Survive and thrive: The do-it-yourself Charlottesville snow guide
With snow moving east or on the ground by the time you read it, this guide may already be too late. But if the snow gets your attention, then maybe this will help you salvage some semblance of health, sanity, safety, and fun–- at least for next time. The Hook news team has over 100 years of combined experience living in Charlottesville, and we thought we'd share with you some of what we've learned.
The value of a local hardware store - You may think you're prepared with a single shovel, but sometimes they break. So, like the sad sacks who procrastinated in buying theirs, you could find yourself queuing up for supplies. Or driving around and wrecking. Recommendation: buy extra shovels and stuff. Consider this: just as two bodies seem to create more than double the usual BTUs inside a sleeping bag, two snow shovels may prompt enough competition to perform more than twice the usual shoveling. Even if you push back your purchase, you may be in luck. Last winter, during the height of Snowmageddon (the February dump), Martin Hardware on Preston Avenue took delivery of 1,000 shovels to meet the demand. While it's quite possible that Lowe's will have its own sleighload of shovels, Lowe's doesn't feel like a hike-to location–- unless you're squatting in the nearby Chik-fil-A. For your convenience, we called area hardware stores on the afternoon of January 10: Meadowbrook said it had 500, Blue Ridge Builders Supply had 201, Tractor Supply counted just 8, and Crozet Hardware puts its tally at 268. (And Lowe's put us on a very long hold.)
Think beyond the D-cell - Although WINA1070 often stays on-air with weather updates, gone are the days when a few Evereadys and a transistor radio would get you through a storm. Today's hipsters want Facebook, Twitter, email, and a hot cup of java. But you may not have several thousand bucks to shell out for a whole-house generator; and even portable generators can be extremely disruptive to your hearing, and–- if you bring it inside–- to your life. So to get your personal electronics through a multi-day power outage, you need a battery-equipped recharger. Hook staff have enjoyed the "Charge Anywhere" by iGo. It's a portable product available for $39.99 online that'll provide one full phone charge. For longer outages, we suggest an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. Typical models cost at least $100 and weigh several pounds because they're designed to provide enough current to power big stuff like laser printers and old-fashioned computers for 20 minutes. However, if you use a UPS more sparingly, you may be able to keep a smart phone and a cable or DSL modem clicking for days. And you just might be able to keep those Tweets flowing.
*Bummer alert: Designed for offices, these monsters contain built-in beepers that become so annoying you'll soon wonder whether you really want the emergency juice; and while most UPCs provide software to disable the alarm, we're still searching for one with an exterior kill switch.
Make your house dark-proof - If you haven't been through a power outage lately, you may have forgotten how dark is dark. (Pretty darn dark.) So we recommend dedicating an easy-to-find drawer for dark-fighting tools: matches, candles, flashlights, and extra batteries–- which should be rotated annually so they don't conk when you need 'em. Hook staffers also keep a camper's headlamp and even a few glowsticks in there for kids who might otherwise try to roam the home burning up flashlight batteries–- or toting a candle and burning up the house. This is why a kerosene lantern can be a helpful addition: its flame is shielded. Hook essayist Janis Jaquith swears by her $100+ Aladdin lamp that provides reading-level light. Once you've got your lights, then you can roam around for other goodies like your stash of Jack Daniels or 4Loko. And then you can get lit.
Sleep well - Last year a Hook staffer–- who experienced a three-day power outage that dropped his household temperature into the mid-40s–- actually had some of the most comfy sleeps of his life by piling blankets about six deep. In recent years, physicians have noted that people who sleep well protect their immune systems, and that's a good way to avoid getting a bad virus. Just last week, Charlottesville experienced a wave of alleged norovirus, an event that sent one local retirement home into a veritable lock-down. The latest research shows that sleep can do wonders for warding off body-invaders by many means including boosting the white blood cell count. Lesson: stock up on blankets.
Substitute stoves - If you live in an all-electric house and think you can't cook, think again. Typical Charlemarle suburbanites probably already have a sweet backup stove and oven. There it is out on the deck: the barbecue grill. And if you have a fireplace, you're really in luck. Just pluck a grill shelf from your lifeless electric oven and put it over the coals; and you'll be roasting veggies, burgers, etc. in no time. Even if your dwelling is too small for a barbecue grill or fireplace, you still can have a thriving stovetop, and we're not just talking Sterno here; we're talking about a Coleman camp stove. We prefer a double-burner propane model. Sears sells 'em. They're not much larger than a dictionary, and every hardware store sells the little propane fuel canisters.
Know the sidewalk rules - If you live within the city limits, you need to know about the new rules on shoveling sidewalks. After Police Chief Tim Longo refused to enforce the old law last year during the Snowpocalypse (the December dump), City Council rewrote the rules. You still have to clear the sidewalk adjoining your property within 24 hours of a snowfall; you're just not threatened with jail anymore. Think it's all talk? Remember that two- or three-incher on Thursday, December 16? City planning chief Jim Tolbert tells the Hook that in the aftermath, 24 property owners got citations–- which could top $75 each. And that's even though the enforcers didn't start looking for miscreants until Monday, December 20.
Traction Aids and tow ropes - Sometimes you have to hit the road, but when hundreds of cars are stranded (remember Routes 53, 250, and even U.S. 29 last winter?), the odds of getting a wrecker truck run about lottery level. But you can get yourself out of most minor quagmires with Traction Aids, steel thingies you shove under your tires. Don't buy the plastic knockoffs, as they don't dig in and tend to fall apart. Do place an online order for these $52-$64 all-steel superstars. And if you really want to feel certain of getting out of a ditch, shell out another $15-20 for a thick nylon tow rope. And then put your 4-wheel-drive friends on speed-dial.
Become a samaritan - If you operate a 4WD vehicle and want to spread good cheer (or even launch a money-making operation), you can simply haul people out of the mire with the two tools listed above. It's also a good idea to keep a shovel in the vehicle to get the tow vehicle's tires onto asphalt. You can work much faster if you have a trailer hitch, but you're gonna find that you have to wrap your rope around the axle of the stuck vehicle because, face it, the odds are that anybody who gets stuck in a little Virginia snow isn't gonna have a trailer hitch.
Order firewood early - Unless you have a wood stove insert, your fireplace is horrendously inefficient. But when power ceases, it can cook food (see above) and create lots of ceremonial warmth if not house-filling heat. Unless you bought lots of wood in the summer or fall, though, it might create nothing but heartache. Unlike nearly every other business in Central Virginia, no tree-chopper has yet successfully set up his business la retail with a website or a storefront–- it's typically just a guy with a cell phone. Hook staffers have taken delivery this fall from both Charlie Steger at 434-973-8499 and Frye's Firewood at 434-825-6203.
Have fun outside - Thanks to persistently chilly temperatures, this is the first winter in recent memory to offer the prospect of pond skating. While many Charlottesvillians hung up their ice skates after a shocking 1983 skating death, it's been nearly 30 years since 66-year-old former pastor and World War II commando Arie Bestebreurtje lost his life after falling through thin ice on the Rivanna Reservoir. Today's skaters can learn from his example to carry an ice-axe (preferably belt-mounted and safety-sheathed so you don't impale yourself), and a long rope to throw to a friend once you crash through. Okay, so that's a huge hassle. Thanks to a local entrepreneur, we still have indoor skating–- $10 for adults and $6 for kids–- at what's now called the Main Street Arena. Or you can just pretend you're a UVA student and run naked across the Lawn.
Stay safe from fire - There are a lot of arenas where it makes sense to leave things to the experts (dentistry comes immediately to mind). But with fire trucks often a 10-minute drive to your flaming residence, it's really not a bad idea to keep a long, well-drained garden hose near a threaded spigot. (Don't ask us why we know this, but we do.) More gravely, we should point out that fire officials stress that winter–- particularly during power outages–- is the prime time for fatal blazes. You may even recall that it was candles brought out after a power failure that may have ignited the 2003 fire that took two lives at the Clifton Inn. While some fire officials continue to brag about handing out free smoke detectors, the Hook's Courteney Stuart has long reported that not all smoke detectors quickly signal the smoky, smoldering fires that can fill lungs with debilitating fumes and eventually kill while you sleep. The ones fastest to catch the smoke use photoelectric technology. At risk of giving Martin Hardware a second plug, Martin has long carried photoelectrics. And your life could depend on them.
Befriend a tree man now or see Dominion later - This is something that has to be done long before the snow falls, and if you value your budget, you'll try to get Dominion Virginia Power to come do some judicious pruning before snow or ice brings limbs–- and your electricity–- down. It's not just electricity that you'll lose by avoiding a tree cutter. Precarious limbs over powerlines can take out your cable television, internet, and– if anyone still has 'em– land-line phones. "Any time there's snow and it's wet, it brings the branches closer to the wires," says Dominion spokesperson Frank Mack. He recommends keeping the main Dominion number handy: 866-366-4359 (866-DOM-HELP) so you can report precarious limbs. Or to report the results of not calling early.
Eat well - How many times have you heard people say, "The grocery stores were packed," or "On day three, he wrecked his car going out to buy milk"? Sorry, folks, but there's no longer any excuse to get trapped in either of these pits of procrastination and desperation. The invention of ultra-pasteurization means that you can stockpile milk for months. And everybody knows that canned soups can last for years–- along with rice, beans, beer, and water. But don't avoid fresh vegetables including potatoes and squash which can safely sit on a shelf for weeks. And your kids may think you're loony, but you can even safely drink the water in the back tank of the toilet. Also, it's a good idea to keep some protein powder or shakes around if you run low on cooking fuel. And let's not hear anybody claim their food rotted after the refrigerator conked. (That excuse only works in the summer.) Just put the food in a snowbank or–- if you live among wolves and bears–- in a bag hanging from a tree or out a window.