This winter has been one for the books in terms of winter storm damage. More than 400,000 homes (mostly in the Midwest and Northeast) lost power due to storms during the final weeks of 2013, and cities like New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., continue to get hammered well into the New Year.
Thankfully, winters like this are relatively uncommon―but power outages still affect millions of Americans every year, and most of them are unprepared when the lights go dead and the heat shuts off. Emergency generators, sturdy flashlights, a stockpile of canned food, and a few extra blankets will go a long way. In addition, there are several ways you can use your smartphone to ready yourself and your family for a power outage.
The jury is out about which flashlight app is the best, but there are several available for various smartphone models. Here are some the best, according to current user ratings.
Available for Apple devices, this flashlight also features a compass reading to further guide users through the dark and a built-in SOS transmitter. Users have collectively awarded this app a five-star rating.
Tiny Flashlight + LED
If you’re looking for a slightly smaller beam, this app utilizes the camera flash as its light source. One advantage of the smaller flashlight: it takes much longer to drain your battery. Users have bestowed a 4.6‑star rating on this Android and Samsung app.
Not to be confused to the other app with a similar handle, this Apple-compatible torch features a disco ball, police car light-bar, and more than 30 other different light effects.
There are plenty of others for all types and models of mobile devices, and thankfully, nearly all of them are free-of-charge. The best way to figure out which flashlight app is best for you? Good ol’ fashioned trial and error―but keep several on your device just in case your favorite one fails you during an outage.
News and Weather Update Apps
Reliable, up-to-date information is invaluable during power outages. These apps and programs allow you to track storm activity and road conditions, find out if repair crews are working to restore power in your area, and determine whether you and your family should remain in the house or seek shelter somewhere else.
Weather Channel for Mobile Devices
One of the most reliable news outlets for up-to-date weather conditions, The Weather Channel provides an app for Apple, Android, Blackberry, and Windows smartphones; Kindles; and iPads.
There are many of these available for smartphone and tablet devices, and most cater to specific regions of the country. Intellicast for Apple devices features storm tracking and weather forecasts for all of North America. Storm Shield for Apple and Android devices will elicit storm warnings pertaining to the user’s specific location (as opposed to other apps that rely on county-wide alerts). Both of these apps have earned four-star ratings or higher from users.
Available on virtually every mobile and tablet device, this network of radio channels from around the world is fun regardless of the weather outside. But when a storm hits, weather and emergency service channels can be life-savers. Please check the availability of stations in your city or town to ensure TuneIn will be able to assist you during an outage.
External Devices and Accessories
The apps listed above will come in handy during a power outage ― but as any smartphone or tablet device owner knows, the battery life won’t last forever. In fact, you’ll be lucky to get more than a few hours out of it without recharging. Thankfully, there are ways to mitigate this problem, as well.
MIPOW External Batteries
MIPOW offers 14 different portable chargers for various smartphones and tablet device models. No cables required. Prices vary between $25 and $70; please note that some will power different models, while others are exclusive to one brand.
This pronged device essentially functions as a wall-charger, and the lithium battery is completely rechargeable. It’s currently available for $39.99.
Available in 10 different color schemes, this external battery pack is equipped with dual ports to accommodate two mobile devices at once. The Mini is available for $69.95.
Final Note: A smartphone app might provide helpful intel regarding storms, weather conditions, power outages, and alerts in your area. But if you ever feel as though your life and the lives of your family will be compromised by remaining in your home, please don’t rely on technology―contact emergency services or, if the roads are navigable, hop in the car and relocate to somewhere warmer and better lit.