I’ve been getting a lot of calls and texts over the last few days asking how we made it through the Big Texas Chill of ’21. The short answer is, we did a lot better than most people in these here parts. While we lost power for 46 hours during the period with the lowest temperatures (single digits) and have been without water since Wednesday morning, we’re still in very good shape.
The longer answer begins with a simple maxim; preparation pays off. Your Boy Scout leader knew what he was talking about.
While there are some things I plan to change and do differently in the future, we didn’t freeze, we didn’t starve, we have plenty of water and we didn’t have to stand in half mile-long lines to get into a grocery store to pick over whatever was left.
This post has nothing to do with guns (fortunately in this case). But I hope my experience can help some readers in a future emergency situation. And make no mistake…there will be one.
There’s always another hurricane, earthquake, tornado, flood, fire, ice storm, snowpocalypse…whatever down the road. The takeaway here — the one lesson to learn from this — is that you cannot depend on anyone else to come to your rescue. Having the supplies and gear on hand to ensure your family’s and your safety and survival (and maybe some comfort) is critical.
I’ll run through what we did and the gear we used to get by. There are dozens of similar brands of everything we own and used, so make your own decisions there. The key is to have it on hand and ready when you need it.
When the power went out early Monday morning it was about 11 degrees here in Austin. The local utility said the outage was part of an approximately 40-minute rolling blackout. Those 40 minutes stretched to 46 hours, much of it in single digit temperatures.
The cold wasn’t a surprise. People had plenty of time to prepare if they were paying any attention at all. The weather forecast for most of the previous week had been predicting a once-in-a-century cold snap, the kind Texas doesn’t normally have to deal with. That’s why I’d gotten my generator out, filled it with gasoline and started it up to make sure it was good to go.
I bought the generator about ten years ago during an almost week-long power outage due to a bad ice storm when we lived in St. Louis. I used it again after severe summer storms knocked out power there for three-plus days a few years later. Aside from that, it sits in my garage doing nothing which is just the way I like it.
The generator has a six gallon tank and I keep two five gallon plastic cans of gas in the garage as well. That gives me about 24 hours or running time before I need more fuel.
A 5000 watt generator cranks out more than enough to run a refrigerator/freezer, an internet router, a couple of heaters and a TV. It also allows you to keep your phones charged and a computer up and running. Those are the things we prioritized. We have a well stocked freezer in the garage, too, but because it was so cold out there, we didn’t have to worry about powering it.
I’m aware that a generator is an expensive item. You’re going to spend $500 to $600 for one, but just think of it as the price of a GLOCK or a P365. Most of you wouldn’t balk at spending that for a new pistol. To me, knowing it’s in the garage when you need it is inexpensive insurance that could make the difference in saving the food in your fridge/freezer or maybe even your life depending on your circumstances.
We have two Kenworld oil-filled radiant heaters which we’ve owned for years (we used them to warm a room in an old drafty house we used to own). We never use them now…they just live in the garage with the generator for an emergency like this one.
The first thing we did when the furnace went off was close off rooms we didn’t need to heat and confined ourselves to a smaller area. Most Texas houses simply aren’t built for the kind of cold weather we had this week. Our 2000 square foot house is made of stone. That’s a good thing, but the windows and exterior doors aren’t insulated well, so we used tape and towels to keep the loss of heat to a minimum.
Doing what we could to keep as much heat as we could in and the cold out, the two heaters were enough to keep the house livable. Even through the single digit temperatures outside, the coldest it ever got inside the house was 53 degrees. That’s chilly, but you can handle that with layers of clothes.
We always have plenty of candles and they’re nice because they also produce a little bit of heat. But they’re also a (minor) fire hazard, a pain to carry around, and don’t put out a lot of lumens.
For lighting up larger areas much more efficiently, we used a combination of electric lanterns and flashlights. We have two Bushnell TRKR A500L lanterns and a Streamlight Siege AA lantern. We also keep a good supply of batteries on hand to power them.
The Bushnells each put out 500 lumens of 360 degree even light which is ideal for lighting up a decent size room. The Siege AA is smaller, generates 200 lumens, and is perfect for carrying around the house into bathrooms or hanging from a cabinet knob next to the stove as you cook (ask me how I know).
As for the flashlights, either the Streamlight Scorpion HL or a Macrostream USB was always in a pocket and came in very handy. The difference between a good flashlight and a $5 Home Depot bargain bin special is substantial, both in light output and utility. That difference really shows in situations when you need your light to perform the most.
Food and Water
We’ve always kept a good supply of “survival” food stores on hand. Plenty of SHTF favorites like pasta, soups, canned tuna, chicken, beans, oil, and lots more that we can rely on during an extended outage without having to worry about resupplying. We also have that full freezer in the garage and plenty in the freezer side of the fridge in the kitchen, so food was never a concern.
We always make sure to also keeping a lot of drinking water on hand, too. Ours was stored in the garage so given the temperatures, we moved it into the house.
When we heard of other cities having water problems, we got out the two 20 gallon coolers we own. We put one in each bath tub and filled those with additional clean, drinkable water before our service went down. In the summer we’d have filled the tubs themselves, but with the low temperatures, we had to keep the faucets trickling — including those in the tubs — to avoid frozen or burst pipes.
We never lost our gas service. That meant the water heater and stove kept working, allowing us to heat water or soup and cook the food we have in the fridge.
Power On, Water Off
Early Wednesday morning, the power was finally restored as the Texas grid began to recover. Later that morning, however, we lost our water service. That’s when all of that bottled drinking water we’d stockpiled became important.
We had another problem, though. With no water service (it’s still off as I write this on Saturday afternoon) we had no way to flush toilets without using our drinking water supply. All of the snow and ice on the patio, the driveway and the walks suddenly became very useful.
We emptied every plastic container in the house and shoveled them full of ice and snow. Then we began melting some of it on the stove as we needed it to use for flushing toilets. We should have more than enough, even if the outage lasts anther week or more.
The temperature here in Austin will push 60 degrees today. Most of the snow is now gone and Austin Water is still trying to get service back to most of the city. Even areas that have water service, though, are still on a boil order.
I had enough gasoline to last another 18-20 hours when the power was restored. That was good timing, because most area stations were either without power and couldn’t operate or had sold out of gas at that time. The roads were still in bad enough shape then (Austin has no plows or salt) that roaming the city looking for fuel would have been an adventure.
The grocery stores are being restocked today and the lines have mostly disappeared. Everyone who was caught short of bread, milk and eggs will be able to stock up again this weekend.
What I’d Change
Again, we were in far better shape than 95% of the people in similar circumstances. The ability to power a couple of heaters made all of the difference. A lot of people abandoned their homes and went to hotels or relatives’ houses. Many slept in their cars with the heaters on.
Still, there are things we could have done better and will improve for next time. Because there’s always a next time.
Heat – The generator and heaters did well, but we also have a gas fireplace. It hasn’t worked in years and we’d put off getting it fixed. That will change this spring. I also want to have more gasoline capacity so will add two more five-gallon cans.
Light – The Bushnell TRKR lanterns are great, but we could have used more. I’ve already ordered two that will arrive next week.
Water – We had plenty of food on hand and still do. And while we have drinking water for at least another week to ten days, I’d feel better having more on hand. The next emergency probably won’t happen when there’s 4+ inches of snow on the ground here, so we won’t be able to rely on that for flushing, purifying, boiling. I also want to keep my store of water in better containers than grocery store bottles.
It never fails to surprise me how unprepared so many people are, especially people with small children where having enough diapers, food, etc. can get critical fast when they run low. I hope some of this has helped and possibly convinced you that the time to prepare for an emergency situation is now…not when everyone else in your area is searching for the same food, fuel and equipment you are.
If this has prompted you to get moving, but you’re not sure where to start, a good resource I’ve found for clear-headed no BS prepper information and product recommendations is The Prepared (TTAG is not affiliated with them in any way). Good luck and stay safe out there.