What to Do If the Power Goes Out in the Winter

Any number of things can cause a power outage during the winter months. Most probably it is weather-related. If it is caused by the weather, the outage could be wide-spread or it could be localized.

First check to make sure you have not blown a circuit. Check the circuit breakers in your home's electrical panel.

If power is out in your entire neighborhood, call your local utility company to report the outage. The phone number should be on your electricity bill, or check the white pages in your phone book.

If power is out over a widespread area, it may take a longer time to restore power everywhere.

Here are some things to remember or to do...

  • UNLESS there is an emergency, do not call 9-1-1. That number should ONLY be used if there is an emergency, or if someone is injured or in danger.

  • If there are power lines down in your neighborhood, call 9-1-1 and call your utility company. DO NOT GO NEAR DOWNED POWER LINES.

  • Listen to your battery-powered radio or TV, especially for news at the top of each hour, to find out when the power might be restored.

  • Dress to stay warm - wear layers, including a sweater, sweatshirt or even a jacket. You lose heat through your hands and the top of your head. Wear gloves and a knit hat, not just a baseball cap.

  • Avoid opening your refrigerator and freezer as much as possible. Food inside should stay cold for hours if the door is left closed.

  • If you're cold, take a warm shower - to increase your body temperature. Your hot water tank, even if electric, will stay warm for a few hours.

  • Unplug some of your major appliances. When the power comes back on, all of those appliances can create a drain or power surge. This can harm sensitive equipment. To avoid a power surge when the electricity returns, turn off computers, TVs, stereos and other unnecessary electronic equipment at the power source. Leave a light on so you'll know when the power is restored.

  • If you have a generator, do not connect it to your home's power system unless it has been properly installed and disconnects you from the main power grid when it is operating. If you do not disconnect from the power grid, you can be sending electricity back down the lines; not just to your home. That could be deadly for power company workers.

  • If you have a regular wood stove or fireplace, you can use it for heat. However, DO NOT USE kerosene heaters, BBQs, or any outdoor type heater inside. Such devices create poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas given off by combustion and could kill.

  • Check on your elderly neighbors or those who may have medical conditions or use medical machinery that operates on electricity. Make sure they are dressed appropriately warm. If someone needs to have machinery that operates on electricity, move her to a place where electricity is working.

  • If you have to go out, drive carefully. Remember that traffic signals may be out during a power outage. Consider each intersection to be a four-way stop and drive defensively.


Wintertime Rolling Blackouts

A "rolling blackout" is a controlled event that occurs when California's Independent System Operator (the entity that controls and maintains the integrity of 75 percent of the electricity in California) calls for a Stage 3 electricity emergency.

This type of emergency is only issued if there is not enough electricity being produced by power plants. The blackouts keep the whole system from collapsing.

Remember - the blackout will pass shortly. If a rolling blackout is implemented in your area, the electricity should come back on within 30-90 minutes. Until then, stay in the warmest part of the house. If you are outside, move indoors.

A rolling blackout during the winter will most likely occur during the evening peak hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Because it may be dark, keep flashlights and candles handy.


A Warning About HYPOTHERMIA - Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration

The human body loses heat during the winter due to the conduction and convection of heat from the skin to nearby air, due to evaporation of moisture from the skin surface, and due to normal respiration. To compensate for this heat loss, the body burns energy to produce heat to keep the body temperature at a relatively constant level. If, however, a body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, the body temperature will cool to below normal levels, a medical condition known as hypothermia.

Hypothermia will gradually worsen unless the overall rate of heat loss can be stopped. The warning signs for hypothermia may start with shivering and shaking and may end in death. Initially, as the body temperature starts to drop, shivering begins. At the same time, the brain begins to reduce the amount of blood that is circulated to the extremities of the body in order to conserve heat for the vital organs near the body's central core. If the central core of the body continues to cool, uncontrollable shaking, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion may develop. These are all signs of a very serious situation. If the body core temperature drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, just 4 degrees below normal, immediate care is needed, as the person will likely become irrational. Once the body core temperature drops below 90 degrees, the person loses muscle control, and outside help is the person's only hope for survival. If that help is not available, heart and/or respiratory failure and death will eventually follow as the core temperature continues to drop.

If a person is suffering from hypothermia, it's critically important that the person be warmed properly. If warmed improperly, death may result. In a hypothermic person, cold blood is concentrated in the extremities. If these extremities are warmed too quickly, this cold blood will be released into the body's central core, possibly lowering the central core temperature to a fatal level. Use the following steps to raise the core temperature of a hypothermic person.

  • Get the person into dry clothing if their clothes are wet.
  • Put on additional clothing to warm the person's head and trunk, such as a hat and vest.
  • Wrap the person in a warm blanket and be sure their head and neck are covered. Do not cover their extremities.
  • Give them warm liquids to drink, but no alcohol, drugs or coffee.
  • Seek medical attention, if necessary.
  • Hypothermia can also develop in elderly people in a cool room with few, if any, warning signs.

Hopefully you are already preparerd in case of a power outage. If not, read our section on Being Prepared.