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Bitter Cold Ahead: Getting Ready

By Shannon Clark, CEO & General Manager

With temperatures forecasted to dip to levels of near 30 degrees below zero for extended periods of time, rural homeowners and businesses will face extraordinary challenges. These low temperatures paired with wind will likely drive wind chills to levels of 50 to 60 degrees below zero. It’s times like these that Richland Electric Cooperative (REC) puts into motion a different set of outage response procedures.

Anyone that has had the experience of having to be outside in these types of condition knows that you simply can’t do what you normally would be capable of doing. Driving wind and severe cold can be life threatening. Staying warm is required for survival and we usually dress accordingly but in these temperatures the clothing required to stay warm slows you down. The mere act of breathing bitterly cold air can have dangerous effects. Consequently, responding to outages requires planning and resources unlike any other time. Extra people, working short stints outdoors and rotating those that are warm with those that need warming must be planned to keep everyone safe. Often lineworkers must either climb poles or use bucket trucks that put them high in the air where no wind protection is available---they can’t be exposed to those conditions for long. What normally could be done by two lineworkers in an hour make take four lineworkers working in 15 minutes rotations. The added snow on the ground from early this week further complicates outage scenarios.

REC works to anticipate how we will respond in weather like this but in the event of a power outage members need to take additional precautions as well. If the power goes out be sure to report the outage right away. After reporting the outage start putting into motion a plan that addresses the following key items.

Protecting Yourself and Family

Decide whether you are going to shelter in place or travel to a place with heat. Travel can be dangerous as well so think through your decision. If you’re staying home, then decide how you will stay warm throughout the outage. While the house is still warm it’s a good time to gather needed supplies such as extra blankets and clothes, food and water, flashlights and something to pass the time. Establish one room in your home as your shelter, preferably the warmest room and gather everyone there. Shut doors to unused rooms. If you have a heat source that is safe for indoor use and will run without electricity that will be a big help. Grills, open flame heaters, non-vented propane stoves and heaters (unless specifically designed for such use) should NEVER be used. Know before you fire up a heater whether it is safe for indoor use or not. You can’t do the next two items if you’ve died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Protecting Your Home

If you have water pipes that may freeze, shut off the water source and drain the pipes as best you can. You may be able to open a faucet in the basement while opening all faucets up stairs. This isn’t a fail-safe but it may help. Unlike homeowners in town that are on municipal water you won’t be able to flow a stream of water because your well pump won’t have power. It’s a good idea to shut off the water in case a pipe does break to avoid flooding when the power comes back on. Also, unplug what you can or shut off the power to electronic devices. Voltages can sometimes fluctuate when the power comes back on and may cause damage to some electronics. Leave one light on so you know when the power is restored.

Protecting Livestock

Usually the biggest threat to livestock during extreme cold is lack of water. Power outages generally mean no water can be pumped and it’s further complicated by the fact that waterers often use some type of electric heater to keep from freezing. A few short hours without power in 30 below zero temperatures can render a livestock water useless. Larger producers often have a generator to ensure that water and heat can be maintained but those with only a few animals often must rely on other options. Large insulated stock tanks will freeze but usually not solid for several days. Breaking surface ice will get by for a while and let animals drink. We heard of one person that used their turkey fryer to melt snow to water a few head of sheep. If you know your stock waterer has frozen, shut off the water supply to keep from having a mess when the power comes back and pipes thaw.


Extreme cold and power outages are a serious threat when experienced together. By spending a few minutes now thinking about what you would do if it happens can make the experience less stressful and possible prevent serious injury or property damage. Here are a few other helpful online resources;



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