Power Outages, Food Safety, Post-Storm Resources
How long will my food stay cold without power? How long will my power be out? What should I watch out for as I clean up debris? Here's a quick overview to help you stay safe and navigate the aftermath of a powerful storm - whether it's a tornado, derecho, or strong thunderstorm.
Staying safe and keeping food cold
When experiencing a power outage, FEMA recommends keeping refrigerators and freezers closed, only using generators outside and away from windows, and avoiding use of gas stoves inside homes. Read more from FEMA here.
The USDA says homes experiencing power outages should stick to shelf-stable foods if the quality of perishables may have been compromised. Read more food safety guidelines from the USDA here. Your refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours, a half full freezer will keep the temperature for about 24 hours. Use coolers with ice if necessary. If it's been longer than four hours or your frozen items are warmer than 40 degrees Fahrenheit you should dispose of those food items. If you aren't certain, it's best to throw the food out.
Scott Meinecke with Iowa Association of Electrical Cooperatives says when the power comes back on, if your generator is not connected properly, it can cause an electrical surge that may injure those nearby or the line workers.
Meincke says generators should be used at least 20 feet from the house or outbuilding. They should never be operated inside because carbon monoxide can quickly accumulate. Running them for extended periods of time can also be a fire hazard.
If you have a backup generator, consult this guide for the safest way to use it.
Cleaning up after the storm
High-speed winds can topple trees, power lines, and fences, littering the area with debris. MidAmerican Energy warns people to avoid downed power lines in case they are still energized. Here's what to do with those tree branches in the driveway.
When clearing away debris, it's important to be aware of what might be buried in the pile. Wear gloves and watch out for pieces of housing, particularly glass, sharp metals, and, for older homes, items containing asbestos. For more information about asbestos and how to protect yourself, read the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's guide.
Chainsaw safety: Proper personal protective equipment must be worn when operating the saw, which includes hand, foot, leg, eye, face, hearing and head protection. Do not wear loose-fitting clothing. Be careful that the trunk or tree limbs will not bind against the saw.— City of Cedar Rapids (@CityofCRiowa) August 12, 2020
If you, or your neighborhood, have a large amount of downed trees or tree limbs, your city may provide assistance in removing the debris. Check your city's website or Facebook page for the latest on whether they're coordinating debris pick-up.
When will my power come back?
MidAmerican Energy continuously updates the status of current power outages in the state. Given the high volume of outages from the derecho, it's taking longer than usual to clean up debris and restore power. Refer to the map of current MidAmerican outages here.
Visit Alliant Energy's Outage Center webpage to report an emergency, report an outage, and view current outages.
Visit the East-Central Iowa Rural Electric Cooperative for a storm safety FAQ that details what to do about downed power lines and wet electrical equipment.
If your utility provider isn't listed above, visit their website or call them directly to report your outage and get an update on progress to restore electricity.