Fall is in the air and that means that winter is on the horizon as well as storms. Last year, shortly after arriving on our property, we had our world rocked by a 100-year windstorm and it caught us completely off guard. That storm alone, combined with other smaller storms, has taught us a lot and some of those things we wish to share.
Stay Informed & Connected
First, it’s obvious to some people but it’s helpful to stay connected and on top of regional and local weather. Because we were so distracted when we got here with installing our septic, taking down buildings for materials and even cutting down our first trees that paying attention to the weather slipped our minds. Sounds crazy, but it did.
Even though we spend little time “connected”, we spend most of our days outdoors working on the property, here are some things we do to keep abreast of what’s happening.
National Weather Service Smartphone App – If you have a smartphone, this is a great way to see what’s happening in your general area. For us, the forecast is frequently wrong or doesn’t include the full story, so by looking at the radar or satellite images ourselves, we can better see what’s moving in to our area that we may need to prepare for. It’s easy to install… just click on the link and follow the instructions.
US National Weather Service for (Closest Big City) on Facebook – This is another great online source. We follow this page for a couple of different cities and we find it to be both up-to-date and helpful. Probably more real-time than any news station.
Local Independent Weather Sources – There is one guy we follow specifically in the Southern Oregon area (not really relevant to us but we have family in the area so we still like to know what’s going on). We find that independent sources give yet an even different view of the weather so between all sources, we feel we can make great judgements on what is to come or how to get ready.
The News – If you have a television and a way to access the news, that’s better than nothing!
Talking to People – If all else fails, chat it up with neighbors and others in the community. Last year during the big wind storm, we honestly thought it was just our property that had gusts of winds, but we found out that the entire town had lost power and that generators were flying off the shelves. The things you learn when you get out, or off your “island”!
Radio Communications – We have two different radios that work whether or not we have an internet or phone connection. The first are these Cobra walkie talkies (our review here). We bought these for our trip up here so that we could communicate between cars but it also provides NOAA weather and alerts. We also just picked up a Baofeng HAM radio after seeing my dad’s, and we find that we can easily tap into local communications which can also be helpful if we are disconnected in other ways. Great to have options.
Next, we always try to have our basic needs met but especially if the weather is threatening and there is a chance we’ll want to stay indoors or be forced to stay on the property for a while, such as in the event of a big snow. Luckily, we have no negative experiences with this yet but time and time again I think we’re all reminded how important it to have these needs met in abundance.
This goes without saying, but we try to have food on hand and not have to go to the grocery store daily. While we do visit the store 1-2x/week, we do have a small stash of non-perishables available such as canned goods.
While we hope to have a flourishing pantry one day, we’re not there yet, but we did get a good start on it this summer when we started foraging for wild and urban fruit such as thimbleberries, apricots and cherries. We hope to do more canning next year including vegetables as well as meat if we can start hunting.
If you’re new to canning, take a look at this book. It helped us to get off the ground in no time at all and now we’re canning maniacs when we have something to can.
We keep our water in a 600+ gallon cistern at the top of our hill and it’s gravity fed. We fill this by taking a smaller cistern to town where we have access to a community water source. If a storm is coming, we top this off for good measure, even though we rarely let it get below halfway empty just so that we always have some water on hand. 600 gallons could last us easily a month, but two months if it has to.
Here is our progression on our off grid water system. We hope to have a larger cistern buried by winter, but we’re unsure if that’ll happen yet.
Our primary source of power is a small solar panel setup but we have this generator as a backup for cloudy days. If bad weather is scheduled to hit, we take our fuel can into town and top it off so that we have at least 5 gallons on hand.
This generator saved our life during the big windstorm. Without it, we wouldn’t have been able to use many of our critical homestead tools, as well as work lights, to put ourselves and our home back together late at night in the pouring rain.
Nobody wants to be cold during a storm and for us, keeping our RV from freezing is critical! We have a pretty cool shelter that keeps critical RV components from freezing (septic tank, anyone?) but this year we also tried to get our firewood collected for the season ahead of schedule.
Last year, we had no time to get firewood so we picked up some mill ends from a neighbor. At the time of the first snow we had just under a cord of wood. This year, we have about eight cords of quality wood.
In addition to keeping our shelter warm, we also try to keep our bodies warm. I just wrote up a solid post on how I dress to stay warm in winter, but in a nutshell, we don’t want to rely on wood or propane to be comfortable. Having quality, warm clothing allows us to happily go outside in the storm to take care of business.
Build Well to Start Even If Temporary
What we learned in the 2015 Pacific Northwest windstorm is that it’s critical to build and develop a property in a way that can tolerate strong winds. It turns out that the cabin we built was able to survive 100 mph or so winds, much to our surprise. Our RV garage on the other hand, despite being secured down to a pierblock foundation, got a good shove and got a little mangled. We were able to get it back in position but now if heavy winds come, out come the ratchet straps for good measure. We’ve been known to secure this to both the RV itself as well as vehicles.
We’ve thought about putting a roof on our hot tub deck but last year’s windstorm was a great wakeup call, and we’re unsure if the roof we have in mind will tolerate such winds so we’re holding off for now. That, and we want to be able to see the stars when we soak in the hot tub.
Make Sure Things Are Buttoned Down
Before strong winds approach we take a walk around the property to see what objects would be inclined to take flight. Some of the things we try to secure include patio furniture, building materials such as sheets of roofing, outdoor cooking stoves, and maybe even tarps on materials or our firewood.
Last year, we went outside one morning only to find much of our roofing displaced – it was in the road! We had to carry the sheets back up one by one and secure them with weights of any sorts including trees and bricks.
Design Property So That Mud Isn’t an Issue
Lastly, when we arrived on our property, it was a huge dustball. It didn’t even occur to me what the living area would look like after a big rain, but luckily, Jesse thought about it on day one! Immediately, we ordered a load or three of 3/4″ minus rock to pave the driveway and living area with. While I thought this was an potentially unnecessary expense at the time, I was appreciative after the first rain when we had a clean surface to walk on. While other parts of the property are muddy after moisture, we’re able to walk to and from the cars and firewood pile without making a mess.
Turn a Windstorm Into Money
And very last, is it possible to not only survive a storm but thrive in the aftermath? We think yes!
One secret we learned is that storms can cause a lot of damage and disruption, especially in the terms of windfall. If you’re prepared (we weren’t last year), you can offer to do tree cleanup for folks in exchange for keeping the wood for either firewood or turning into usable lumber!
We collected windfall off our property this year and turned it into usable lumber for our hot tub deck among other uses. Get creative!
Do you have any special tips that you’ve learned first-hand on preparing for a storm? I know there are loads that I didn’t cover, just wanted to share the ones we are passionate about first-hand. Let us know in the comments below, and stay safe this winter season!
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