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Beating old man winter to the punch

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By Jimmie Earls

As Washington Countians battle through frigid temperatures, many are preparing for a long, cold winter by stocking up on the usual yearly supplies such as rock salt or de-icer. Many are also hoping to avoid a repeat of last January’s arctic ice storm that sent several people out into the cold scrambling to grab up any available generators, heaters or other items deemed necessary as many were without power for several days.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), more than 700,000 Kentuckians lacked electricity and more than 200,000 lacked water because of the storm. The agency has made more than $122 million in grants to reimburse state, district, county and local government agencies, as well as some non-profit organizations for their ice storm-related costs.

Many local storeowners say the best thing to do is prepare in advance instead of waiting until the last minute. Joe Pat Haydon, owner of Ace Hardware in Springfield, said his store has a good supply of winterizing material on hand.

“We have quite a few electric heaters in stock right now. We’re constantly bringing them in,” he said. “We also have some kerosene heaters as well. We can only stock a reasonable amount because we can’t afford to speculate on the weather. The ice storm last year was a big wake-up call and we hope that was a fluke, but you never know.”

Haydon warns that in case of a power failure, electric heaters will be of no use and said the best thing to have is a heat source that runs independently from electricity.

“The ultimate risk that we take is if we do lose the power,” he said. “The only way to really protect yourself probably is to put in a standby generator that runs on natural gas or some source of power that is more secure and reliable.”

Haydon added that most gasoline-powered portable generators with a high-capacity fuel tank can run up to 12 hours on a full tank.

While Southern States in Springfield doesn’t normally carry generators, owner Tony Hamilton said that they have a good supply of propane heaters available.

“It’s always best if people can have an emergency source of heating set up if they do lose their electricity,” said Hamilton. “They can have something like a wall heater that they can hook up with propane so that way they can stay warm in their house. We’re carrying more of those heaters than what we had last year. We also have some heaters that you can hook onto a propane tank, but those have to be used outside.”

Hamilton added that demand has increased during the past year as more residents are wary of another severe storm.

“We’ve already set up more temporary heating for people from the ice storm than I’ve ever done because of last year. There are people who have already committed to or have already installed wall heaters that are hooked to a propane tank outside so they wouldn’t have to leave their home.”

Such was the demand for portable heaters last January, that several were stolen from Southern States.

“We had plenty of heaters last year until the power went out and someone broke into the store,” Tony laughed. “Next time I think I’ll just take them home with me.”

“We try to keep two generators in stock all the time,” said Joey Maupin, owner of Parkview Home Center in Springfield. “Right now I have about 800 pounds of salt. There has been years when I’ve sold up to 4,000 pounds, and some years where I sell hardly any at all. You just need to keep an eye on the forecast and see what happens.”

If mother nature does deal a surprise our way, Maupin, Hamilton and Haydon all say fresh supplies can be brought in within a matter of a few days. Maupin went as far as Tennessee last year to truck in supplies after the ice storm, while Haydon brought in items from as far away as Pennsylvania.

“It’s hard to say how much volume we did after the ice storm. I don’t even think we tracked it because it was so whirlwind,” added Maupin. “We probably did about 50 percent more than usual during that time.”

Despite the increase in business following the January 2009 ice storm, there is still a demand for big-ticket items.

“People are still nervous about last year, and even though we sold a lot of them last year, many are still buying generators. I’ve sold about 10 so far this winter,” added Maupin. “You would think that paying $600 to $700 would deter them from buying a medium-sized generator, but you’d be surprised who is buying them, some knowing that they may not even start it up this year.”

While no one wants to be left fighting for the last snow shovel or the last bag of salt, Hamilton, Haydon and Maupin all agree that the best thing to do is prepare well in advance for all of your basic winter needs, and they caution residents to also stock up on the smaller items such are blankets, flashlights and plenty of fresh batteries.

“If you do lose your source of heat, it’s important to preserve what heat you have by not running in and out of the house all the time,” said Haydon.

After last year’s storm, Haydon said, “There’s a lot more people prepared today than there were last year. But anything can happen anywhere, not just an ice storm. There are a variety of emergencies that can cause systems to go down. It’s a prudent thing to be mindful and be somewhat prepared. You also have to take a practical approach, too. Not everybody can install a standby generator because of the cost.”

If you do lose your power, it’s important to have tools on hand that do not use electricity. Although there may be plenty of canned goods in the pantry, most people do not have a non-electric can opener. A small hand-powered can opener can be bought at most stores for just a few dollars. Having plenty of fresh drinking water, blankets and a battery-powered radio tuned to the local emergency frequency is also recommended.

Haydon said probably the most important thing people can do is to network with others in the event of an emergency.

“Whether it be family, neighbors or whatever it might be, it’s important to have a network set up because perhaps phone systems go down,” he said. “All kinds of things that you don’t normally think of can happen when you have a major calamity.”

The more prepared you are in case of an emergency, the better, especially in rural communities that may not see emergency crews for several days or even weeks. Keep a list of emergency numbers nearby at all times. That way, if mother nature decides to surprise us with another major winter storm, you won’t be left in the dark or out in the cold.