Were You Prepared For The Arctic Blast?

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It’s being called a polar vortex and the warnings that went out on November 7th were not an exaggeration.  Fueled by the remnants of Typhoon Nuri, the arctic blast began to push frigid air across the U.S., delivering a cold snap in November that is typically expected in January.

Dr. Ryan Maue from WeatherBELL November 18 article Record Breaking Cold Blankets United States — Coldest November Morning Since 1976 summed up the deep freeze most of the United States were confronted with. Excerpt below:

Tuesday morning, America ‘as a whole’ awoke to the coldest it has been in November since 1976 — 38 years ago. The Lower-48 or CONUS spatially average temperature plummeted overnight to only 19.4°F typical of mid-winter not November 18th!

An astounding 226-million Americans will experience at or below freezing temperatures (32°F) on Tuesday as well — if you venture outdoors. More than 85% of the surface area of the Lower-48 reached or fell below freezing Tuesday morning. All 50-states saw at or below freezing temperatures on Tuesday.

Record lows from Idaho to Nebraska and Iowa south to Texas and east through the Great Lakes, the eastern 2/3 of the US will shatter decades-long and in some cases, century-long records. Temperatures east of the Rockies will be 20-40°F below climate normals.

Compared to normal, temperatures over the past several days have dropped off a cliff — to 10°C below climate normal — more anomalous than even during the polarvortex of early January. November is shaping up to be a colder-than-normal month by a lot.

The Sun Herald ran a November 19 Associated Press piece, by Carolyn Thompson;  Snow blankets parts of New York: US feels chill. The following is an excerpt:

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A ferocious storm dumped massive piles of snow on parts of upstate New York, trapping residents in their homes and stranding motorists on roadways, as temperatures in all 50 states fell to freezing or below.

Even hardened Buffalo residents were caught off-guard Tuesday as more than 5 feet fell in parts of the city by early Wednesday.

The snow shifted slightly into Buffalo’s northern suburbs Wednesday morning, giving the hardest hits areas a reprieve, but forecasters said a second round of lake-effect snow could deliver an additional 2 feet into Thursday.

Cold weather enveloped the entire country Tuesday, leading to record-low temperatures more familiar to January than November. Racing winds and icy roads caused accidents, school closings and delays in municipal operations from the Midwest to the South even where snowfall was low or mercifully absent.

Erie County officials said a 46-year-old man was discovered early Wednesday in his car, which was in a ditch and buried in snow in the town of Alden, 24 miles east of Buffalo. It was unclear how he died.

On Tuesday, county officials said four people had died, including three from heart attacks and one who was pinned beneath a car he was trying to free from the snow. Two of the heart attack victims were believed to be stricken while shoveling snow.

Two other deaths were reported in New Hampshire and Michigan.

“We have tried to get out of our house, and we are lucky to be able to shovel so we can open the door,” said Linda Oakley of Buffalo. “We’re just thinking that in case of an emergency we can at least get out the door. We can’t go any further.”

The snowstorm forced motorists in 150 vehicles, including a women’s basketball team, to ride out the onslaught in their vehicles. They waited for hours to be freed, with some waiting more than a day. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deployed 150 members of the National Guard to help clear snow-clogged roads and remove abandoned vehicles.

By early Wednesday, a Thruway official said most but not all passenger vehicles had been cleared.

Members of the Niagara University’s women’s basketball team were among the lucky ones. Stranded since 1 a.m. Tuesday, team members tweeted photos of a plow starting to clear the road. A few hours later, state troopers picked them up and brought them to a nearby police station where another bus was waiting to take them back to campus, Niagara guard Tiffany Corselli said.

“It seemed like a nightmare. It just didn’t feel like it was going to end,” Bryce Foreback, 23, of Shicora, Pennsylvania, told The Associated Press by cellphone 20 hours into his wait for help. “I haven’t slept in like 30 hours and I’m just waiting to get out of here.”

Across the country people were caught unprepared for the brutal cold, and in many cases, even when aware of what was heading their way, there was little they could do as power lines snapped in various  locations throughout the US.  Approximately 2.1% of households heat with wood–which reflects a 34% increase from 2000 to 2010, which left many Americans without power shivering in the cold when power lines snap.

If you’re not set up for alternate heat, this latest cold snap may be the nudge to get you there.  However there is an article you really need to read from Newsmax titled  EPA’s Wood-Burning Stove Ban Deals Blow to Rural Homes written by Cheryl K. Chumly on February 18, 2014.  

The Environmental Protection Agency recently imposed restrictions on wood-burning stoves that will deal a blow to rural Americans who rely on wood to heat their homes.

The EPA tightened restrictions in January on the level of fine airborne particulate emissions that wood-burning stoves can emit, from 15 micrograms per cubic meter to a maximum of 12 micrograms.

The EPA restrictions would ban the production and sale of the kinds of wood-burning stoves that compose 80 percent of those currently in use in the United States, Forbes reported.

“Although this is an ancient technology, it can provide a solution for high heating costs in many parts of the country,” Laura Huggins, a research fellow for both the Hoover Institution and the Property and Environmental Research Center, told Newsmax.

“With up to one-third of this country’s energy consumption used for heating, policymakers would be wise to consider the benefits of wood as a heat source,” Huggins said.

No matter if you are interested in a wood heat stove, a wood cook stove or a fireplace insert, David and I  covered it in a January, 2013 article, titled Surviving Winter: Wood Heat & Cook Stoves. The post also details different methods to collect firewood, efficient burning of firewood, and a bit about cooking with Dutch ovens.

If you’re ever caught without heat, the following is an out-of-the-box emergency solution that was included in a January 9, 2014 article, 200 Million Plus Impacted By Arctic Cold: How You Can Survive a Deep-Freeze On Any Budget.

Alaskan’s sometimes double-tent for emergency situations, both indoors or out, when caught unprepared in freezing cold temperatures. Simply put a smaller tent inside a larger tent (or in a room of your house). This strategy better insulates you from bitter cold.  Candles are used for added heat, but for safety, look into a candle lantern. Amazon carries UCO single candle lanterns made to hold 9-hour emergency candles for $12 and a 4-candle model for $35.00.  Amazon also sells Coleman single candle lanterns for $15.88.  If you aren’t interested in making your own long-burning candles (refer to lighting below), you can buy grosses of long-burning emergency candles while you’re on the site.

Even with a candle lantern, be VERY careful of both the fact that your tent may be flammable and that combustion produces carbon monoxide that can kill or cause brain damage before you realize it when using it in a small, enclosed space with limited air exchange.  In short, you MUST have air exchange to safely use a candle or candle lantern in a tent.

Another solution to combat freezing temperatures is to pour boiling water to the brim of a Nalgene bottle (they cost between $6.00 – $8.00)–air in the bottle can reduce the heating value– and twist the top tight, then place it at the end of a sleeping bag or layered bedding. It will keep you warm overnight! The same principle applies with rubber hot water bottles that were widely used generations ago.

The following are additional tips that will make this current cold snap a little more bearable:

  • We’ll start with the obvious; you should have extra food and water storage set aside for emergencies, as well as an emergency radio, extra battery’s  and alternate lighting like emergency candles or oil lamps or lanterns.

  • Keep your gas tank topped off to avoid being stranded in freezing temperatures.  If you’ve overlooked this cardinal rule, travel should be curtailed.  It’s a given there will be gridlocked roads and accidents on icy roads. . . why risk it?  Many Alaskans travel in winter with an “emergency kit”, which can include sub-zero sleeping bags, flashlights, extra battery’s, flares, and high energy foods like energy bars and trail mix and water (never filled to the brim due to the expansion of water when it freezes).

  • As long as there is power, you can help to avoid pipes from freezing by letting a small stream of water flow from faucets.

  • If the power goes down, avoid opening and closing the refrigerator or freezer compartments more than is absolutely necessary.  Plan what you need beforehand, and get in and out as quickly as possible to conserve the cold.  Consume perishables like ice cream first.  If you have empty plastic containers available, and the outdoor temperatures are at freezing or below, fill them with water storage and set them outdoors to freeze.  Placing them in the refrigerator and freezer compartments will keep the contents colder and once it’s melted, the water can be consumed. 

  • Unplug electronics like a computer, TV and appliances during a power outage to avoid a power surge destroying them.

  • Have an old-school clip-in land-line available– provided you have a land-line, that is.  They will work even during a power outage, where portable, hand-held land-line phones are completely dependent upon power to be operational.  If you depend solely upon a cell phone, make sure that you keep a car charger handy.  

And, as promised, here’s the handheld solution that will help you maintain core temperature down to -10F from David & Ox:

In the picture below, I show a shelter system I use that has worked very well for me down to as low as 10 degrees and Ox down to -10 with only pants and a T-shirt on.

Display Images To See The Picture

Figure 10 – Left: SOL emergency bivvy from Adventure Medical Kits; Middle: Bag Liner; Right: GI Poncho;

On the left we have the SOL emergency bivvy from Adventure Medical Kits.  Many 72 hour kits come with Mylar bags, but Mylar tends to crinkle and tear.  I oftentimes wonder how many people selling 72 hour kits with traditional mylar blankets have actually spent a night outside using one to keep warm.  Over the years, I’ve gone from being mildly annoyed with these cheap sheets of mylar to *almost* getting to the point where I think it’s criminal negligence to include them in entry level kits.  Why?

Normal mylar emergency blankets, in a word, “suck.”  Of those who have and made it through the night using one, I wonder how many had a blanket that was still holding together enough to use for a second night.  If you doubt my assessment of traditional mylar, pull out one of your mylar blankets/bags and see how it performs.  And if you really want to test it, let it ride around in a backpack or in your car for a few months and see how well it holds up.  I would bet you that if you’ve got a traditional thin mylar blanket for more than a year and try to use it, it will fail immediately at the fold edges or corners.

They ARE functional, WAY better than nothing, and provide more heat retention per ounce/dollar than almost anything else you can buy, but they do have serious shortcomings.  If you know them and are comfortable with them, you won’t be disappointed by them in a survival situation, but if you naively expect them to be more than they are, you’ll be disappointed.

The SOL bivvies that I show above are flexible, don’t tear, cost less than $20 and they still reflect about the same amount of heat as Mylar. They are great tools.  In addition, they’re a lot quieter than Mylar.  If you’re a light sleeper, like I am, this makes a huge difference in your quality of sleep.

The middle bag in the picture is a Sea To Summit / Thermolite bag liner. A bag liner like this one will add 10 or 20 more degrees of temperature rating to your sleeping bag, regardless of whether it’s a bivvy or a full fledged sleeping bag. These will allow you to use the same 30 or 40-degree sleeping bag year round by letting you simply add a liner for three and four season camping.  The one I use (+15 degree bag liner) adds 15 degrees to ANY sleeping bag.  They also make a +25 degree bag liner.

A big reason to use bag liners is that if you’ve ever backpacked for a week or two, your bag can get to smelling pretty funky. A bag liner allows you to take the bag liner out and rinse it off in a stream every day, giving you a much-much cleaner smelling sleeping bag.

When combined with the SOL bivvy, it gives you a little more insulation and warmth in a small, lightweight package.

Another practical use for these is to carry them while traveling to avoid bed bugs in hotels.

In any case, what I do is use the bag liner close to my body, and the bivvy outside of that, and the reason I do that is for flexibility. On a very warm evening I can just use the bag liner or nothing at all, but I like the bag liner because it gives some instant protection, and on a little bit cooler evening, I can use just the bivvy or a combination of the two.

Ox has used this combination successfully down to -10 degrees, outside, on the ground, with no supplemental heat or cover.

If you start out cold or can’t get warm, this setup has the added benefit of reflecting the majority of the heat put out by chemical hand and body warming packets.

One thing that you’ll learn, and you’ll learn it faster the colder it is, is that you’ll lose a lot, if not most of your heat to the ground in this setup.  To combat this, you want to insulate yourself from the ground.  If you don’t have a camp pad, pile at least 6 inches of leaves, pine needles, or other debris that is “cushy” and traps plenty of air.

In a rain situation, it’s hard to beat a GI Poncho like the one shown on the right (photo), and specifically a poncho with grommets on the corners so you can make it into a tent. The “tent” doesn’t have a bottom, it doesn’t have walls.  All it has is an A-frame roof, but with the combination of these three items you can have shelter in most situations.

As a note, if you like this type of material, it’s a tiny component of the Fastest Way To Prepare course.  To learn more and get access, go >HERE<

How have you weathered this cold snap?  Have you discovered any holes in your preparedness plan, or experienced a power outage in your area? Please sound off by commenting below.

God bless and stay safe,

David Morris and Survival Diva


  1. The 54×84″ Mylar “survival blankets” are so useful and everyone should have a dozen on-hand.
    Aside from the “survival blanket” use, you can use them to line the inside of a tent or sleeping bag as well as make a thermal barrier between you and the ground if caught in the elements overnight. I also use them to reflect solar heat on the windows in my home in the summer. They also keep heat IN during the winter provided you seal them to the window frame good.
    They’re also good for trapping rain for water collection.
    I keep 3 in each of my 2 trucks (1 in each door panel and 1 in a survival bag I keep in the back). 2 in the 3-day bug-out bag, 2 in the med bag, 5 in my WACH bag (WACH=We Ain’t Comin Home… a large GI ruck) as well as a dozen or so in the supply closet for emergencies or any practical uses that might come about (like last winter’s polar vortex… I wrapped my pipes with them!).
    They also make a dandy sun shade when duct taped to a sheet of cardboard!
    The only downside is they tend to be fragile and depending on use, a 1-time thing (like the author mentioned for use as a blanket). But… for other applications (windows, pipes, etc) they can last years.
    Oh yea, they REDUCE YOUR IR SIGNATURE… useful if the FEMA drones hunting you are using FLIR, LOL!
    Luckily, these are cheap, 10 for $7, so stock up and be prepared!

  2. Yes, the SOL is cheap, but IF you get to sleep, you will wake up soaked from your own perspiration that cannot escape either a mylar blanket or this one. REI sells anther version from SOL that is breathable, alabet at a higher price. Long before these higher tech products were available I had a neoprene coated ground cloth that I could wrap around my bed roll. It did a fantastic job of keeping the rain out, but also did a fantastic job of keeping my perspiration IN. Look at the wiki site for bivvys for some new info on a new Gor-tex product if you are serious about this. Here is REI’s info on the breathable version:
    SOL Escape Bivy
    Some emergency bivy sacks get so wet inside from condensation that they leave you soaking. Not so with the water-resistant, breathable SOL Escape bivy.


  3. These items you mentioned are smaller than anything I have right now so I have ordered them for my wife and me, and for her daughter and her spouse. Thanks for the Amazon links. That saved a lot of time.

  4. left coast chuck says:

    Ever since my daughter stopped at the scene of an automobile collision and used her brand new, fairly expensive ski jacket to cover a victim laying by the side of the road AND was told by the police and EMT personnel that she had to leave it with the victim as they had no way of knowing whose it was; that she could claim it after the victim regained consciousness and okayed releasing it to my daughter, I have carried those mylar blankets, not for my use, but so that if I run into a similar situation, the victim is going to get the mylar blanket, not expensive personal clothing. I don’t care if the “authorities” commandeer a $2 mylar sheet; I care a lot if they commandeer a $200 brand new coat.

    I can understand the thinking of the first responders. There are a lot o scum who make it a practice to loot the scene of destruction of personal belongings. The cops and EMT have learned from past bad experience that these trash will lie and claim items that belong to unconscious victims, so if it is personal belongings lying around, they stay with the scene and don’t get carted away by vultures. My apologies to real vultures, they are following nature’s plan to survive; the scum I am talking about are just motivated by pure greed. Anyway, my 2¢ worth. If the mylar isn’t great, sorry about that. For my own use I ALWAYS carry blankets in the car.

    • Survival Diva says:

      left coast chuck,
      I second that. I was at the scene one winter when a man was struck by a vehicle (possible broken bones, but it appeared that he would be okay with medical help). I covered him with a knit sweater I was wearing that I truly loved. I waited for help to arrive and was told the same thing when they were loading the man on a gurney. Said goodbye to my favorite sweater, which I can live without. . . but miss : )

      • left coast chuck says:

        Diva: My daughter lived without her new coat that she had just bought for that trip. She got what she thought was a better one for less than $200 when she got to Seattle, but still losing a $200 coat is not insignificant — at least in my household. So my good samaritan victim covering now is a $1.99 mylar space blanket and the victim is welcome to it. It’s not great but better than laying uncovered on the side of the road in sleety snow in 25° weather.

        As for our vehicular emergency covering, nice warm wooly Czech Army wool blankets. Sorry, Diva, you get the crinkley mylar space blanket. ( : >)

  5. Tim O'Reilly says:

    Correction Addition to the article’s advice on phones above. If you have a land-line phone, check to see if it is provided using copper (old) or fiber optic (new) technology.

    If copper, the old standard you have power provided by the phone company’s switchboard. It’s not a lot, but can give you communications (phone) charge your cell phone or power a very small light with the proper adapters.

    If the land-line service is provided using fiber optic, then you only have 20 minutes or so reserve power provided by a battery near where the fiber connects/transfers to the house copper phone lines. In this case just figure you’re going to be out of luck on that and best to you as you wait it out.

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