Wet snow, sleet and freezing rain can sometimes lead to ice and snow buildup on trees and power lines. This buildup either by itself or combined with strong winds can snap tree limbs, causing them to fall and bring down power lines disrupting electrical service.

Tips for dealing with a possible power outage during cold weather:

Before an Outage

  • Check flashlights and portable radios to ensure that they are working, and you have extra batteries as part of your Emergency Kit along with food, water and other key supplies.  A radio is an important source of weather and emergency information during a storm.
  • If a storm is coming that may bring power outages, fully charge your cell phone, laptop, and any other devices in advance of a power outage.
  • Keep extra batteries for your phone in a safe place or purchase a solar-powered or hand crank charger. These chargers are good emergency tools to keep your laptop and other small electronics working in the event of a power outage. If you own a car, purchase a car phone charger because you can charge your phone if you lose power at your home.
  • Download the free Massachusetts Alerts app to your Smartphone to receive important weather alerts and messages from MEMA.  Easy instructions are available at www.mass.gov/mema/mobileapp.
  • If a storm is coming that may bring power outages and you have a water supply (such as a well-water pump system) that could be affected by a power outage, fill your bathtub and spare containers with water.  Water in the bathtub should be used for sanitation purposes only, not as drinking water. Pouring a pail of water from the tub directly into the bowl can flush a toilet.
  • Set your refrigerator and freezer to their coldest settings (remember to reset them back to normal once power is restored). During an outage, do not open the refrigerator or freezer door.  Food can stay cold in a full refrigerator for up to 24 hours, and in a well-packed freezer for 48 hours (24 hours if it is half-packed). 
  • Have sufficient heating fuel, as regular sources may be cut off.  Have emergency heating equipment and fuel (a gas fireplace, wood burning stove or fireplace) so you can keep at least one room livable.  Be sure the room is well ventilated.
  • Make sure your home is properly insulated. Caulk and weather-strip doors and windows to keep cold air out.
  • Install storm windows or cover windows with plastic from the inside to provide insulation.
  • To keep pipes from freezing, wrap them in insulation or layers of newspapers, covering the newspapers with plastic to keep out moisture. Let faucets drip a little to avoid freezing.
  • Know how to shut off water valves. If pipes freeze, remove insulation, completely open all faucets and pour hot water over the pipes, starting where they are most exposed to the cold.  A hand-held hair dryer, used with caution, also works well. Do not use torches or other flame sources to thaw pipes as this cause fires.
  • If you have medication that requires refrigeration, check with your pharmacist for guidance on proper storage during an extended outage.
  • If you use medical equipment in your home that requires electricity, talk to your health care provider about how you can prepare for its use during a power outage. Ensure you have extra batteries for medical equipment and assistive devices.
  • If you have life-support devices that depend on electricity, contact your local electric company about your power needs for life-support devices (home dialysis, suction, breathing machines, etc.) in advance of an emergency. Some utility companies will put you on a "priority reconnection service" list. Talk to your equipment suppliers about your power options and also let the fire department know that you are dependent on life-support devices.
  • Keep your car tank at least half full because gas stations rely on electricity to power their pumps.
  • Know where the manual release lever of your electric garage door opener is located and how to operate it. Garage doors can be heavy, so know that you may need help to lift it.
  • Consider purchasing a generator to provide power during an outage. Follow manufacturer’s instructions and know how to use it safely before an outage.
  • Find out about individual assistance that may be available in your community if you need it. Register in advance with the local emergency management agency, the local fire department, other government agencies or non-profit groups. Tell them of your individual needs or those of a family member and find out what assistance, help or services can be provided.

During an Outage

  • Do not call 9-1-1 to report your power outage or to ask for information, use 9-1-1 only for emergencies. Call your utility company to report the outage and get restoration information.
    • National Grid  1-800-465-1212
    • NSTAR  1-800-592-2000
    • WMECO  877-659-6326
    • Unitil (FG&E)  888-301-7700
    • Customers served by a municipal utility in their community should locate their utility’s phone # to report outages
  • Check in on friends, family, and neighbors, particularly those most susceptible to extreme temperatures and power outages such as seniors and those with access and functional needs.
  • If the power is out, use flashlights or other battery-powered lights if possible, instead of candles. If you must use them, place candles in safe holders away from anything that could catch fire. Never leave a burning candle unattended.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and guidelines when using a generator.  Always use outdoors, away from windows and doors. Carbon Monoxide fumes are odorless and can quickly accumulate indoors. Never try to power the house wiring by plugging the generator directly into household wiring, a practice known as “backfeeding.” This is extremely dangerous and presents an electrocution risk to utility workers and neighbors served by the same utility transformer. It also bypasses some of the built-in household circuit protection devices.
  • Ensure that your smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors are working correctly and have fresh batteries. Check your outside fuel exhaust vents, making sure that they are not obstructed by snow or ice. Never use cooking equipment intended for outside use indoors as a heat source or cooking device.
  • Dress for the season, wearing several layers of loose fitting, lightweight, warm clothing, rather than one layer of heavy clothing.  The outer garments should be tightly woven and water repellent. Wear hats, mittens, scarves and other clothing to keep your entire body warm. If you need it, see if your community has “warming centers” or shelters open.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite: loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in the extremities such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose.  If symptoms are detected, seek medical help immediately.
  • Watch for signs of hypothermia: uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion.  If symptoms are detected, get the victim to a warm location, remove any wet clothing, warm the center of the body first and give warm, non-alcoholic beverages, if the victim is conscious.  Get medical help, as soon as possible.
  • Snowdrifts can be used as a makeshift freezer for food. (Be aware of attracting animals).
  • Snow can be melted for an additional water source.
  • If you lose your heat, seal off unused rooms by stuffing towels in the cracks under the doors. At night, cover windows with extra blankets or sheets.
  • In order to protect against possible voltage irregularities that can occur when power is restored, you should unplug all sensitive electronic equipment, including TVs, stereo, VCR, microwave oven, computer, cordless telephone, answering machine and garage door opener.
  • Leave on one light so that you'll know when your power returns.
  • If a traffic light is out, treat it as a four-way stop.

After an Outage

  • Be extra cautious if you go outside to inspect for damage after a storm.  Downed or hanging electrical wires can be hidden by snowdrifts, trees or debris, and could be live.  Never attempt to touch or moved downed lines.  Keep children and pets away from them. 
  • Do not touch anything power lines are touching, such as tree branches or fences.  Always assume a downed line is a live line.  Call your utility company to report any outage-related problem such as downed wires.
  • Throw away any food that has been exposed to temperatures 40° F (4° C) for 2 hours or more or that has an unusual odor, color or texture. When in doubt, throw it out!

Related topics: Winter Storms , Extreme Cold , Power Outages During Warm Weather.