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.

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