Hurricane Michael could bring massive power outages. Here’s how to survive them

A warning of conditions to come in the Florida Panhandle.
A warning of conditions to come in the Florida Panhandle.
Image: Reuters/Jonathan Bachman
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Hurricane Michael is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm in the Florida Panhandle later today (Oct. 10). If it does, it will be the strongest hurricane to ever hit the panhandle in records dating to 1851, according to Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University.

The National Hurricane Center warns that in addition to “life-threatening” storm surges in Florida, there will be heavy rain and risks of flash flooding in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. As a result of the subsequent tree and structural damage, widespread power outages are expected and could last for up to a week. University of Michigan researchers forecast that there could be up to 1.4 million customers without power as a result of Hurricane Michael.

Below, steps you can take to make the best of a situation where there is no electricity.

How to stay safe

AccuWeather recommends that you use flashlights instead of candles, be cautious of downed power lines that may be hidden in floodwaters, and only use a generator if it’s at least 30 ft (9.1 m) away from your home. (Using fuel-powered generators indoors can be dangerous because they emit toxic carbon monoxide fumes.)

How to store food

The Ready Campaign, the government’s initiative to better prepare citizens for emergencies, advises to keep freezers and refrigerators closed. A refrigerator can keep food cold for about four hours, while a full freezer will maintain its temperature for about 48 hours. Be mindful of medication that relies on refrigeration, and use a thermometer to measure the temperature if necessary. The US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service also recommends placing meat and poultry to one side of the freezer, or on a tray, to prevent cross contamination of thawing juices.

Ten ways to make your cellphone last

Your cellphone can be a vital tool during the storm. Cellphone networks often keep working during a power outage, and phones can be used to both summon emergency services and keep you informed of important safety updates. Here’s a refresher on the advice we provided during Hurricane Irma on how to keep your phone going even days after your home loses power.

Before the power goes out

1. Buy a power pack

Pick up a phone power bank at a local convenience store, like a CVS or Walgreens. Different varieties can store enough power to recharge your phone anywhere from once to six or seven times. Once you’re home, make sure to keep it plugged into a charger until the power goes out.

2. Get a vehicle cellphone charger

If you have a car (or a neighbor does) and don’t have a vehicle cellphone charger, get one. This will let you recharge if you’ve exhausted all the options below.

3. Fully charge your laptop, and save that charge for your phone

Your laptop battery is also just another power bank. To conserve its battery, shut down your laptop and keep it plugged into the wall until there’s no power. Later, you can charge your phone from its USB port, even when the laptop isn’t connected to a power outlet. To do that, you need to turn the laptop on, but close any running applications, dim the screen to nothing, and avoid using it for any other purpose.

4. Keep your phone plugged in to the wall socket

Even if it’s fully charged, leave it plugged in.

After the power goes out

5. Turn off your phone’s radios

The radios—the wifi, bluetooth, and cellular receivers—are the biggest drain on battery life aside from the screen. Leave the phone connected to the cell network in case of emergency text messages or incoming calls, but if you don’t need to use the internet, turn off wifi. Also turn off bluetooth, which is only needed for connecting to things like wireless loudspeakers.

On an iPhone, these radios can be turned off by swiping up from the bottom bezel of your phone to open the control center: Here are instructions. On an Android device, you typically find the controls by swiping down from the top of the screen: Here are instructions.

Put the phone in airplane mode (no cellular contact) or turn it off entirely if you aren’t using it and aren’t anticipating anyone trying to reach you.

6. Turn off push notifications

Lots of apps send you notifications or alerts, and each one is a little extra drain on the battery. Here’s how to switch them off in Android and on the iPhone. On an iPhone, you should also turn off location services, which give your apps access to the phone’s location and also drain battery; you’re not going to need most of them in a hurricane.

7. Turn off and restart your phone to kill all open apps

This ensures no unnecessary apps are running in the background, draining power.

8. Turn down the screen brightness

Most phones adjust their screen brightness automatically to the ambient light. Turn off this feature (Android instructionsiPhone instructions). Then turn the display brightness down to the lowest level at which you can still read it.

9. Send text messages instead of making phone calls

If you have to reach someone, texts use a lot less battery. Plus, they’re more likely to get through when the cell network is overwhelmed.

10. Don’t use your phone

This may seem obvious, but during an emergency, your phone is a crucial survival device. Resist the temptation to check email and post on social media; leave the phone alone except for periodic updates on the storm’s progress. Remember that if repair crews are overwhelmed, the power could be out for days.