September is Disaster Preparedness month. We never know when a small or large event may happen, and our community was certainly reminded of that this week when a sudden 70-mile-per-hour windstorm struck the town I live in.
About 15 minutes before the storm hit, we received a text alert that severe, high winds were heading our way. My husband and I looked out the window to blue skies, and we were almost amused by the idea that severe weather would be here a few minutes later. It sure didn’t look like it! We went outside and put some of our outdoor furniture away. Not long after, the winds and rain came. The wind flipped our wooden-frame deck swing over, picking up a patio table and flinging it across the yard. Our grill’s lid blew off. Our freestanding basketball hoop blew halfway down the driveway, but nothing was broken.
The storm was loud, and our power went out moments after it began.
The storm passed through town quickly, moving throughout Chicagoland, but our power was out all of Tuesday night and for part of Wednesday. My husband and I ventured out that night to take some bottled water to the volunteers directing traffic away from downtown streets that were impassible due to downed trees and power lines. I’d never seen our town so dark and so silent.
We did not fully know the extent of the damage until we walked around town the next morning.
Thankfully, no one was hurt or injured when the storm came through. Our town lost a lot of mature trees, and a number of homes and vehicles were damaged. Our town’s Facebook group had many reports of disappearing patio furniture and grills!
As I took our dog for his morning walk on Wednesday, I saw so much damage — and also, so many people helping other people. Neighbors were clearing brush from each others’ houses. My neighbors were offering chainsaws to anyone who needed to borrow one.
I was even more moved by how many surrounding communities were present, bright and early the morning after the storm. We went for a walk at 9:00am, and workers from Carpentersville’s Public Works were connecting generators at houses who needed power restored for medical reasons.
I saw several trucks from the city of Rolling Meadows, who had crews clearing brush and fallen trees from our downtown streets. It was amazing to me that all of this had been coordinated overnight, just hours after the storm passed. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m not sure how many other local towns sent their work crews over, but it was a tremendous thing to see.
Every single street I walked down had crews working to clear trees and brush. ComEd was using both our local Walmart parking lot and our park district parking lot as command areas for numerous repair trucks and crews. As I write this, on Thursday morning, our town looks completely different. Aside from a few curbside brush piles, all of the fallen trees are clear. Most of the large trees that were blown over have already been cut and cleared away.
It truly is remarkable how quickly things have gone back to normal, and we appreciate the efforts of everyone who came to town and worked to make it this way.
This fast, powerful storm was a reminder that things like this can happen anywhere at any time.
It was still daylight when our power went out, but at that point we had no way of knowing how long it could be out, nor how many homes were affected. Much of our town was without power from 5pm on Tuesday until after 7:00pm on Wednesday. Our power came back on Wednesday morning for a while, and then was off again for hours.
We’ve always found it extremely helpful to keep some power-outage essentials together under the kitchen sink so that we can grab them and prepare for a nighttime power outage. It’s much easier to put all of these things together ahead of time when the electricity is on versus fumbling around in the dark for flashlights, candles, or a radio.
Here’s what we keep in our power-outage basket:
- LED flashlights — small, and extremely bright
- Battery-operated camp lantern – also small in size, but very bright
- Batteries – In our case, all of the devices in our kit use AAs, so the batteries will fit in any of them
- Candles and/or candle lantern – Candles are really inexpensive (more on that in a moment!) and give off a lot of light
- Matches and/or lighter — not only for candles, but if you have a gas range, you can still cook on the burners if you can light them
- Battery operated radio for monitoring storm warnings or for entertainment
- Battery operated alarm clock – If your cellphone dies, you’ll want a way to wake up for work/school the next day
- Playing cards or a card game – They’re not a “need,” but if everyone’s gathered together in the same room during an outage, it’s nice to have something to do together.
- Might D Light – We use this extremely versatile work light for other reasons too, but we keep it here because it’s lightweight and extremely bright in the dark. It’s about the size of a paperback book, but it has built-in magnets (stick it on the fridge) and a built-in bungee strap. We hung it on our kitchen light fixture during this recent outage, and it lit up the whole kitchen.
We also keep candle lanterns under the bathroom sinks in our house. They provide a lot of light with a single tealight candle. The flame is completely enclosed in each, so they’re safe to leave burning all night — and that’s what we primarily use them for when the electricity is out: bathroom night lights. They’re cheap too — under $5 each. I found the black lantern at the dollar store! The gold candle lantern is our smallest and is a backpacking camp lantern. The silver one is an Ikea special, and I don’t think you’ll find a nicer candle lantern for the price.
Incidentally, if you’re picking a candle lantern up at Ikea, grab a 100-pack of tealights for under $4 there too — that’s the best price I’ve seen. Each tealight lasts about 6 hours, so you’ll have plenty on hand for many future power outages.
Of course, if you’re a couponer like me, chances are good that you may also have a shelf like this in your home…
Yes, this is kind of a ridiculous number of scented candles, but I paid little to nothing for them! You’re looking at many years’ worth of clearance sales paired with coupons. The vast majority of these were free after a coupon or deal, and most of them are seasonal. Post-fall and winter are some of my favorite times to score pumpkin, apple, cranberry, and pine scented candles because they all go on clearance once the holidays end.
Bonus — as my kids pointed out during our power outage this week: Your house will smell wonderful!
Ready.Gov has a great list of additional items to have on hand at home for unexpected emergencies too, including water, canned food and a manual can opener, first aid supplies, and brick battery chargers for your cellphone.
We will be adding several brick chargers to our emergency kit as well after this experience. When the power first went out, my husband was using his phone regularly to check our town’s Facebook group for updates on conditions and storm damage. By the time we went to bed, his phone battery was down to 13%. We found our brick chargers, but they weren’t fully charged as we usually only charge them up before traveling. Had our outage lasted multiple days, we would have had to find alternate places to charge our phones up.
If you aren’t currently getting storm alerts for your area, you can sign up for free text alerts at Nixle. It was a Nixle text alert that told us this storm was on its way. We did not have a TV or radio on at the time of the alert, so had we not been subscribed to this, we would have had no notice.
Remember, the best time to prepare for an emergency situation is before you’re in it.