The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Simple Advice For the Cold Emergency

So, a lot of places are getting cold weather they aren’t used to. As a commenter noted there are some simple things you can do.

  • Your pipes may not be insulated. Run your faucets (all of them, warm and cold) at a trickle. Otherwise the pipes may burst.

If you have lost power and thus heat:

  • Pick a single room to live in. Put a blanket under you, not just on top. Put blankets or other cloth or plastic around the windows and the doors to keep warm air in.
  • Do not use heating devices which produce a lot of carbon monoxide. Don’t run your car inside to get heat. You can use candles for heat (in a room, they make a difference, but don’t fall asleep with them on.) If you are burning wood in a fireplace, make sure the flu is open. If you haven’t used it in years, don’t assume the chimney is unblocked and don’t go to sleep with the fire on.
  • a blanket fort can make a big difference. Likewise, setting up a tent inside, if you have one.
  • Everyone sleeps in the same room. If comfortable doing so, sleep together to share body warmth.
  • Do pee, don’t hold it because “it keeps you warm.”
  • Fill your bathtub with water if there’s any concern that you might also lose water.
  • If you’re concerned about frozen food, put it in an animal proof container outside.
  • If you have a working stove you can heat snow for water if you must. Take only the top layer of clean snow. You can also eat snow if you can’t heat it (I did so many times as a kid). It’s not ideal and not recommended but it’s better than going without water. Obviously if you have reason to believe it’s contaminated, reconsider.

Readers are encouraged to leave other tips in comments.



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  1. different clue

    If the cold is going to last a couple days or more, I wonder whether it would make sense to eat a lot of high calorie high fat food, for more ingested metabolic energy to help the body keep its own self warm.

  2. S Brennan

    My Cousin informs me that in the Houston area folks are being told to not to let the tap trickle because…wait for it…it would lower pressure in case of a fire. I replied that I thought the pressure would get a whole lot lower if pipes started bursting… He agreed, pretty sure he’s gonna disobey the government’s advice and let the water trickle. I haven’t heard from him today, I hope he’s doing okay.

    That type of “advice” kinda sounds like the CDC/NIH covid-19 advice to the lower classes, go home, stay home, wait until you are in desperate need of the ICU, then we’ll ah…er..uh start to think about some kinda treatment for your almost dead ass.

  3. Astrid

    Wear layers, avoid cotton, and warm woollen socks and head coverings. Cover your head will help you keep warm and covering your digits will prevent frostbites. Don’t be afraid to break out sleeping bags if you have them, they’re built to be warm and breathable. I sleep in them all winter and keep fancy comforters for guests.

    Pots are good for holding small amounts of potable water. Gallon Ziploc bags in a cooler or sink also works in a pinch.

    I save 169 oz Heinz white vinegar bottles for backup water supply. They’re sturdy, reasonable size, and can be normally be used to outgas tap water for houseplants, just to cycle them through

  4. Zachary Smith

    Summer weight sleeping bags would be my preference – the heavyweight ones could cook a person inside an insulated house. Just pile on light covers until comfortable. As you say, a stocking cap would be a near necessity.

    Blow out the water lines. Snowbird relatives or a youtube search will tell how.

    Hot water tanks may be a problem, for the drain valves are usually so cheaply made they’ll break before they open. In small utility rooms I’d put in a candle-in-a-jar on the floor as a micro-heater. The lids for these are called “candle cappers”. A local farm store sells them for a price far lower than Amazon.

  5. Willy

    I got snowed in with power out for a couple days. The single warm bedroom concept (140sq ft) works well, especially with two somewhat overweight cats. 30-36 degrees out, and thermal curtains with body heat kept the temperature inside consistent in the mid 50’s.

    I went all LED lights years ago and don’t use emergency candles because of the CO. I have canned food and a woodstove in the LR that heats it fast. It’s little like mountain camping from vision quest days long gone, except no cowardly german shepherd pawing to get inside the tent because of mysterious noises out in the blackness. Just two bored cats wanting in and out all the danged time.

  6. joe

    Starchy fatty foods mash potatoes with lotsa butter will keep you warm while you sleep.

  7. Jerry Brown

    If you have a small propane barbecue grill you might be able to bring it inside and use it for emergency warmth. Propane gas burns fairly clean. Still – this is dangerous Carbon monoxide is very dangerous and difficult to detect so never leave the thing unattended and turn it off if you are sleepy.

  8. anon

    I visited Mongolia and want to return just to get more cashmere wool. I bought a few cashmere wool sweaters and scarves there that kept me warm during my stay in below zero temperatures and continue to be useful years later. I also brought a Patagonia fleece pullover that I still love to wear in the winter. Even if living in warmer climates, it’s always a good idea to have some of these items in storage for times like this or when visiting a colder climate. As others have stated, prepare your room like you are camping outdoors. Lots of blankets, a tent, and sleeping bags will likely be enough to keep you alive through the night. Wear layers along with a hat, socks, and gloves to bed. If they are still in stock, buy a window insulation shrink kit and draft stoppers at your local home supply store. If you can’t find that, the advice above works to pad the windows with blankets or plastic. Keep hydrated and avoid alcohol.

  9. Willy

    I have an old but sturdy and functional exercise bike I got off the street for free. Plus a bike trainer stand you clamp your street bike onto. Maybe time to get a good little generator that lets me recharge phone or device batteries.

  10. mattant

    I live in MA and I haven’t turned my heat on in 3 years. Just put layers on, you’ll be fine.

  11. Eating snow is dangerous, as doing so causes you to lose heat. Melt and drink it.

  12. Jeff in Texas

    So the “rolling” blackouts around here are not rolling, apparently because the grid lacks the stability to be turned on and off reliably– so some have not lost power at all, while others have been without for days.

    After worrying about pipes freezing, we got notice that we needed to boil our water because a local treatment plant went offline for lack of power, and then later we were informed we wouldn’t have any water at all because the entire system had failed and our tanks had run dry.

    And the Republicans are blaming frozen wind turbines, when the vast majority of of lost capacity is due to natural gas electric plants going off-line, many of them intentionally because they had failed to hedge adequately and were going to have to pay spot price for gas, which had suddenly spiked to 100s of times the normal price.

    It’s absolute madness. Failed state shit.

  13. Zachary Smith

    To recharge your cell phones and other devices, consider a device of the type sold by a Chinese company. From the Sears description are some terms for a search:

    TANSOREN 1 Pack 3 IN 1 Solar USB Rechargeable Brightest COB LED Camping Lantern, Charging for Device, Waterproof Emergency Flashlight

    The Sears price is obscene, for Awful Amazon sells a single one for $15 and four for $34. They’re fragile, not waterproof, and the switch must be cycled four times with every light operation. That switch will almost certainly be the first thing to break. So I’d advise reserving the things for recharging phones and similar stuff. I’ve used mine for charging AA and AAA batteries in a USB charger I bought with the 3-in-one thing.

    Regarding candles, apparently in their normal operation they emit detectable amounts of carbon monoxide. But I think a person would have to work very hard to do any damage to themselves from the CO. The real problem is Carbon Dioxide, and that’s why the survival texts always suggest cracking a window in the room where you’re using a candle or a heater. You”ve got to watch the little kerosene heaters for other reasons. A neighbor nearly burned his house down with one of them, and my father found he had to repaint most of the interior rooms after an extended power outage some years ago.

    It’s charcoal I’m afraid of – under no circumstances whatever would I ignite that inside a dwelling.

  14. Joan

    @Jeff in Texas, best wishes, good luck to you and your family. I don’t know if you want prayers but I’ll keep you in my thoughts. I have a friend outside of the Dallas Fort Worth area whose current source of heat is his dogs, but I think he still has water.

  15. Zachary Smith

    The first “blame” I heard was that it was the damned renewables had failed in Texas. That lie being exposed in short order, the blame was shifted to YOU-the-lazy-citizen.

    “No one owes you or your family anything; nor is it the local governments responsibility to support you during trying times like this! Sink or swim, it’s your choice!” he wrote. “The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!”

    “If you have no water you deal with out and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family,” he added. “If you were sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your lazy is direct result of your raising!”

    “Am I sorry that you have been dealing without electricity and water; yes! But I’ll be damned if I’m going to provide for anyone that is capable of doing it themselves!” Boyd continued in the post. “Bottom line, quit crying and looking for a handout! Get off your ass and take care of your own family!”

    The fellow is said to be a Good Christian, and I’d wager he is also a Sound Republican.

  16. Hugh

    Rush Limbaugh is dead. Not sure how they could tell. Like covid and the outages in Texas show, we need government, actual functioning government. Not say we don’t need it, or throw monkey wrenches into it and then say it doesn’t work.

  17. Plague Species

    Texas is lined up at the federal tit for assistance. Secession, my ass. When it comes to federal handouts, Texas is a welfare queen.

    Texas is a failed state and America is a failed nation.

    All that fracked natural gas and they can’t even use it. It doesn’t get any more ironic than that.

    I was watching a CNBC piece about companies leaving California for all the obvious reasons and many were relocating to, you guessed it, Texas. Mainly Austin. How’s that working out for you, nimrods?

  18. Plague Species

    Hugh, let’s have a moment of silence for the fallen blimp. He was an icon, Or a wart. Take your pick. Hopefully Fat Donny will soon follow and they can be in heaven together for eternity with all their QAnon fanboy followers.

  19. Plague Species

    Transport Blimpblow’s body to Texas and set it on fire. It will power the state, climate chaos be damned, until the cold streak moves out. I imagine Blimpblow’s wife is celebrating right about now. She’s made out like a bandit but she earned it. Can you imagine what she had to endure? Hopefully she insisted they do it in the dark and for no more than ten minutes when they did.

  20. different clue

    I remember reading/hearing somewhere that we should expect Rush Limbaugh to live for decades yet to come, given that his father became a hundred years old or so, and other family likewise.

    But he made His Own Free Personal Choice to smoke cigars. Well okay then.

    So here’s to Rush Limbaugh. He died as he lived. He gave up his cigar when they pried it out of his Cold Dead Hand.

  21. NR

    This is a quote from Rush Limbaugh, right-wing hero:

    “You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine, whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.”

    I have nothing to add, it speaks for itself.

  22. Astrid

    Whereever and whoever the responsibility lies with, you won’t be any less cold or in the dark or thirsty if both you and they failed to prepare. Considering that the parties who are in the best position to act for the common good have decades long track record of doing the exact opposite, it would be extremely foolish to depend on them to do better for you next time.

    But psychopathic mainstream culture that venerates predation and no longer care about the basic dignity of others is certainly one of the reasons why living in the US is a bad bet (says me, someone without the guts to get out).

  23. different clue

    I thought of a better way to rephrase the last sentence in my comment above.

    He gave up smoking when they peeled his cold dead fingers from around the cigar.

  24. S Brennan

    My Cousin made it through without too much trouble, a little prep, a little hassle, nothing more.

    Whoever suggested bringing a propane barbie indoors might want to be a little less “helpful”. Barbie burners are quite large and reduce oxygen levels quickly, propane still generates carbon monoxide if the burn in not ideal [ie blue flame] and greasy residue, when heated, can also produce carbon monoxide.

    An old Origo non-pressurized alcohol stove stove in an area that is vented would be “okay” to warm a can of food or melt a pot’s worth of snow indoors, but really, you should have a CO2 detector nearby.

  25. different clue

    Someone upthread recommended a small propane barbecue grill. I wonder if there is a way to put a bunch of biggish rocks on it, fire it up outside to heat the rocks to several hundred degrees, use long tongs or something to put the rocks in a bucket, and bring the bucket of hot rocks inside to radiate its heat to those nearby.

    Place the bucket of hot rocks on something super-fireproof and super-insulated, of course.

  26. Astrid

    Might be good to pick up a Kelly Kettle, that would boil water with relatively little fuel and fuss. I have a stash of Sterno that could fit under one and probably be enough for a couple cups of water. Then the whole thing can be brought in for drinks and warmth.

    But seriously, the cold in Texas is perfectly survivable with layers and a warm space. The biggest problem is the frozen pipes, which is a perfectly preventable situation if people practice common sense and drained their pipes before the temps dropped too low. I know that’s harder for condo and apartment dwellers, but that’s their building super’s responsibility once power is gone.

  27. different clue


    The problem with common sense is it only works within the field of “common knowledge” or “common cultural knowledge”.

    How many mid Texans and South Texans and Southeast Texans have any cultural knowledge of Deep Cold? They probably have common sense for events within their own cultural memory, such as Death Valley Heat Waves. But Deep Cold is not something they have been culturally programmed for.

    If I am correct in that, I will almost bet that those people living in the “staked plains” of Panhandle Texas and Far West Texas may well have a cultural memory of Deep Cold and some of those people may well have been drip-running their faucets to protect their pipes. Someone should do a study on that.

    But Texans in general will come out of this shocked and trauatised. How will they respond? They will do something “different” over the next ten – fifteen years, but what that “different” will be is unknowable to me at this time and distance.

  28. different clue

    Well . . . one little prediction comes to mind. The couple of Blue and Deep Blue enclaves in Texas will give up on the rest of Texas in terms of any creative responses or useful solutions. They will try their hardest to seccede their own tiny little utility-footprint-zones from the Texas grid in general, and create their own tiny little survival micro-grids for their own tiny little areas.

    They will tryy y y y . . . . . . .

  29. different clue

    Here is a picture I got off the reddit of the size and place of the “cold air mass”.

    I note with interest how far north two lobes of “warmer air mass” are going to the West and the East of the “cold air mass”.

    Kodiak Island is 34 degrees right now. Of course, it is surrounded by ocean. Still, is it normally that warm? Reykjavik in Iceland is 36 degrees right now. Is that normal for now? Edinburgh is 50 degrees. Svalbard Norway is 9 degrees. Cold. Amarillo Texas is 9 degrees too. Also cold.

  30. Astrid

    Yes, I understand that the public agencies and msm handled things badly by not bringing the information to people’s attention. Also that like COVID and hurricanes, many people won’t change until they personally see enough suffering to change their minds. But the information is out there and people do have zero cost tools to improve their situation considerably without setting their house on fire, flooding it, freezing to death, or dying from CO poisoning.

    I believe Iceland is relatively temperate (but dark and stormy) in winter, so day time temperatures above freezing in late February doesn’t seem too extreme. The biggest fear is that the Greenland ice melt will shut down the Gulf Stream and turn Iceland and Europe into new Siberia.

  31. Astrid

    And the Greenland ice melt may trigger earthquakes and tsunamis in the Eastern seaboard and Europe. This may cause most the low lying areas to be abandoned well before sea rise finishes the job.

  32. Joan

    @Astrid, the jet stream flipping, that is no small fear! If Europe starts having Canadian or Siberian temperatures, that in and of itself doesn’t have to be the end of the world here, but it certainly will be if agriculture fails.

  33. Astrid


    Yes, the climate change impact (already seen through some record heat and cold waves) is certainly a major concern with emigrating to Europe, along with proximity to a possibly unliveable (for multiple reasons) Near East within our lifetimes. And even on the heating front, the Europeans would be very foolish to alienate Russia or not continue with Nord Stream, they need it to not freeze to death during a cold wave.

    It seems like the safest options are probably in the southern hemisphere, perhaps portions of non tropical South America that’s not reliant on glacial melt water…so…Uruguay and maybe Argentina?

  34. Joan

    @Astrid, very true! It’s peculiar because I feel so much safer in Europe and my quality of life has gone way, way up, yet in the long run considering that I’m young it’s probably best to be back in America. Still, I won’t go. I must’ve been European in a past life because I have fundamental disagreements with the way land is used in America, and that tension was a daily source of stress and anger. It dissolved upon moving here.

    Russian is a common foreign language in schools. After English, it might be in second or third place. So even if the government has to posture about Russia in order to keep the US satisfied, I think the people on the ground know a different story. I just hope Europe survives this century. There’s so much culture/art/music/history that could be lost if things go badly.

  35. Astrid


    I completely sympathesize and agree. Our first trip to Europe (France and Spain) felt like a homecoming even though we had only poor high school French to help us along. The cities are so beautiful and natural compared to the ugliness of USian cities and suburbs. The people felt dignified and so much at ease. Hopefully it can make it’s way through, at least through our lifetimes and perhaps beyond. Europe has lots of stone buildings that have survived 1,000+ years, they’re tough!

    If you haven’t been, I recommend putting Montreal on your travel list. The attitude is very European and it’s a lovely city that may suit you very well. New Zealand is lovely too and the Kiwis are good and sensible people, but it’s very expensive compared to potential job prospects.

  36. Jerry Brown

    S Brennan is of course correct that a propane gas grill is not an entirely safe way to generate heat. Very few things are entirely safe. But many thousands of people in places where natural gas lines are not available use propane to fuel range top burners on their kitchen stoves in ordinary times and generally quite safely. I have actually installed several of these and so far after years none of my customers have died while cooking a roast in their oven or boiling pots of water for pasta.

    And I have myself used propane barbecue grills to warm up work areas in unheated houses and garages in the middle of winter in New England. It is definitely not as safe as using a professionally installed central heating system but the point is those heating systems are not working at the moment.

    If you need to heat up an area and had a small propane barbecue grill and wanted to use that because the cold was getting unbearable then as long as you are not in an airtight enclosure (and most houses are not airtight) it is a fairly safe way to generate heat. Assuming you have a bit of common sense and attend to it and do not use it while you are sleeping. But it is not completely safe just like driving a car is not completely safe.

  37. Jerry Brown

    But common sense sometimes fails. I remember once putting one of those spiral sliced hams into my oven at 300 degrees around 6PM and then going down to the local bar for a couple of beers. Which turned into multiple beers. And when I got home around 1 AM was amazed that the neighbors were cooking bacon at that time of night and how warm it was in my kitchen. And went to bed and woke up the next morning to an even warmer kitchen and an oven that contained something resembling very crunchy potato chips that used to be ham. They actually weren’t that bad to eat as a snack. And my dog actually loved them.

    So something like 15 hours of running a stove fueled by natural gas idiotically and all I had was a hangover from the beer and a warm kitchen and ham chips. Certainly could have been worse though.

  38. Willy

    It’s like painting your walls. If you’ve got the proper amount of ventilation, then brush and roll your socks off. But if you’re burning shit indoors mid-winter with no power or heat in a well insulated and tightly sealed room, then you might want to exercise a bit more caution. And this includes candles you fools.

  39. Joan

    @Astrid, those are wonderful suggestions, thank you! I’ve got a friend here who studied abroad in Montreal. I’ll talk with him more about it. And now I’m kicking myself for not getting to New Zealand when I was living in Asia. We’ll see if it happens someday! And yes indeed about your impression of the more efficiently laid out European cities. I completely agree.

  40. Astrid

    @Joan. I definitely recommend visiting New Zealand if you have the chance. It’s smashingly beautiful everywhere, fantastic hiking, with an abundance of wildlife that I just don’t see outside of a few US national parks. Rent a camper van during shoulder season and you’ll have the place to yourself. I slightly knew a Chem E who worked for vineyards, 6 months in NZ and 6 months in California. There’s lots of younger people who patch together multiple gigs as guides/scuba instructor/waiters and nomad their way around several continents. Maybe not sustainable long term but it beats an office job. The areas of human habitation isn’t quite as lovely as the best of Europe, but they’re charming and mostly petite.

    The Canadian Maritimers are really cool too. It’s quite poor and isolated, but lovely place and reasonably nice people. Victoria and the Gulf Islands and Vancouver are nice too. If I could live anywhere in North America and don’t consider risks, it would definitely Victoria BC. But the entirety of the PNW has a massive earthquake/tsunami hanging over it, so not wise to move there.

    You sound like you’re young enough that moving to Canada or ANZ (never been to Australia so I can’t say, but discomforted by a place with so many lethally venomous things) is an option, so I do recommend checking them out. They are not quite so grand as Europe, but definitely better than USA.

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