Power Outages: What to Do Before, During, and After an Outage

Tips for Surviving a Power Outage

By The Old Farmer's Almanac
Nov 19, 2018


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What should you do in case of a power outage? Having survived many power outages, here are some of our best survival tips—before, during, and after a power outage.

Tornadoes, hurricanes, severe thunderstorms, flooding, and extreme weather events can easily knock out power in your home. But even an animal or too many A/C units on the power grid can cause a power outage.

Deal first with the biggest safety issues: bringing light to the dark, staying warm and dry, and providing food to yourself and your family.

How to Have Light in a Power Outage

  • It’s best to use flashlights or battery-powered (LED) lanterns to use in case of a power outage rather than candles to prevent accidental fires. Attach a strip of glow-in-the-dark tape to your flashlights to make them easy to find.
  • Headlamps are very helpful for every family member. These enable you to have both hands free to do tasks, and family members can be more independent. You can even read a book in bed while wearing one. Stock up on straps, too, to strap the headlamp to a gallon of water. By strapping the headlamp onto the jug with the lamp’s front facing the inside, the light reflects off of the water and can illuminate more of the room.
  • Avoid using candles or an open flame as a light source, as it could be a fire hazard, particularly if there are children or pets in the home. While romantic, they can tip over too easily in an emergency situation. However, if this is all you have on hand, just be careful not to leave candles or fuel-lit lamps unattended. Use secure candle holders. Empty food cans half-filled with sand work great. Be sure to also have a supply of lighters or matches to light your candles with.
  • Your cell phone could be used for light—for as long as the battery lasts. Drastically increase your battery life by plugging your phone into a portable USB battery pack.


How To Stay Warm in a Power Outage

  • Select one room in which people—and pets—can spend most of their time together. Pick a room with few or no windows on the south side for maximum heat during the day and layer up with warm clothing. 
  • Drape all windows with blankets, comforters, or quilts. Uncover south-facing windows during the day to let in the Sun’s warmth.
  • Never burn charcoal for heating or cooking indoors. Never use your oven as a source of heat. 
  • Make a list (in advance) of shelters and hotels that allow pets, in case you need to evacuate with yours. 

Cooking and Eating Without Power

  • Open your refrigerator or freezer door only when absolutely necessary. Plan ahead to minimize the time the door is open.
  • If the door stays closed, a refrigerator without power will keep food safe for four hours. A full freezer will keep its temperature for 48 hours (or 24 hours if half full). Store food outside if the temperature is cold enough (40 degrees or less). Monitor temperatures with a thermometer.
  • Keep ice packs in your freezer for use in coolers or your refrigerator in case of an outage.
  • Eat foods you are know are safe from spoiling. Good examples are canned foods, such as vegetables, beans, and soups.
  • If you have one, cook on your woodstove. Heat canned soup and boil water for tea and instant coffee.
  • Have potluck dinners with your neighbors and take turns hosting. You’ll be eating better and getting to know your neighbors at the same time.
  • If the weather allows, cook on your outdoor grill—but only outdoors. Due to the possibility of fumes and fire, never use an outdoor grill indoors. Here are a few great recipes and tips for the grill.
  • If it’s cold enough outside, fill clean plastic milk jugs with water and put them outside to freeze solid. Put these jugs into coolers, which can serve as temporary refrigerators for food supplies.


What to Do if You Lose Your Water

  • When extreme weather threatens, fill up your bathtub with water (for washing and flushing). Note: If you expect temperatures to drop below freezing in your house, avoid filling up the tub, as you could end up with a frozen (and cracked) bathtub.
  • In cold climates, pack fresh snow in buckets and bring indoors to melt.
  • In winter, keep pipes from freezing by turning on a slow trickle of water. Protect water pipes from freezing by wrapping them with layers of newspapers and then plastic wrap. See more tips for preventing frozen pipes.

Your Car

  • Keep your vehicle’s gas tank at least half full! Gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
  • Never drive across power lines outside. Never!
  • To avoid damage from falling branches, plan ahead and don’t park your cars under trees. If possible, remove any potentially hazardous or weak-looking branches well ahead of storms. 

Generator Tips

  • The best way to get through a power outage is to avoid it altogether. Investing in a home generator can save you a lot of time and stress during emergency outages, as it can keep your heat and light running when you really need it.
  • However, NEVER run a generator inside a home or garage, or connect it to your home’s electrical system to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Tech Tips

  • Today, we also rely on technology for communication and safety. Keep cell phones charged. 
  • If the power is out, dim the brightness of your phone and turn off wifi to save battery life. Also switch your battery to low power mode under settings.
  • Turn off or disconnect appliances and other equipment in case of a momentary power “surge” that can damage computers and other devices.
  • We also recommend a surge protector to safeguards electronics from the harmful effects of power surges and voltage spikes. A power surge is a spike in the electrical current flowing through the wires of your house. They can damage common appliances, sensitive AV electronics, and computer equipment. 

What to Do After a Power Outage

  • When in doubt, throw it out! Throw out any perishable foods that have been exposed to temperatures above 40°F for more than two hours. If you’re unsure whether something is still good, it’s better to just throw the item out and not risk becoming ill.
  • Make sure you’ve put out any candles and kerosene lamps you used during the outage. These can be a fire hazard when left unattended.

Learn what you should keep in your emergency survival kit for home and for your car.

And be sure to learn how to prepare yourself for health emergencies and make a first aid kit.

Do you have any helpful power outage tips? Please share them in the comments below!

About This Blog

Your Old Farmer's Almanac editors occasionally share our reflections, advice, and musings—and welcome your comments.

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Keeping warm in winter

When my kids were small and the temperature dropped, I would take their pj's, bathtowels, and a blanket off their bed, and throw it in the dryer for 5 minutes while they had their evening bath. There was never an argument about getting out of the bath or into their beds! I still use that with older relatives, taking a comforter and warming it in the dryer, either for sleeping or just relaxing them. Works every time.

Power outages on Long Island

We often lose power in nor'easters and hurricanes. Sandy left us without power for a week. Eastern Long Island went without longer.
*I always make everyone take a shower and wash/dry their hair when a storm threatens, that way we start off clean.
* Get all the laundry washed and dried.
*Be sure you have enough stored water for your pets as well as humans.
* As a nurse practitioner, I caution all my patients to check medication if a storm is brewing, and get refills whenever possible. Same for my family.
*Have a written list of medicines and phone #s - if your cell phone dies, you still have access. We will not give up our land line due to storm frequency around here.
* if you have along driveway as we do, park your cars down toward the end - less snow to shovel, and they'll survive not being in the garage. Remember to raise the wiper blades unless you have gale force winds which might snap them off.
* we have a wood stove to cook on and for heat. Always be sure you have a cord of wood dry and ready to go. Or at least enough to get you through a few days.
* Candles are a danger with pets and kids. Buy and use solar lanterns which recharge with very little light. Even a dim day will cause them to refresh their power if they are next to a window or glass door. Plus they are easy to read and play games by without eye strain.
* If you must sleep in a very cold room wear socks and a head scarf to retain maximum body heat.
* Make every effort to stay dry and thoroughly dry out all wet clothing before re-using.
* If a family member needs a specific supply of something - diaper/depends/insulin syringes/baby lotion/contact solution/ dog and cast food/cat litter, etc. be sure you have enough on hand for at least a week.
* charge your laptop and phones and use them only like a battery-powered radio: now and then! Use only to find out what's going on outside and to let family on social media know you're OK, and to see if vulnerable friends and family are well also.
* newspaper!! Use like wee-wee pads for smaller pets, DO NOT LET YOUR ANIMALS OUTSIDE WITHOUT A LEASH IN A STORM. Wind, thunder, thundersnow, falling icicles and branches can scare then into running away. This is not a time for them to be out alone. We have rough collies and spread a plastic drop cloth on the garage floor and cover it with the paper for them to use when snow is too deep or the storm is too fierce for them to take care of business outside. Easy to clean up, especially if they were paper-trained as puppies (our were!).
Stay warm and safe everyone.

power outages

If you have children or pets, candles and oil filled lanterns are NOT safe. Children and pets can get out of control and knock these over, starting house fires. I live in a hurricane prone area. We are told to use flashlights (battery or hand-cranked) or glow sticks. I use glow sticks and kids love them. You can order the extra large ones that will last about 12-18 hours. I do have head lamps and really like them.


I keep my solar lights on all year round. Whenever there are power outages, I can then bring them inside at night to safely light the house, and put them back out the next day to re-charge. ....Works great, and they give off a tremendous amount of light when everywhere is pitch black!

Checking freezer death

I saw a wonderful idea the other day... If there is a bad storm forming, fill a cup of water and freeze it. Put a quarter (or something similar) on the top of the ice. If, at the end of the power outage, the quarter is at the bottom of a cup of water, everything in your freezer should be chucked out. If it's only half-way down or higher, you should be able to salvage the freezer's contents.

Battery operated tiny lights for emergency lighting

There are these new battery operated tiny lights on. Some call them Fairy Lights. A lot of bars use them as table lights. I put them in vases, jars or whatever is available. when they are in the vase, they light up an area just as good or better than a candle. The batteries last about 6 hours of continuous use. Very inexpensive to buy on Amazon or your local craft store.

Living in New York, the power

Living in New York, the power always goes out during a bad storm. One year we had no power for 5 days due to a really bad storm. Living in the country that means no lights, heat or water. I always kept 20 gallons of water in the laundry room for drinking, brushing teeth and cooking. I had a gas stove for cooking so I took a really huge pot I have and kept it filled with snow and melted it on the stove all day long. The steam heated the kitchen and the living room. It kept it nice and warm during the day. We would use the hot water for bathing in the sink. I turned the stove off at night.The house retained the heat for sleeping during the night. Many family members came to stay with me. I also filled coolers with meat and packed it with snow and set it outside on the enclosed back porch.

Power outage

Don't wait until dark to get busy!
I buy "glo-sticks" at my local $ store and keep them where I can find them.
Lookout for your elderly and or housebound neighbors, and bring in your animals (winter time) they can be a good source of loving heat.

Using solar powered lights

Using solar powered lights inside at night. Can be used as a night light in the bathroom or any area needed.

The last time we were

The last time we were expecting a tropical storm, I set large tupperware totes outside, filled with a few inches of water to keep them from blowing away. We were in the dark for two weeks, but the totes collected enough rainwater to cover our flush water supply!

About when the lights go out..

Remember to have batteries for flashlight and a portable radio as well.

I went to goodwill and found

I went to goodwill and found a couple of the chafing dish holders you put the candle under .They are great for warming food.We keep lots of crackers and spreadables on hand just in case.

From SE, NC: 1. Female to

From SE, NC:

1. Female to female hose connector:
If you lose water you can get it from a well or a neighbor, without it the two male ends of you're hose trying to connect to their hose won't work.

2. Battery powered lanterns and flashlights.

3. Always keep an extra (full) LP Tank.

4. Before storms get too close make sure you have lunch meats, bread, PB&J, etc.

5. Generator Safety !!
NEVER back feed power to a house !! It is illegal and very dangerous. Have your house (and well) wired for separate generator outlets or install a $500.00 transfer switch.

6. Write down important phone numbers, once cell phones die you will never remember the phone numbers in it.

7. Get an old powerless phone.

8. When appliances wear out change them to gas, stove, hot water heater, a heater to use in emergencies that doesn't need power.

9. Before a storm: Do laundry, dishes, refill meds, grocery shop, etc.

10. Make sure you have an emergency kit !!

In the winter, use bins to

In the winter, use bins to store refrigerator items and keep them in the garage. If the bins are close to the house walls, chances are items will not freeze. You can use newspaper to insulate the food. Hang blankets from doorways to block off rooms that are used from those that arn't. Remember to open them a few times a day to allow fresh air in, especially if using a fireplace or wood burning stove or kerosene heater. When it's extremely cold, we go in and out through the garage instead of opening the front door and letting cold air directly into the house, especially id it's windy.

Put the power company phone

Put the power company phone number in your contact list. Nothing worse that needing that number and no Internet connection to find it.

Put the power company phone

Put the power company phone number in your contact list. Nothing worse that needing that number and no Internet connection to find it.

Battery powered LED lanterns

Battery powered LED lanterns are a safer alternative to candles--especially with children and pets. I like to keep drinking water on hand in 5-7 gallon containers made for that purpose.

What do you do if you are on

What do you do if you are on oxygen?? Can't be around flames or any kind of smell!!

Carolyn, I have sleep apnea.

Carolyn, I have sleep apnea. When the power goes out I have a power converter that hooks to my car battery. Mine is a 400 watt and runs the unit fine.


My husband was on O2. We bought a generator to run his concentrator. We also kept enough fuel on hand to run it for 1 week. You have to rotate the fuel every 6-8 months, we used it in the car then bought fresh fuel.

The power tends to go out

The power tends to go out most often when there's been an ice storm where I live. One problem - the grill takes about twice as long to cook something when it's cold. Next time, I'll try using my cast iron in the fireplace.

We have a phone that doesn't

We have a phone that doesn't rely on power (not a cordless) that we use if the power goes out. Learned after Hurrican Juan hit us in Hfx. In New Brunswick we have frequent power outages, but luckily a wood stove.

and remember, electric can

and remember, electric can openers don't work if the power's out ---- always have a manual opener for emergencies.

stock up on those "glow

stock up on those "glow sticks" and bracelets after halloween ... put one around each pet's neck to avoid tripping over them in the dark! (got this tip from my sister and niece who live in hurricane-prone louisiana) :-D

"Pack snow in buckets and

"Pack snow in buckets and bring indoors to melt."

Don't eat yellow snow! :-)

You can use a pet taxi for

You can use a pet taxi for keeping things cold during the snow storms. And the door on the cage keeps critters out. The cooler works good as well. Put them outside in the snow and build walls around them. Works great.

Bring in some of your solar

Bring in some of your solar lights for light in your house.

We did it during the Hurricane Ike. 2 weeks with no power.

Thank God we had a gas stove.

Don't forget you can use the

Don't forget you can use the wood stove for cooking also if you have one!!! Takes patience but is well worth it!!! I make a killer wood stove Pot Roast!!! You can cook any thing in a pot or pan.. :)

There is some wonderful

There is some wonderful information in this article, but what I did back in 2003 during the ice storm.......Threw a hissy fit until Shawn (hubby) went and bought us a generator!!!!!!

I can relate to this! Dave

I can relate to this!


+ a 4-season guide to raising chickens!

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