A hurricane is coming! Quick! Freak Out!

If you watched the news on Hurricane Irma recently, you have been led to believe that the entire state of Florida was being evacuated.  In fact, only the barrier islands and a couple blocks inland were evacuated.  As you can see from the map below, the actual number of people evacuated is tiny.

Evacuation Map of Palm Beach County

Evacuation Map of Palm Beach County

The media would gloss over it, but every now and then the Governor would say, “If you don’t need to evacuate, you should stay where you are.”  So the vast majority of Floridians should have stayed where they were.

There is a season for Hurricanes

Unlike earthquakes, which seem to be random, Hurricanes only occur during Hurricane season, usually from September through November.  During the Summer, the Atlantic Ocean warms up above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  This creates the conditions necessary for the development of hurricanes.

The nice thing about hurricanes is that you get more than a week’s warning that they’re coming.  Now up until this year, most people ignored hurricanes until about 48 hours before they hit.  Then there would be gas shortages and people would strip the grocery stores of food and water.  This year, with Irma, people started freaking out more than a week before.

The bottom line is that the right time to prepare for a hurricane is before hurricane season.  In fact, National Hurricane Preparedness Week is the second week in May.  But I know you’re a procrastinator like me, so I’m declaring June 25, Heymanator Hurricane Preparedness day.  So let’s look at how you can be prepared to live without power.  In this article we’ll talk about some creature comforts: food, phones, and tablets, and fans.

Your Refrigerator/Freezer will stay cold for at least 2 days

For some reason, the vast majority of my friends seem to think that if food has softened at all in the freezer it should be thrown out.  So let’s review a little thermodynamics.

  • Your freezer is usually around 0 degrees F
  • Your fridge is usually around 40 degrees F.
  • Water freezes at 32 degrees F AND melts at 32 degrees F.

This means that, if still have a single formed ice cube in your freezer, then your freezer did not go higher than 32 degrees, and your food is safe!  On average, an unplugged refrigerator should keep cold for about 2 days.

Even if you have a generator, you don’t need to run it 24/7.  Running it for 2 hours twice a day should be enough to keep your food perfectly cold.

Strategies to make the most of your Fridge/Freezer

Before the storm

  • If you have a lot of space in your freezer, fill up jugs or bags of water and freeze them.
  • Identify items that can be sacrificed in case of power failure (for example that ham hock you’ve planning on making into soup for the past 2 years.)
  • Get out some old blankets.  Once you lose power, you can put them on top of the fridge to insulate it.

After you lose power

  • Take the ice cream out of the freezer and eat it.
  • Put your milk and other easily spoilables into the spot in the freezer opened up by the ice cream.
  • Cover up the fridge with the blankets to increase its insulation.

You don’t need a generator

If you have a car, you already have all the generator you need to power your refrigerator (and charge your cell phone and tablets).  All you need is an inverter.  The average energy star refrigerator will draw somewhere between 150-200 watts when running, but takes 750-800 watts when starting up.

SO… you’ll need at least a 400 watt inverter (most inverters can handle a surge double their rating, although YMMV), but it’s safer to go with an 800 watt inverter.  The important thing to remember is that a car’s cigarette lighter socket will only allow ~150 watts to be drawn.  Try to run your refrigerator through it, and you’ll likely blow a fuse.  Instead, you’ll need to use alligator clips to attach the inverter directly to your battery.

But before we get to the nuts and bolts, let’s talk generalities.  An idling car or SUV uses about 0.2-0.5 gallons of gas per hour.  So if you run your car for two hours twice a day to power your refrigerator, then you’ll use between 1 and 2 gallons of gas.  This isn’t quite as efficient as a dedicated generator, but then again, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper to buy a $50 inverter and make $15 cables than even the cheapest generator.

And you can take the inverter with you on your next road trip and use it to do all sorts of fun things in the car like let your kids play Xbox.  Or make coffee while camping because you were too lazy to learn how to use a French Press.  And let’s not forget that an inverter is much smaller and easier to store than a generator.

So, after the storm passes you by, you…

  1. pull your car out of the garage,
  2. pop the hood,
  3. leave the car running,
  4. connect your inverter to the battery using the cables,
  5. run a heavy duty extension cord to your refrigerator.
  6. While you’re at it, maybe you should charge up your iPad, Kindle, phone, and maybe your laptop too.
  7. Heck run some fans to help keep you cool maybe this cheap personal fan running 35 watts max or this whole room Vornado fan running 65 watts max.

When you’re done running your refrigerator, you can unplug it, turn your car off, and keep charging your cell phones and ipad.

Note: when running your refrigerator, take the covers off.  Then put them back on when you’re done.

What Inverter should I get?

Pro tip: get a 1×4 that’s long enough to lay across the hood of your car/suv.  Then mount the inverter to the board.  Wrap some old t shirts around the ends of the board to protect your car’s finish from the board and prevent it from sliding.  Now when you need to use the inverter, you won’t have to balance it on top of the engine.  You just lay the board across the car after opening the hood.

What kind of inverter should you get?  Steven Harris (whose advice much of this article is based on) recommends the following brands/models.  He particularly likes the Whistler because supposedly it can handle double its rated power draw for up to 10 seconds.  But it’s a little pricier.  Yes, these are the same brands that make radar detectors.

Note that when using 800 – 1600 watt inverters, you’re going to need to use much heavier gauge wire and keep the wire as short as possible (<3 feet).  Either 0 or 2 gauge wire is recommended for 1600 watts, and 0 gauge if you’re going above 1600 watts.  It’s cheapest to buy the wire by the foot from Lowes or Home Depot, and then put ring connectors on them yourself (or buy something like this).  None of the 800 watt and up inverters listed come with wires.

Can you please sum this up? tl;dr

  • Get an 800 to 1600 watt inverter
  • Get a heavy duty extension cord (without lighted ends is better if you’re planning on using the inverter with the car off.)
  • Run your car for 2 hours and use the inverter to power your stuff.
    • Start the refrigerator first by itself because it draws more power when starting up.
    • Once it’s running you can plug your other stuff in.
  • After 2 hours, unplug the refrigerator and

Note: you can use this method to run your TV and Cable box too but ONLY do that when the care is running.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll talk a bit about generators.

Acknowledgements.

I first learned about this technique from The Survival Podcast interview with Steven Harris.

The Amazon links in this article are affiliate links, and if you buy through them, I’ll get a small commission.  If you’d prefer to support Steven Harris instead of me, you can go through his links at Solar1234.com or you can support Jack Spirko (The Survival Podcast) by buying through his Amazon links.

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