Staying warm when the power goes out

An Ameren operations manager says electric space heaters like this one are safe, but homeowners should avoid kerosene heaters or barbecue grills.

It has happened before.

In January 2009, a Canadian cold front swept into Missouri, dumping more than two and a half inches of snow and ice on the southeastern part of the state. A Missouri State Emergency Management Agency report shows some Missourians were without power for up to three weeks. Seven years earlier, a massive winter storm left more than 600,000 Missourians without power, including some 450,000 in the Kansas City area. A 1996 snowstorm cut power to about 130,000 Kansas City residents. Three years before that, a winter storm left nearly 75 percent of northern Missouri's population without power, television or phone service.

Mike Holman, Ameren Missouri's Director of Gas Operations, told KRCG 13 about 40 percent of homes in mid-Missouri use electric furnaces rather than gas. He said many apartments use such furnaces as do houses built during the energy crises of the 1970s. He said the state's electric infrastructure is much more vulnerable to damage from winter storms than gas lines, which he said are generally only compromised when someone accidentally cuts into them. Depending on the damage done to infrastructure, Holman said it would most likely take 3-5 days to restore power to everyone in the event of a mass outage due to ice storms.

If the power goes out, emergency management officials recommend dressing in layers even when you are inside, rather than putting on a single heavy coat. Holman said homeowners should keep their doors closed as much as possible and close off any rooms they are not using. Once you have moved into your smaller living space, Holman said electric space heaters are a good idea if you have another power source, but homeowners should not use any other kind of heater, such as a kerosene heater.

"I've actually heard terrible stories about people putting barbecue pits in their home, which is very, very dangerous because it can introduce a hazardous gas into your home," he said.

Holman said he discourages the use of portable generators unless homeowners know what they are doing. He said homeowners' house circuits should be fitted with a cutoff switch to disconnect a home from the grid. If homeowners don't throw the switch, Holman said generators end up dumping power back onto the grid, which he said poses "a severe danger" to linemen.

Other tips include letting faucets drip to reduce the chance of frozen water pipes, having a good supply of batteries and battery-operated appliances, turning refrigerators to their lowest setting and using snowdrifts to keep food cold if there is snow on the ground.