In January of 2009, the worst natural disaster in state history hit my little town in Western Kentucky and I wasn’t prepared. Little did I know I was about to go 27 days without power. Allow me to share with you some of the things I learned.
The ice storm hit before I even knew it was coming. When I awoke that morning the power was out and roads were covered in an impassable combination of snow, ice, and tree limbs. Trees were down everywhere and their cracks could be heard as limb after limb succumbed to the overwhelming weight of the ice. There was no way out of the driveway and even if I could have, I wouldn’t have made it 50 feet down the road before running into downed trees. This was a concern seeing as I had next to nothing in the way of supplies.
I found a couple of old flashlights but the batteries were dead in both, and when I looked for fresh batteries, I had none. Fortunately, I remembered I had been given an emergency flashlight and small lantern, both of which ran on manual hand cranks, as well as a hand crank/solar powered emergency radio. Both were Christmas gifts I had received but never used. I couldn’t even remember where I had put them.
After much digging in a dark closet, I found the lights and literally cranked them up. I had light! It wasn’t ideal, but at least I could see to walk around. Still, I knew this was a temporary solution and decided to get more lights as soon as I could.
There was no light whatsoever; no street lights, house lights, nothing. I had never seen so many stars in the Kentucky sky. That part, at least, was beautiful, but it didn’t detract from the gravity of the situation. I had little choice but to hand crank the lights and get along as best as I could.
With the ice and broken limbs, it was several days before the main roads were clear enough to travel anywhere. Even then, they were cleared on only one side. I went into town and found most stores closed. The larger stores were open and running off generators but in terms of supplies, their shelves were empty. Realizing the food and other basics I had were running low, I knew I had to find something, and fast. I decided to risk going the opposite direction into Missouri where they had received more snow than ice. I thought that might be far enough away from the disaster that stores would be well stocked. Cell phones were out so I couldn’t call and ask, and so I drove and hoped for the best.
The drive would have taken an hour and a half under normal conditions, but that day it took almost 4, most of which was just getting out of Kentucky. Eventually I arrived and was happy to see that the shelves were well stocked.
I had already thought about what I would need. I had heard on my emergency radio that as the melted, the ground was becoming too soft for utility trucks and this was drastically slowing repairs. It was so bad that the National Guard brought in tank-like vehicles to pull the utility trucks where they needed to go. And with the electricity out, National Guard vehicles were patrolling the pitch black streets, helping out those in needs, and bringing in supplies. Based on that, I gathered I was going to be without power for a long time. But I still never dreamed it would be almost a month.
Finding a large retail hardware store, I decided I first needed lights. I felt that in terms of features, run time was the primary concern. Normally, I would have gone for the most lumens, but in this case, run time was way more important. Rechargeability, normally a key factor, wasn’t that important either since I had no means of recharging. I ended up buying a large LED flashlight with a long run time, a smaller LED light with an even longer run time, an LED lantern which wasn’t great but was all I could find, and an LED headlight. Next, I bought lots of batteries. Fortunately they had a good selection. I also bought candles, matches, bottled water, groceries (which I would leave outside in a cooler), and other supplies.
Buying lights with long run times turned out to be a huge advantage and the headlight was invaluable. There was a lot of work to do and that light gave me the ability to see and use both of my hands. As I said before, the lantern wasn’t a great one. I would have preferred something like the Dorcy Green Lantern I have now, but in that situation I had little choice. Still, it ran for a long time and had a decent area flood that was enough to see by.
“Buying lights with long run times turned out to be a huge advantage and the headlight was invaluable.”
I lived with those lights as my only source of lighting for the rest of the 27 days without power. All in all, it could have been a lot worse. Still, I made life much more difficult and put myself through a lot of worry and stress that really wasn’t necessary. It was also a large expense at one time, something that was difficult for a graduate student such as me.
If I could give any advice, I would say don’t let yourself get in this situation. Don’t assume a disaster won’t happen. Have plenty of food, water, and emergency supplies on hand. There are numerous articles and websites online that can help you with emergency preparedness. It is much better to be prepared, than to suffer the consequences later.
In recent years, I bought a gas powered generator that’s powerful enough to run a large heater or AC unit, lights, and a few other items, just in case. A whole house generator would be ideal but that’s more than I can afford right now. One would certainly be nice if a disaster struck again, however.
Lanterns, Headlights and Flashlights
But what about lights? Today, I am much more prepared and have a nice selection of flashlights, headlights, lanterns, and I still have my trusty hand crank lights—although I wouldn’t want to have to rely on them again. During the ice storm I had to buy what lights I could find. Today I have exactly what I need. I thought it might be helpful for me to share my lightening choices with you.
Lanterns – While it’s true that a good LED flashlight can handle most anything, you are going to want a quality lantern if the power goes out for a long time. As I said earlier, the lantern I found during the storm wasn’t great. It worked in a pinch but wasn’t well built and didn’t last long. Today I have a fantastic rechargeable Dorcy Green Lantern that I love. For emergency use, I really like the Dorcy 41-3108 Twin Globe Lantern. This light is powered by 4 D batteries and has 400 lumens. Plus, an amazing run time of 100 hours of on high, 400 on low, and 1,000 hours of night light means you don’t have to change batteries very often.
Quote: “While it’s true that a good LED flashlight can handle most anything, you are going to want a quality lantern if the power goes out for a long time. For emergency use, I really like the 41-3108 Twin Globe Lantern.”
I also recommend a smaller lantern such as the 41-1009 Luminaura LED Lantern with its 70 hours of run time on 4 AA batteries. This is handy as a second light or for lighting smaller spaces.
Flashlights – My current favorite is the Dorcy 41-4346 850 Lumen Wide Beam LED 6AA Flashlight. This amazing light has up to 220 degrees of illumination, a sturdy, durable build, and a good run time. Plus it has a dimmer which allows extended use of the batteries. For a general purpose light, I recommend the 41-2608 Industrial LED Flashlight with its 28.5 hours of run time on 2 D batteries. I also like that this light has an anti-roll design which is great when you need use it hands free.
Quote: “For a general purpose light, I recommend the 41-2608 Industrial LED Flashlight with its 28.5 hours of run time on 2 D batteries. I also like that this light has an anti-roll design which is great when you need use it hands free. “
The 41-1260 2AAA Hug Light is also a great item to have around. If the power is out you’ll want to read—after all, there won’t be much else to do. Trust me, you don’t want to read by flashlight—and candlelight isn’t much better. The Hug Light is extremely comfortable to read by, and is a handy all around light to have at your disposal.
Headlights – I found headlights to be really useful during the ice storm. There was a lot of work to do and since I had a job during the day, I had to spend time at night clearing debris. My favorite headlight is the 41-2104 3 AAA Motion Switch Headlight. It has a run time of 4 hours on high, 10 on low, and more features than I can fit into this article—my favorite being wave motion activation. This feature allows you to turn the light on and off with the wave of your hand. This comes in really handy in the dead of winter when you have on thick gloves and can’t manage those tiny switches.
Quote: “My favorite headlight is the 41-2104 3 AAA Motion Switch Headlight. It has a run time of 4 hours on high, 10 on low, and more features than I can fit into this article.”
I hope this article gives you a few things to consider when preparing for an emergency, as well as a few things to think about when planning what lights you will need. A little time spent planning now will save you a lot of trouble when an emergency strikes.