º. Open all faucets (both hot and cold) so that a stream of water runs constantly like a ‘thread of water’. Allow the faucets to run all night until the sun warms up the daytime temperature above freezing or heat comes on. If you have to do this more than 2 consecutive nights, then perhaps you ought to consider

2. Longer term frigid weather, no heat in house. Locate the water main coming into the house from outside. Turn the valve to the Off position. Then, open all faucets to drain the pipes and leave them open until it is safe to turn on the main water valve again. Before opening that main valve, close all faucets first, then slowly open the main water valve and allow the pipes to fill for about 15 minutes before slowly opening one set of faucets at a time.

#2A. If you have to evacuate your home, it may be wise to turn off the main water valve and drain the system as in #2 above before leaving the house, since you don’t know how long it will be before you will return.

3. Toilets: Flush toilets to empty tanks and pipes until no water runs after closing off main water valve.

4. Hot water heaters probably will be safe for several days before having to be drained, if at all. You will need to have a new/clean garden hose long enough that will take the tank water from the drain outlet at the bottom of the tank to a safe distance from the house to let the water drain. However, it is best to check with your plumber beforehand and write the instructions on a 3×5 card and tape it on the wall next to the water heater so you know what to do because in an emergency, we tend to become nervous, confused or forget.

5. Clothes washing machines and Dishwashers. In most cases, those pipes cannot be drained because electric power is needed to activate water.

No Working Toilets; Where to Go

Here’s a trick that works rather nicely.

Along with the stored water, food and clothing, store several large buckets (with lids would be nice) and several bags of kitty litter.

To use the kitty litter toilet

Cover the bottom of the bucket with kitty litter and use it as a toilet. After each use, spread some kitty litter to absorb the moisture. Use toilet tissue sparingly. Cover with lid and use as needed until ¾ full. Place full bucket with lid on in a bathroom so that when the water is back on, and the toilet is running properly, you can flush the kitty litter toilet contents down the working toilet. However, you may have to add a few cupsful of water to the kitty litter toilet to make it pour more easily.


Since we seem to be living in dramatic and traumatic times, maybe it would be best to be prepared with special “survival clothing” that is not worn any time other than when it is needed, especially for winter. Keep that special clothing in an assigned closet or dry basement area where everyone in the family knows his/her gear is located. Schedule a practice drill or two, similar to fire drills at home and in school, so children will know where to go, what to look for, and how to act. Consider it “indoor camping.”

Each member of the family should have a hooded sweater rather than sweatshirt so that layering of other clothing can be more effective in keeping body heat in. Have several long sleeve shirts, cotton long johns/long underwear, and a pair of gloves, not mittens, so chores or games can be played while keeping hands/fingers warm.

If sheltering in place, the last layered piece of clothing should be a full length heavy duty bathrobe, which will keep body heat from escaping from the shoulders down to the mid calves of the legs.

Heavy duty knee-hi socks, heavy duty sweat pants, and a cap rather than a hat—something that a child’s head can fit into to keep the ears warm. Remember, the body loses most of its heat from the head, so a snugly fitting cap is important, especially when worn under the sweater’s hood. It’s nice and snuggly warm!

Don’t plan on changing clothes to sleep. When sheltering in place, keep all clothing on until the house is warm again. Don’t take a chance on changing into pajamas or other bedclothes because: a) you can become very cold and not be able to get warm again, and 2) if you have to leave in a hurry, you will not have proper clothing on. Do not undress; staying warm and keeping body heat from escaping [wearing cap, hooded sweater, gloves, and robe] is the trick that works for being comfortable when sheltering in place without heat in frigid temperatures.

If you can find a hotel/motel that is warm and has not raised the nightly rate from $100 to $250, as happens in disasters and/or emergencies, or if you cannot get to a community warming shelter, then you just may find sheltering in place necessary, and even safe and relatively ‘comfortable’ when prepared.

Thermos Bottles 

Keep several quality thermos bottles on hand so you can take them with you in the car and have them filled with hot coffee, tea, or hot water when you find a place open that can provide them.  


There are many long-term, vacuum-packed, ready to eat foods that you may want to have on hand and stored with the bottle water. If you can’t do that, then the minimum that you should have on hand and rotate every six months by eating and replacing is:

  • Trail mix, several packages and preferably organically grown.
  • Organic dried fruits.
  • Organic walnuts, almonds, pumpkin seeds.
  • Box-type, high nutrient value breakfast cereal, organic preferred, no sugarcoated 
  • Non-dairy milks: almond, coconut, oat, rice [keep fresh and safe in a cupboard].
  • Bottles of juice to make a very healthful and satisfying ‘cold tea’: ¼ cup of juice topped off with bottle water to make a full cup.
  • NO sodas: they will make you thirsty and crave food because of the sugar drop that comes from all the sugar in soda. NO candy or junk foods, as they can make you edgy and children hyperactive, something not needed during a weather crisis.
  • Cans of cooked beans that can be eaten cold or heated over an outdoor camping stove.
  • Cans of hearty, chunky soups.
  • Cans of chili: vegetarian and/or meat varieties.
  • Whole grain crackers or saltines.
  • Jars of applesauce or individual size applesauce containers.
  • Jar of almond butter or cashew butter or peanut butter.
  • Instant coffee, tea bags, hot chocolate mix.
  • Appropriate food for baby and/or pets that can be spooned out rather than cooked.
  • Small outdoor table-top size charcoal grill with briquettes and appropriate safely-protected fire lighter so that you can heat food when the grill is used outside the home with proper precautions, never inside any type of enclosure, e.g., house, tent, camper, and always away from wood decks and house siding. 
  • Box of wooden matches kept in a tin box for safety purposes. Also, a few emergency wax candles just in case.


Kitchen Refrigerator

Once the power goes off, do not open the doors on the freezer or refrigerator, as that will break the cold seal within, and your food will not stay safe as long as possible.

Here’s something I found surprisingly interesting: I have a regular family-size top freezer, bottom refrigerator unit and when I opened the freezer after 3 days of no power, the ice cubes I had stored in a plastic bag had not even started to melt. They were solid, which indicates the integrity of the cold seal and the freezer contents. The same with the lower refrigerator: Everything was ice cold, including a bottle of carrot juice and other items in glass bottles. That’s the key to not losing food: Never open the refrigerator/freezer doors until power is restored for at least ½ hour and you are certain it stays on. Sometimes there are temporary startups during restoration procedures.

If you must take food out of the freezer/refrigerator, do it immediately after power goes off and store it safely. See information below.

‘Magical’ Refrigeration

When it’s cold outdoors, 32 degrees and below, you can have a ‘refrigerator’ for some foods by wrapping them securely and placing them between a locked storm door

We will protect your privacy…guaranteed!and the regular door. Or, if you have a secure outdoor shed, you can place food securely wrapped in the shed, which is almost the temperature of a kitchen refrigerator.

During the ice storm of 2014, I was able to find a Whole Foods open and purchased cut-up fresh fruit that I stored in my garden shed to have for breakfast the next day. It was ice cold, just like out of the refrig when I went for it 18 hours later. I also kept some cheese in the shed. Same thing—cold and safe to eat with whole grain crackers I had in the kitchen.


Disconnect your computer from the electric wall socket so that when power comes on, it doesn’t get fried. My Verizon FIOS system got fried, so that’s why I had no Internet or phone line.

Also, make certain appliances, except the refrigerator, are turned off so that when electric power comes back, they will not be overloaded and possibly be damaged.

What Else Do You Need?

Something for kids of all ages when boredom sets in. Forget the electronic games, even battery-operated, which can conk out and cause more frustration than needed. Consider having on hand:

  • decks of cards for several types of card games with instructions if necessary
  • board games like Monopoly, Checkers, Chess, and age appropriate games
  • word puzzle books, e.g., Sudoku, crossword puzzles, find the words, etc.
  • coloring books and crayons for very young children who enjoy coloring
  • box of sharpened pencils with a hand pencil sharpener, plus ballpoint pens
  • a spiral-bound, lined notebook so everyone can tear out a sheet of paper and have something to write or draw on 

A Few Creative Survival Recipes

Don’t expect gourmet quality food; be grateful for something nutritious and palatable.

Breakfast Cereal or Anytime Food

Into a bowl place breakfast flake cereal along with some chopped walnuts, non-dairy milk, and half or whole banana cut into slices. For added protein, add a tablespoon of organic chia seeds [1 tablespoon contains 3 grams of protein].

Snack ‘sundae’

Applesauce with either chopped nuts or Trail Mix spooned over. Chia seeds add more crunch, taste, and protein.

Hot chocolate

Hot water added to chocolate mix and topped off with non-dairy coconut milk. Very tasty!

Tea Time

Fruit juice tea (either hot or cold; see f. above) with crackers and almond butter or cashew butter or peanut butter

Note: If you have a wood stove fired up, you can have hot water, tea and coffee. If not, when you crank up the outdoor tabletop grill, heat water in a pot, then transfer it to the thermos bottles to keep it hot. If you have neither, and it is safe to travel, get in the car and see if you can find a place that is open and has hot water, coffee, and tea to fill your thermos bottles. I was lucky to find a Whole Foods open—it had power, but no phone; and a Wegman’s that was operating on generators.  

Thank You’s

I want to express my most sincere thanks to both those supermarkets for what they did to help people get food, and to all who helped during this disaster: road crews, plow crews, tree and landscape people, fire departments and emergency rescue crews. Without you we could not have made it through those trying days.

But the real heroes of the ice apocalypse were the unselfish power company linemen – 6100 talented pole climbers – some who came from as far away as Canada, Nova Scotia, Illinois, Arkansas and probably places I didn’t hear mentioned on the radio, to help their fellow humans suffering in a situation deemed worse than Hurricane Sandy. Personally, I can’t thank each person enough; you saved the day, as far as I’m concerned. I hope our power company, PECO, never has to reciprocate your good deed, but it probably will have to, as all power company users will become more vulnerable to the ravages of going off the grid. Thank you for a job superbly done in what may be considered record time, even if it didn’t seem like it was for some of us. God bless and keep you safe always.

If readers have any suggestions of how to make it through a winter disaster, please share your ideas in the comments section, and thank you. Please keep safe and warm.

Catherine J Frompovich (website) is a retired natural nutritionist who earned advanced degrees in Nutrition and Holistic Health Sciences, Certification in Orthomolecular Theory and Practice plus Paralegal Studies. Her work has been published in national and airline magazines since the early 1980s. Catherine authored numerous books on health issues along with co-authoring papers and monographs with physicians, nurses, and holistic healthcare professionals. She has been a consumer healthcare researcher 35 years and counting.

Catherine’s latest book, published October 4, 2013, is Vaccination Voodoo, What YOU Don’t Know About Vaccines, available on Amazon.com.

Her 2012 book A Cancer Answer, Holistic BREAST Cancer Management, A Guide to Effective & Non-Toxic Treatments, is available on Amazon.com and as a Kindle eBook.

Two of Catherine’s more recent books on Amazon.com are Our Chemical Lives And The Hijacking Of Our DNA, A Probe Into What’s Probably Making Us Sick (2009) and Lord, How Can I Make It Through Grieving My Loss, An Inspirational Guide Through the Grieving Process (2008).

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