Cold city winterIt may not be the coldest winter on record but the winter of 2010/2011 sure felt like it was in the Northeast. And it is definitely one of the snowiest in living memory and on record. Pretty much every week since the beginning of the New Year has brought a snow storm. Fortunately the price of home heating oil and natural gas has been locked in for this winter by many area dwellers so heat is still ample.

But what if it wasn’t?

What if heat was not amply available in the winter? What if some kind of event has occurred in a major urban area where the energy for home (and business) heating during the winter was offline for weeks or longer?

I am not merely speaking of a shortage of oil or gas, but electricity too.

Most homes (including apartments and condos) in urban, near urban, and suburban areas are heated by either oil or gas. Very few have wood stoves or working wood burning fireplaces, especially in the urban and near urban settings. And even then those features are more for decoration and not designed for use as any significant heating/cooking nor for long term and constant use. Oil and gas heating furnaces (and water heaters) require electricity to ignite the fuel for combustion. Without a steady flow of electricity oil and gas heating cannot operate.

It is safe to say most people living in the urban centers of the Northeast are very ill-prepared to handle the cold. They may have fashionable clothes for a quick dash out to the taxi or subway then back out to the store or restaurant. But those clothes won’t do it for long term exposure to cold, especially those cold winter nights.

I doubt too many people own a base layer of quality Long Johns. At most some may have a light set of Under Armour. And even then it’s more a fashion statement than for practical use (not knocking UA but it is expensive and is often used as social statement much more than actual thermal protection).

And how many have a decent thermal sleeping bag? Even a 20 degree Coleman bag would provide safety under most indoor conditions if heat is lost. But few have it. And what of the children? What is the rating on that Sponge Bob sleeping bag? Can’t be better than 50 degrees if that much!

Even with decent thermal clothing protection that doesn’t replace a heat source for warmth – and cooking!

Yes, if the electricity is offline for generating heat then options for preparing food, even survival supplies (freezer dried food needs boiling water), will be severely limited. A Coleman style camping stove and ample supply of camping fuel would go a long way. Or if storage and space for use allows, a propane grill can be used to heat water and canned food.

But most people in urban and near urban areas simply do not have the room to safely store and use these devices. For a great many the cold will be lethal.