Lessons from the Ice Storm of ’98: How I Learned to Stockpile

Twenty-two years ago, Maine was hit with the mother of all ice storms that lasted for two days and left three inches of ice on the branches. Guess what happens to trees that have ice that thick? Lord, how their branches crack and break! On the night of the second day of the storm, I lay in bed listening to what sounded like a nonstop volley of gunshots ringing through the woods around our house as branches came down. Reverting to my Catholic girlhood, I said my Hail Marys over and over, praying that our house would not be damaged by falling branches. Perhaps Mary heard my prayers because our house was spared.

But the storm left behind a terrible swath of destruction. More than half the state lost its power, and because the weather was so cold, restoring power was difficult. Lines would no sooner be repaired when more branches would fall and break the lines again. We were without power for eleven days, and as I have noted many times, because we have a well, no power means no water. In those days, we had five people in the house, and five people go through a heck of a lot of water.

Now, from reading recent posts where I write about being prepared for, say, other ice storms or a certain nasty virus, you might think I was completely ready for the ice storm of ’98. But you would be wrong. We had no extra water stored in buckets down cellar, no supply of canned soups, no extra propane for our camp stove, not much oil for our lamps. We did have plenty of wood for our furnace, but that’s only because that’s how we heated our house back then.

So we didn’t freeze, but we struggled with all the things we didn’t have, especially water. Fortunately, the town has a public water spigot where residents can get water in a crisis such as this, but because of the treacherous roads, we couldn’t get out for a while. In addition, we weren’t caught up with our laundry as well as many other small things we take for granted when we have power.

We made do. What choice did we have? But for a while, the toilets were hideous, and we parceled out every drop of liquid we drank. As we struggled through the aftermath of the storm, I vowed we would never be caught flat-footed again. Going forward, we would have a stockpile of food, water, and supplies to help us get through emergencies big and small.

I have kept my vow. We now have a stockpile of supplies that have served us well. There have been other storms and other power outages. In 2017 we had a violent windstorm that again knocked out power to half the state, and we were without electricity for a week. (Many rural Mainers have a generator. We’ve thought about it but have not yet bought one and so far manage pretty well.)

The Coronavirus is a different type of crisis, but I am using similar methods to prepare. I know some people are probably shaking their heads when they read about how we have four or five months worth of toilet paper, facial tissues, peanut butter, and other necessities. When I look at our stockpile of treats, even I feel a little foolish. But I also feel secure knowing I have prepared the best I can for this virus.

I’ll conclude by sharing what Rhonda wrote on her excellent blog Down to Earth: “It does make sense to have extra food and medications at home to cover you if you need them. Worst case scenario, the virus will run through the community… and you’ll have enough food at home to feed everyone without having to go out. Best case scenario, the virus is a fizzer and you’ll have a cupboard full of food and you won’t have to shop for groceries for a couple of months. Win/win.”


As Clif’s photo illustrates, the ice storm of ’98 left us with beauty as well as destruction.



72 thoughts on “Lessons from the Ice Storm of ’98: How I Learned to Stockpile”

  1. Yes I read Rhonda’s post too & we have gone out and done some serious shopping … it seems the logical thing to do now. Your story of the ice storm was really interesting for us (Paul enjoys my blog followers too!) You seem to have coped very calmly with such difficult conditions .. the extreme weather conditions are sent to try us ( as my aunt used to frequently say)! Best wishes for a sunny day..🌞

  2. When one lives where the weather can turn on a dime like we do, it is only reasonable to be prepared. We bought a generator when we were without power for seven days. At the time, we had a travel trailer, and used it so all was okay that time. The challenge comes when people don’t have any kind of stockpile and then tried to hoard everything all at once because that negatively impacts the rest who just want to add a little to their supply. Over the counter meds can be bought but most insurance companies won’t let us stockpile prescription drugs and that is an issue. I did notice at the local Walmart that they are sold out of some pain relievers. Tough times.

    1. You raised an important point—the difference between stocking up and hoarding. I was going to mention it in my post, but it already seemed long enough. Anyway, here’s an example that illustrates the difference between hoarding and stocking up. When I went to the store, I bought one big bottle of aspirin. I didn’t clean out the entire supply. Same for everything else I bought. After all, I am not hunkering down for the zombie appocalypse. Just a possible self-imposed quarantine for what I hope is no more than a month or two. But we shall see.

  3. I lived in Augusta in ’98. I had pleurisy and laid in bed listening to the transformers explode. 2 days later I went to friends in Chelsea. Didn’t get power back at my apartment for 15 days!

  4. I always have a well stocked freezer and store cupboard to last about 3 weeks. I have mostly lived on a farm, a few miles from shops so it has been a life-long habit to be prepared for illness (when I won’t be able to go to the shops) or a sudden onslaught of guests. This habit sreves us well in times like this. So far as I can tell – I’m ready!

  5. It sounds like you are well prepared Laurie and hopefully this is indeed a win/win πŸ™‚ xxx

  6. On the bright side, our Maine weather the rest of the year is wonderful. Thunderstorms are few, hurricanes and tornadoes, fewer. Most of them poop out before they get this far north. Spring can be muddy, but no bugs for quite a while, and the budding trees just make you happy. Summers aren’t too warm. Autumn is gorgeous! An ice storm or blizzard every few years! I believe we are lucky just where we are.

  7. I’ll have to admit, my stockpiling of toilet paper, tissue, tooth paste, etc. is something I’ve done for years. I think I inherited the trait from my grandmother, but I mine probably boarders more on hoarding. πŸ™‚

  8. We are supposed to be earthquake ready, with water and supplies for at least 3 days. Every week I think I must update our stuff, and every week I forget. Now would be an excellent time to do so! I can’t believe people were panic buying toilet paper, tea bags and other goods after one confirmed case of Covid 19 in Auckland.

    1. So far no panic in Maine. But so far no Covid 19 in Maine yet. I expect when it comes—there’s a case in a neighboring state—there will be panic. Clif and I are well prepared with a freezer full of food and stuffed shelves. πŸ˜‰

  9. In everyday life I try to never have to make a trip to the grocery store. I have a running list and if I happen to pass a store I go in and get what I need. The only times I have to up and GO to the store it’s usually for the pets. They seem to go through everything faster than I realize.

    1. Good strategy! Because Clif and I work from home, we must make an effort to go. But now we are well stocked and shouldn’t have to go for quite a while.

  10. I grew up in a house where if the power went out there was no water. We had a spring nearby where we could get buckets, but one year when I was in college there was an ice storm at the end of my spring break. I left and my parents didn’t get power back for 2 weeks. They cooked in the fireplace. I haven’t stocked anything yet as far as food. No clue how this covid19 thing is going. Do you have any cases in Maine?

    1. No cases in Maine yet, but there is one in New Hampshire, just across the border. I figure it’s only a matter of time before it come here. One good thing is that we have a fantastic governor who actually knows something. Good people will be in charge, and she won’t lie about what’s happening.

    1. Many thanks! And, oh, how I would love to be your neighbor, too. There would be lots to talk about over coffee or tea. Or something nice later on with appetizers. Or on the patio in the summer. Well, you get the gist.

  11. Wise words, indeed. I am so glad we don’t get ice-storms! Your description of the damage done and the noise of branches falling gave me the horrors!

    1. It was a really scary time. At the time, we had a dog who would only do his business if we took him for a short walk up the road. With all the branches falling, there was a day or two when we didn’t dare go out at night, the way we usually did. We were afraid of getting hit with a branch. Poor dog had to make do with a late afternoon walk and then one first thing in the morning, as soon as it was light.

  12. That storm sounds terrifying. Recently, we’ve been having lots of rain/wind making conditions difficult for going out, but only for a day or two at a time. I always have a good stock of food and other essentials so generally don’t have any problems… I love the feeling of security no matter what.

    1. It was a terrifying, destructive storm. But I did learn some lessons from it, and twenty years later, I am still applying those lessons. I, too, love the feeling of security.

  13. Rural folks must learn to stockpile for in a crisis we are the last ones to get power back. Also with more trees . . .the odds increase. Water s the worst thing to run low on! It stops everything.

    1. So true about rural folks. I’ve been encouraging my New York City daughter to stock up, too, at least a little. The time might soon come when she has to work from home. Ditto for my Asheville, North Carolina kids. The worry doesn’t end, does it?

  14. Thanks for the nudge Laurie. I already buy a lot of basic foodstuffs in bulk because a group of us buy direct from a wholefood wholesaler. Dog and cat food comes by the sack from the local farmers co-op. Toilet paper is delivered 48 rolls at a time on a subscription order and the freezer is full. The woodshed is pretty full and a lot of it is cut and ready. I think I’ll be OK come what may.

  15. Over the years we have also developed a system for preparing for storms and it seems every year we have added items to the list that we had not thought of before. We’ve taken the advice during the coronavirus to have a few extra weeks worth of food supplies in the home in case it hits our community and I was still surprised to read about all the items that have sold out so quickly, with a few that I did not think to add to the list (oat milk) and I have no idea why I felt the need to buy extra Pop-Tarts. Thanks for another great post and quote, I never feel like I’m prepared enough and appreciate any extra suggestions!

    1. You enjoy those Pop-Tarts! In times like these, it’s important to have treats. As being prepared…just when I thought our stockpile was complete, I would discover something else that was missing. Ordinarily, I am all for shopping locally, but we have turned to Amazon for a few things—laundry detergent and nutritional yeast. (What a combination!) Saves time and exposure.

  16. I probably mentioned before that hurricanes are standard-issue weather here, and by June 1, I’m ready to hunker down for a tropical storm or Cat 1 hurricane. If it appears to be more serious than that, I’m heading inland. Preparing to either stay put or to evacuate can be complex, but once the routine’s established, it’s pretty easy.

    This virus isn’t worrying me particularly. There are three cases in the Houston area now, but lo and behold, all three people were found to have been on the same cruise to Egypt. Cruise ships are notorious petri dishes: in the past, everything from Legionnaires disease to nasty intestinal infections have rampaged through ships. Five thousand people in an enclosed space is a recipe for trouble under the best of conditions.

    All that said, I’ve done some stockpiling, and I’ll take normal precautions, but I’m more distressed by the irrational panic that’s taking hold than I am by the disease. Neither the media nor the political leadership has done a thing to ease anxieties, as a more fact-based approach would. Of course, I can be more sanguine because of my life situation. If I lived in NYC and was taking the subway every day, I suspect I’d be more on edge.

  17. That ice storm sounds like a major ordeal. That’s a very long time to go without power. Judy and I have been talking about what to stock up on. She’s bought a bunch of dried and canned stuff. We haven’t stocked up on water, though. I’m thinking now we should remedy that.

  18. I’m glad you are prepared, Laurie. If the water was to go off for any length of time, I’d not be well placed. It seems so unlikely here – our problem is usually too much rain. I have bought some things I would not normally have in such as powdered milk and my freezer is fuller than it would normally be. People my age have spent their whole lives hearing tales about how things were rationed in the war – two and a half sausages as meat ration for a family – but it gives a context for these times.

    I am actually quite scared for my mother who is in a higher risk group. She is very sociable and hates to stay in. I am trying to keep a sense of perspective and hoping for the best, but the statistics make bad reading.

    1. Very tough for sociable types to stay away from crowds. Clif and I are both in our sixties and are considered to be part of the high-risk group. But we are both introverts who work from home, so it is easier for us. Good luck to your mom! May the virus pass her by.

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