How to Survive a Storm Without Electricity

This winter Salt Spring was hit with two major storms that left folks without power or water, an incredible amount of fallen trees in their paths, and stuck behind steep driveways packed with snow.

Living in an off-grid cabin in the woods, I felt impervious to the perils of power lines down and wells unreachable. But, I still didn't feel totally prepared.

I had planned to pick up my regular household supplies: kerosine for an oil lamp, propane for a stove, jerry-can and gasoline for a new generator (to supplement my solar panel currently without sun), emergency candles, batteries, and non-perishable food–the day of the wind storm.

To my dismay all of the island had turned 'off-grid' overnight, and the supplies I needed were cleared from the shelves. There were line-ups around the block for gasoline and Country Grocer's parking lot was full with folks filling their trucks with as many 5 gallon water jugs as they could carry.

I managed with what I had on hand at my cabin, but was frustrated with my lack of foresight regarding a natural disaster that, of all people, I was supposed to be ready for.

Here is a list of handy off-grid items that you may not think of before an emergency. Not in order of importance (unless coffee is the most crucial thing in your existence–no judgement there).

Hand coffee grinder:

Unless you have a mortar and pestle, it's almost impossible to grind those beans for a cup of coffee while in distress.

Extra drinking water:

When the power goes off, so does your pump from the well. Have at least one 5 gallon jug of drinking water on hand. There are other options for rain or pond water to clean up with, but pure drinking water is a necessity.

Battery powered radio:

When your phone and computer run out of juice, an 'old school' radio is a way to feel connected to the outside world. When we raise enough money for the Gulf Islands Community Radio station to get back on the airwaves versus online, it'll connect us all in these emergency situations. For now, CBC's hourly news updates will have to do.

Propane camping stove:

Unless you have a wood or gas stove, it's close to impossible to cook a meal without electricity. Some Salt Springers were without power for 10 days following the windstorm of 2018. Having a compact camping stove stored in your emergency kit is crucial for having a warm meal or hot water.

Outhouse or composting bucket:

No running water equals no flushing toilets. You can turn an empty 5 gallon bucket and a toilet seat into a functioning (solids only) toilet. Cover with ashes or wood chips and dispose of at half-full in a dug hole.

Rain water catchment:

Don't waste precious drinking water on dishes. When half the year it's raining on the west coast, at least have a few drums filled from the gutters. If you're stuck without any rain water in a snow storm, melt snow on the wood stove.

Wood stove:

Warmth is something crucial for feeling safe in a storm. It can also be used to cook food, dry clothes, and warm up rain water or snow for dishes and bird baths.

Extra battery bank:

Recharge your smart phone. It may be the only way to tap into data and get updates on road blocks. With a battery bank you can boost a car and plug in LED lights.


Your leftovers won't last long without an electric fridge. Keep your cooler in a shady spot and closed properly to prevent rodents from getting inside. Other tips are powdered milk, cans of coconut milk, and a bag of ice.

Oil lamp:

When all your battery powered lights and candles run out, a kerosine oil lamp lasts for weeks and gives off enough light to feel human again.

Canned food/preserves:

Whenever you're at the grocery store, throw a couple cans of soup/preserves into your cart. If you have a week's worth of canned food and water in storage it'll help calm the panicky feeling that arrises in an emergency. Don't forget a can opener!

Luckily, after the first storm I stocked up on water, propane, and gasoline just in time for the second major storm that hit this winter. Snow sent the island into states of childlike exuberance, plans eagerly cancelled, the coziness of a white winter wonderland enveloped the ex-east coasters, and, as fast as fresh snow melts into grey speckled slush, frustration and resentment seared throughout the island folk.

Personally, I'm still hiking up my driveway with supplies a month after the snow storm–happy I don't have to dolly up a tank of propane, but ready to drive in to my cabin again.

Extra supplies:

Book light clip

Camping toaster (metal grill that goes on top of stove)

Board games

Deck of cards

Arts and Crafts

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