If the forecasts are correct, and they increasingly seem to be consistent, an indication of accuracy, Blizzard Jonas is going to be a serious, dangerous storm. The densely-populated area from Washington, D.C. to New York City is going to see high winds and heavy snow starting early on Friday evening and continuing through Sunday morning.
Jonas will be dangerous, but not if you are prepared. Right now, before the first flake lands in the Delaware Valley, there is still time to get ready, still a chance to be smart about this storm. In a dry, mild winter like what we have had so far, we can handle Jonas.
Here in Pennsylvania, the salt trucks have only been out once in most areas, and that was after the dusting of snow last week. The commonwealth has millions of tons of salt and it has plows and crews that are fresh and ready. The private snow removal companies have made very little money so far this winter and they will be eager to jump on this storm, show what they can do. Governor Tom Wolf has already declared a state of emergency.
The run on the supermarkets began on Wednesday. The bread aisle at Wegman’s was getting thin. In the Philadelphia region, we hoard bread, eggs, and milk, so what, we are going to survive on French toast? In Richmond, Virginia, the locals hoard canned soup and toilet paper, in preparation for what? By now, shelves are becoming bare and with parking spaces rare and checkout lines long, you should avoid the supermarket if you can. The trip is probably not worth the trouble and you probably have enough food to get through the storm right now.
Here is what to expect of the storm and the response and what you need to do. There is time and you can be ready but you should start right away.
Plan not to travel
If you take prescription medications and you do not have enough to get you to Monday, refill them now. Pharmacists and doctors will try to accommodate you to make it work for the next few days. If you or anyone who lives with you needs special food, buy it now.
The forecast includes periods of snow at a rate of up to 3 inches per hour. That is a white-out. You will not be able to see anything under those conditions. You won’t be able to see the ground or the horizon and you will become disoriented.
When the storm hits, the governor is likely to order a travel ban, meaning that no one is allowed to drive except in case of emergency. That order protects you from the impulse to run out for something, protects the jobs of store employees who are too smart to risk wrecking a car and major medical bills for minimum wage, protects the police and fire and ambulance crews who would have to rescue you. A travel ban allows the plow crews to work faster and safer.
What is under that snow? It could easily be fallen and live power lines with deadly current conducting through the snow. You don’t want a live wire wrapped around your tires.
If you absolutely must travel during the storm, let someone know where you are going, what route you are taking, when you leave, and when you arrive. Bring blankets, clothes, any medications that you might need over the next few days, food, water, and a small shovel. If you get stranded, stay in your car and bundle up. If you absolutely must run the engine for heat, first clear the space around the car, especially the exhaust pipe, as carbon monoxide can build up inside the car.
Plan for a power outage
From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, your cell phone is an emergency tool, a source of communication and information only. Keep it charged and nearby. The cell phone towers are likely to overload but text messages require very little bandwidth and very little power from your phone, compared to calls and data, so text whenever you can.
The forecast includes a “wintry mix” which means a heavy coating of ice on power lines and utility poles. To that, add the wind gusts over 50 MPH, as predicted, and you should expect to lose electrical service, especially if you normally do in a storm, especially if your electrical lines are on poles rather than underground.
Flashlights and battery-operated lanterns are your safest option. If you light candles, do not leave them unattended. If you use a kerosene heater for warmth, make sure that you have ventilation – a window nearby open just a little, to vent the carbon monoxide. Do not ever put gasoline into a kerosene heater or bring a generator inside.
You can also just pile on sweaters and blankets to keep yourself warm. The porch is your refrigerator – imprecise and bound to freeze rather than cool, but better than spoiling. You probably have enough food on hand right now to get through the weekend but make sure that your pantry includes mostly non-perishable foods that you can access without electricity (for example, with a manual can opener) and that are edible and palatable without cooking.
Before the snow hits, you should also take out the trash. You won’t be able to do it tomorrow and you will not want to be stuck with smelly trash.
Plan for entertainment
If you lose electricity then you gain quiet and solitude, which are healthy and often welcome. If not then get yourself snowed in with someone you like. Do not spend the storm with bad company, anyone with whom you have a history of recurring conflict. The stress of the storm + a tendency to fight + the inability to escape + the absence of distractions like television and computer = a very bad and possibly dangerous situation. Alcohol makes conflict worse and in general, heavy drinking during the blizzard is a very bad idea. The emergency room is now hours away, if you can get there at all.
Blizzard Jonas is a great chance to read an actual book or magazine or newspaper (yes, all of these exist), play a board game, start a journal, create something, clean something, plan something.
The storm is coming and it will be dangerous while it is here, but the commonwealth is ready. There is time for you to become ready, too.