You hear all kinds of advice from government agencies when bad weather strikes. We're warned not to shovel too much snow, not to eat food that may have spoiled while the power was off and so on and so forth.

All of this is true, of course, but the winter storms that have blasted the East Coast the last few weeks have revealed some additional pointers. Here are a few that we, in our constant search for consumer enlightenment, have established through painful trial and error.

  • Don't count on your cell phone. When the lights went out in suburban Washington, D.C., this week, most of us immediately dived smartly for our smartphones, swamping the networks. A call from down the block sounded worse than the first words from the moon. It didn't matter all that much since our battery soon failed anyway. Our HTC Incredible is normally hard-pressed to run for an entire day on its battery. It lasted about eight hours after the lights went out.

  • Don't count on your Kindle. We went cold turkey Wednesday morning when, for whatever reason, the Wall Street Journal didn't arrive on our Kindle. We had sacrificed a few hours of reading Tuesday night to keep the battery fresh for the morning, but our efforts were in vain, and our Tuesday night was very boring.

  • Don't rent an expensive Pay Per View movie on a stormy winter evening. When the power goes out and stays out, your purchase flies off into the void.

  • Watch where you park. We were careful not to park any of our fleet where it might be obliterated by passing snow plows, rare though such things are in our neck of the woods. What we didn't think of was the big tree that used to lean over our driveway. It doesn't lean anymore. Weighted down with snow, it fell onto our month-old Volkswagen.

  • Those paper fire logs? Yeah, they look nice but they don't generate much heat. We had to wade out into the snow to retrieve some actual firewood from our long-neglected woodpile. It's hard to get wet hard wood burning but when you do, it will warm up a room nicely. (Cautionary note from our legal department: Only try this if you have a fireplace. Be sure to open the damper.)

  • Be careful with candles. They are incredibly dangerous. Left to their own devices, other family members will put them in bookcases, next to piles of laundry and in the exact location where the cat is likely to leap.

  • Don't assume the dogs are OK. Huddled beneath piles of blankets deep in the night, we noticed the dogs – who are not welcome under the covers -- were shivering. We got them their own blanket, which seemed to resolve the issue.

  • Keep at least one faucet open slightly to keep water moving in your pipes. Frozen pipes are no fun.

  • Drain your garden hoses before winter settles in. Gazing out the kitchen window at the Winter Hinterland, we discovered what seemed to be sleet but was in fact our garden hose exploding and shooting ice all over our deck, which subsequently became quite slippery.

  • Don't go to a lot of trouble digging out your electric snow-blower. It won't work very well without electricity.

  • Kick the coffee habit now!  Or make a thermos full of coffee at the first sign of bad weather.  Ever tried to make coffee on a gas grill in the middle of a blizzard?
  • Don't buy a house on a hill.