Weathering the Storm with Mobile Tech

Millions are currently feeling the effects of the harsh weather in the northeast U.S., not the least of which are the sore muscles from shoveling so much snow. The news is full of all of the cities that are virtually shut down by the blizzard that keeps on giving. I am fortunate to be in Houston, far from the white blanket of snow that is covering much up north. I’m not immune to the weather, however, as I am currently sitting without power, writing this using the glow of the laptop screen to light my way. I am able to keep going strictly due to the mobile tech that I employ, and that same tech could help those in the blizzard-encrusted north.

It may be too late to prepare for the winter storm, but hopefully this will give food for thought for the future. A lot of what I will cover is simply common sense, but it may help some. I have used these techniques many times here on the Gulf Coast, due to the massive storms and hurricanes that come all too frequently. The two weeks I survived without power during Hurricane Ike put all of my previous experience to shame.

Most of you have notebook computers, and these can be a real boon during storm periods. Power loss is so common during inclement weather, and battery powered notebooks are valuable during such times. Extended power loss can mean the inability to tap into the news of the day, something vital during storms. Make sure you charge your laptop and phone batteries fully when word comes that a big storm is headed your way. You may be forced to rely on those batteries more than you would like. If your house is a multiple laptop home, make sure all of them are fully charged. That includes all of the kid’s laptops.

So the power is off and you have candles lit in the rooms where everyone congregates. The first thing you should do is designate one of the laptops as the current one and just use that one. You don’t know how long the power will be out so stretch those batteries out by only using one at a time. Go in and set the laptop’s power management to the most aggressive you can. Unplug all peripherals like external speakers that you may be using. That will make the battery last as long as possible. Run that battery down all the way, and then switch to another laptop if you’re lucky enough to have one. Repeat the process. Two laptops can provide up to 12 hours if the batteries are new and the computers are not old.

So you have the laptops ready to go for a few hours, now you need connectivity. During Hurricane Ike I found the only current weather information I could get at all was over the web. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so connectivity is crucial. Many of you have 3G modems, either USB or wireless like the MiFi I use. These let you get connected as needed and get the news of the day. Go to the website for one of the TV stations in a big city near you. Most of them have constant streaming weather news during storms, and they are great sources of information. Don’t stay connected all the time, that drains those precious batteries. Connect only when needed and then shut down.

What do you do if you don’t have one of these 3G modems? Many are using smartphones today and often they can be tethered to a laptop to provide connectivity. There is usually a monthly cost to do this, typically around $15, but this is a cheap price during storm events. Usually you can call the carrier and have this tethering service turned on and off without penalty. You do have to pay for a full month but again, that’s cheap in times such as these. Once it is activated you can tether the phone to the laptop using either a USB cable or over Bluetooth. Either method works fine for quick online sessions to get news.

During a storm like that in the northeast currently raging, flight cancellations are the theme of the day. Already thousands of flights have been canceled in the U.S., and anyone with plans to travel can be affected. Bookmark the web site of the airline you plan to use, as they typically do a good job keeping flight statuses up-to-date. It is harrowing enough to travel around storms, and this can keep you from heading to the big airport only to find out your flight’s been cancelled.

There are also some free travel planning services that are good at times like these. I’ve tried TripIt and WorldMate, and both are good at times like these as they send notices to your email or phone when your flight’s been affected by the weather. I’m sure there are other services that are good, these are just the two I have used.

These are just common sense methods to deal with the storm, but worth mentioning. Some may not realize that mobile tech can play a pivotal role when a storm ties you down, but my experience shows that it can. If you are affected by these storms rocking the U.S., hunker down and stay safe.