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Blizzard grips the East Coast: Five power gadgets to ride out the storm

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Mike Segar/Reuters/File

(Read caption) People walk through heavy falling snow in Times Square in New York January 26, 2015. The National Weather Service (NWS) issued a blizzard warning for New York City and surrounding areas beginning 1 p.m. EST on Monday, and warned of two days of winter storms across the East Coast, from Pennsylvania to Maine.

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Safety, of course, is the top concern for residents of the northeastern United States, where a massive snowstorm threatened to become a deadly winter blizzard on Monday.

But with extended power outages predicted in places like New York and Boston, staying plugged in and connected will also become a challenge. For millions of people, the smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices that have become our go-to tools for communication are at risk of becoming useless just when staying in touch becomes most crucial.

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There’s no way around the fact that staying online through massive power outages is tough. But here are some tools that can help keep you connected when the lights go out.

Hand-crank radio

In an age of Twitter and texts, the radio can seem like an old-fashioned way to get your info. But in a crisis, when power is at a premium, a radio can be your best source for local weather and other news, especially when you’re able to keep it running with no external power source.

Available at stores like Best Buy, many hand-crank radios offer AM and FM reception, specific weather-related channels and shortwave radio, and some degree of weatherproofing and the ability to charge other devices.

External charger

It’s hard enough keeping our phones and tablets charged in the best of times. In an extended power outage, it quickly becomes impossible if you don’t have a source other than a wall socket.

There’s a whole host of external chargers out there, from smartphone cases that also provide a little bit of extra juice to dedicated little bricks of electricity that can power you up again and again if you use them wisely.

Anker claims its workhorse Astro3 charger can fully charge an iPhone 6 five times and a bigger phone like the Samsung Galaxy S5 more than three times. An iPad or similar tablet can get at least one full charge off of the battery.

The Mophie Juice Pack, which doubles as a case for most major smartphones, is a bit pricier, but roughly doubles the life of a phone’s battery.

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Light source

Of course you’ll want your flashlights and candles handy. But during an extended outage, it’s nice to have light that you don’t have to carry around with you and that won’t keep guttering out.

There are battery-powered LED lights available for less than $40 that can keep you lit up for up to 10 hours. Plug them into an outlet, and they’ll automatically turn on when the power goes out, saving you those moments of blind fumbling.

For something a little more exotic, and potentially more useful in certain situations, try theStriker Magnetic Light Mine ($6.99). The Striker is a tiny ball of LED lights and magnets that can stick to steel surfaces and be moved around easily.

Power inverter

If you need to charge up something bigger than a phone or tablet, a power inverter might be what you’re after. Inverters convert the DC electric charge from your car battery to the AC charge used by devices like your laptop and desktop computer, kitchen appliances or even your TV.

Inverters can be found at most hardware and discount stores, with prices starting as low as $20 and ranging up dramatically based on the amount of power you want to be able to invert.

Use what you have

All those gadgets are useful. But what if you don’t have time to hit the store as the storms barrel down?

Of course, you’ll want to use your devices as little as possible in advance of a coming power outage and keep them as close to fully charged as possible. But here’s another tip: Break out every laptop you own, even that chunky, clunky beast that’s been gathering dust in the closet for a decade, and charge those up as well.

In a pinch, every laptop you own can double as an external charger for your smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. It’s not the fastest or most efficient way to charge up. But it works.