• Blackout view from my apratment (Photo - Jody McIntyre).

      Blackout view from my apratment (Photo – Jody McIntyre).

      People are suffering with the heat, and thousands in LA County lost power for days. With heat waves becoming more common, the grid will struggle to keep up.

      By Thom Hawkins

      Last summer I spent a week car camping in the Mojave at temperatures up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I kept in the shade and there was usually a breeze. Just loved it! Those hot desert nights are delicious, heavy with stars ripe for picking. Most of the time I was the only human in sight–no one else crazy wild like this eighty-year-old. How did I survive?

      Cooling off grid

      If you can keep your core temperature from overheating, you will be okay, even comfortable. All you need is a towel (I prefer an organic cotton bath towel) soaked in water, cold water if you have it, say, from your cooler. Wrap the wet towel around your neck and head like they do in the Arabian Desert. Make a fashion statement. Keeping your neck and head wet cools through evaporation, and if the head is cool, your core stays cool.

      Evaporative cooling works best when there is a breeze, so you need to be either outside or in your home in front of a fan. You can buy a small battery operated fan; however, the fan will have to run twenty-four hours a day–a conventional battery won’t last long.

      I bought a small fan that is powered through a USB cable I connect to a twelve volt portable power pack. Small portable solar panels keep charging the power pack even while I’m using it, so the fan can run day and night. (You can also use the power pack to charge your cell phone.) Get an extra fan for backup.

      Trial run

      Do a trial run to make sure you have dependable power. I bought a nine-foot USB extension cable that allows me to put my solar panels outside my window and get a gentle breeze either in my writing space or while relaxing in my nearby recliner. At night I unplug the solar panels and run the fan on my night table from the fully-charged power pack, head wrapped in a wet towel until the cool of morning provides relief.

      Voila! I become a human swamp cooler for around $150.

      Here’s what I'm using to keep cool:
      - Opolar 5” Personal USB Fan ($16.99)
      - TuffGear 15 Watt Dual Solar Charger ($32.99)
      - 9’ USB Extension Cable ($6.49)
      - Winplus 12v Car Jump Starter ($85)
      Too expensive? Try a folding hand fan.


      For light I am using the amazing Packlite Nova by LuminAid ($20). The sun keeps it charged and it provides light you can use to do anything…reading, cooking, eating, sewing, etc. My solar powered radio keeps me informed.

      Cool food

      My food stays cool for up to a week because I keep two fifteen-pound blocks of ice in the freezer. Make the blocks by freezing 2.5 gallon plastic containers of water, first draining off about half an inch to allow for expansion. Move them and all the frozen food down to the top shelves in the main compartment. I eat everything from the fridge before turning to my supply of canned and dehydrated foods.

      Start digging?

      These preparations will also come in handy in the next major quake, but all bets are off when the heat reaches 130 to 150 degrees–humans can’t survive those surface temps. That’s when we go underground, like ants. Start digging now.

      Thom Hawkins was a staff writing instructor at UC Berkeley for twenty-two years and has published books and articles about teaching, as well as short fiction and poetry. He’s currently preparing his first poetry chapbook, “Wild Decrepitudes,” that will be available later this year.

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      1. Glenn Storm says:

        In lieu of a fan for evaporation (takes power), wet wash cloths or hand towels get very cold quickly simply by waving or fanning them a few times.

        Also, take advantage of the cooler temps in the early morning and use that time to air out the house (and do anything strenuous). This also re-hydrates / humidifies the air indoors, if the A/C has been running a lot.

        Stay cool!

      2. Alex Nodopaka says:

        It simply shows how unprepared the electric companies are. Except when they collect their monthly dues. Do we charge them for their failures? Can you imagine how many of us will die in the case of a couple of weeks in a row of above 100 degrees F while electric power fails? In which case forget the use of your refrigerator!!!

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