Health, Nature, New England, Snow, Winter

Hurricane Preparedness 2011: Smartphone Up!

The smartest thing you can get for hurricane preparedness is an off-grid charger for your cell phone.  A cell phone — particularly a smartphone — can serve as “find me” whistle, flashlight, information channel, family finder, and so much more.  Remember that smartphones especially have a short battery life.  This cannot be over-emphasized.  Nokero’s solar charger is good, see details here.  Or go to your nearest Sprint store or Whatever store or go to Best Buy and see what they have.

A serious hurricane in New England?  My father sat through a hurricane in 1938 that took down almost all the trees around Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire — where the family had a summer house.

new england hurricane 38 new hampshire
1938 hurricane in NH - photo by Peter Roome

EMERGENCY KIT  From experience, then, the Sensible Yankee hurricane emergency kit includes basics.  You can get through just about anything with:

  1. two gallons of water (supermarket)
  2. your eyeglasses/contact lenses/sunglasses/reading glasses
  3. your meds
  4. a sleeping bag or blanket or warm winter coat, pillows are nice
  5. non-perishable food (eg, canned food with can opener, Twinkies, Powerbars)
  6. extra flashlights and batteries
  7. Swiss Army Knife

Online, it appears the government preparedness instructions haven’t changed much since 1938.

FEMA has you storing up “moist towelettes” (?), a dust mask (?), a NOAA Weather Radio (no one under 40 knows what that is) and traveler’s checks (what?).

Suggestion: start with phone and off-grid charger and our Sensible Yankee list, above.  Then add stuff from their list if you have an encyclopedia, historical reference guide, and a lot of time to identify dated items and shop at 12 different stores and wait in line at a bank for traveler’s checks (again, what?).

OVERNIGHT BAG  Pack, because you may need to evacuate or you may not be able to find your stuff under stress.  Pretend you’re going camping for 3 days and pack accordingly.  Include toothpaste, toothbrush, medications, vitamins, clothes; all the things you normally need.

If you’ve never been camping, pack as if you’re going to the wrong side of Detroit for three days and staying in a half-star motel with no fridge or running water.  Bring your own blankets, sheets & pillow.  Leave your strappy high-heeled sandals behind.

CHILDREN  If you have small children, and it’s not possible to travel to a safe place, then collect your gear and put it all in one place:  a safe, windowless room, as if you’re about the load the car for a 3 day camping trip.  Now you’re ready to evacuate if you need to, and you know where all your stuff is either way: your clothes, water, food, cookstove, candles or lanterns, etc. are all in one place.

Treat it like a fun camping-trip sort of adventure — kids often react to these things the same way you do.  For details and (you guessed it) a more extensive list of obscure stuff, see

FLYING GLASS  Most injuries in a serious storm come from flying glass and debris, usually puncture wounds.  This is one of those incredibly obvious things we don’t think of.  So:  during the actual storm, keep away from windows and exterior doors.  This is for real.  The basement or closet or bathroom is likely safest, e.g., rooms with fewest portals to the outside.

PETS  Put pet food, leash, an extra gallon of water, their favorite blanket, and their favorite chew toy in a plastic garbage bag — put it in the trunk of the car — with their crate — now or as close to now as you can.  We emphasize now because pet care is the easiest to ignore in an urgent situation and as a result causes the most heartache.  Don’t even flirt with it.  Here’s more from FEMA on pets — but we didn’t have time to read all that.

UTILITIES   If a serious hurricane is coming your way and you own your home or are responsible for your home, shut off your utilities.  Here’s how.

If you’re like most people under 40 who only read 40 words of any given web page and never read the manual:  get a neighbor to come over and show you how to shut off utilities.  People like to show off what they know and you get a custom lesson — you also get to find out what a monkey wrench actually is, and how to use one, which is kind of fun.

Junk in the trunk  On a preparedness note, if you’re not a New England native, you may not know this:  in northern winter months from September –> May it’s imperative to always have in your car anyway:

  1. a blanket or sleeping bag
  2. old but still functional hat, mittens, gloves
  3. old wool sweater, just in case
  4. an old (super-warm) coat you wouldn’t wear unless you had to
  5. at least one flashlight, loaded with good batteries, preferably two flashlights
  6. Swiss Army Knife (canopener, screwdriver, knife)
  7. water bottle (you may need to fill it)
  8. off-grid smartphone charger

Believe me, you’ll feel better having these things.

Here’s FEMA’s take:

The truth is that if you have a cell phone and an off-grid charger, you can just call for help, company, or pizza delivery.

Green Tips, New England, Science, Snow, Winter

Chemicals for Snow Removal

Salting the roads or the walkways for snow removal is illegal in California.  If you’re driving in the mountains in California, say to Tahoe for a ski vacation, you carry chains.  There are turnouts on all the highways, like rest areas, for you to stop and hook the chains onto all four wheels of your car.  They’ll plow, but they won’t salt.

Removing  snow and ice in New England is a little different. Making driveways and walkways passable and safe requires some kick-ass chemicals.  At least, we believe so.

Winter in New England brings unique snow removal challenges.
What chemicals are you using?

Winter ice bonds with pavement and other surfaces.  Ice is like paint – it’s not just a layer sitting on top but is a layer actually knitted to the surface.  What chemical de-icers do is either break that bond or prevent the bond from happening.  A de-icer, of course, is a chemical agent that is spread on snow or ice.

Let’s look at the usual chemical suspects.

Chemicals for snow removal

Snow removal chemicals are either acetates or chlorides.  Acetate chemicals are biodegradable and are believed to have low impact on the ecosystem after being washed off the parking lot and into streams, soil, gardens. Chlorides are salt-based and are more “corrosive,” as chemists like to say.  This means “toxic” to organic life and means “eats away” at inorganic life, such as cement, wood, and the underside of the car.

Chlorides first:

Chlorides for Snow Removal

Rock Salt and Sodium Chloride
> Rock salt and sodium chloride is the most common chemical used in snow removal compounds, but only effective above 20 F.  Rock salt can be corrosive to rebar and steel but has relatively low impact on concrete.  It’s not health food for the ecosystem, significant concentrations can mal-affect flora, fauna and ground water.  Problems, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), include salt toxicity to plants and fish, groundwater contamination, and human health interactions, particularly salt intake and hypertension.

Urea and Potassium Chloride
> Potassium chloride is a fertilizer.   It’s also effective for melting ice. The chemical is said to be safe for plants at low doses, though in high concentrations it may prove deadly to the same plants.  Urea does not contain chloride, so it does not carry the corrosive risk to steel and rebar as other chloride-based snow removal chemicals.

Calcium Chloride
> Calcium chloride is a liquid.  It absorbs moisture from the air, thus essentially “dehydrating” the ice so it dissolves. As a snow removal chemical, it is effective in very cold temperatures – colder than Boston, closer to Fargo or Quebec City type temperatures.  Calcium chloride does not require heat to work and is the less-corrosive of the chlorides.

Magnesium Chloride
> Magnesium chloride is considered less corrosive and kinder, gentler to plants and animals than many other snow removal chemicals. The problem with magnesium chloride is that it’s not as concentrated as other chemicals, so more is used; more chemicals is good for the manufacturer, not always good for the ecosystem.

Acetates for Snow Removal

Sodium Acetate and Calcium Magnesium Acetate  are non-liquid, non-corrosive and by most accounts biodegradable chemical substances for snow dissipation. Downside: these chemicals change snow into slush, making it less than ideal for walkways and other high traffic areas.  Makes a mess of nice shoes.

Potassium Acetate
> Acetate potassium
Used in liquid form and good in cold temperatures, like Montreal.  The chemical-substance sticks, so over the winter less is needed – the stuff already on the ground acts as an anti-icer, or “snow melter on contact.”  Cleaning it up in spring can be a problem.

New England snow

Anyone who’s ever skied Tahoe then skied in New England knows the difference: the snow here in New England is more ice-crystals than the slushier. more forgiving type of snow in the Sierras.  (As a native New Hampshirian, I ski like a pro out west, when in the east, at Mount Sunapee say, I’m just shy of completely out of control.)

For more on the potassium chemicals, go to this excellent site on fertilizer chemicals.  Site is  With New England this year being the snow removal capital of the universe (it seems), then with planting season coming along, we should get to know our chemicals.

I mean, can’t we all just get along…?