Friday, November 26, 2010

61 Hours Off The Grid

Sunday we had some snow, but nothing that really stuck. Monday we got about two inches and it froze solid as soon as the sun went down, but that wasn't what shut us down. As the cold and evening commute turned the roads into well-packed ice rinks, the wind kicked up and brought down limbs, trees, and power polls. Our power went out shortly after 4pm.

Tuesday morning our family took a stroll around the neighborhood and found three places where the lines were down just in our immediate vicinity. Even if there weren't trees in the road, the ice would have made getting out of the neighborhood difficult at best. There is no way out without navigating at least one hill steep enough to be dangerous when covered by ice. Reports said that about 50,000 people in our county were without power. We settled in for an extended stay at home.

We knew the snow was coming and we knew from experience that road plows and repair crews have many priorities before our neighborhood, so we were mostly prepared. I made a point of getting lamp oil -- the one item of which we had no backup supply -- when the snow started. Monday night as the temperature dropped to a rare low, we lit oil lamps and candles, set up a camping stove, and started up the generator to keep the refrigerator and freezer running and to run a heat lamp for the chickens. We kept the woodstove burning and had a comfortable evening playing family board games while an unbelievable number of people spent an unbelievable number of hours getting to their cold, dark homes. I know of one person who took 5 hours to travel what normally takes 30 minutes and another person whose hour-long round trip took 11 hours.

Tuesday we only ventured out for a walk and some sledding. The high that day was 18 degrees fahrenheit (the average high for November is 50; the average low is 39). I spoke that day with a colleague from Utah who could not believe two inches of snow had virtually shut down the entire Puget Sound. I asked him how many resources we should maintain to deal with this weather when it happens once every 700 days and is done after 2-3 days? Personally, I think people need to settle down, be prepared, and enjoy the change of pace. Some people don't deal well with the "unexpected". That night the temperature dropped to a record 10 degrees fahrenheit.

We braved the roads Wednesday to get the wife to work for a half-day. Our neighborhood streets were still icy, but everywhere else the roads were clear and dry. I picked up a few things from the grocery store and got gas for the generator. None of the businesses near our home were open due to the power outage. The family all got home just as the sun was going down. We had dinner, played games, listened to the radio, and made contingency plans for Thanksgiving dinner. The only things we could not cook with our camping gear would be the turkey and the pumpkin pie. We agreed that we could cook the turkey in the outdoor smoker/cooker and would just have to wait for pie. That third night without power, the family agreed to plug the DVD/TV into the generator and watch a movie. While the rest of the family slept, the temperature hovered in the mid-20s and I stayed up and made candles.

The power came back on around 6am Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. We didn't have internet back until later that afternoon. We listened to Arlo Guthrie and had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn't be beat.

All in all, I feel we did well. I will make a point to keep more lamp oil on hand as well as more gasoline for the generator. I was also reminded how much fun candle-making is and plan to pick up more wax as I am almost out of recovered candle wax. I was very surprised at how long the water heater provided warm water -- after 48 hours we were still drawing warm water. Our generator is underpowered, but it keeps our food from spoiling in an emergency with some maintenance (the refrigerator and freezer cannot run simultaneously off the current generator). I'm thinking a second generator would be useful.

It may not officially be winter yet, but Mother Nature can be a heartless bitch. Don't let her get the best of you.


  1. CostCo sells the larger generators. 3200 watt runs $429 (After $100 rebate.) If you're running electronics you need a decent surge protector. I think maybe the one I got at CostCo has a 220 volt outlet. I could run the range/oven and bake that turkey/pie.

    The sage advice is that you don't run TV and computers off a generator.

    Fred's sells some sort of additive/stabilizer for gasoline. If you're storing gas, you should use a stabilizer.

    Arlo Gutherie, "Alice's Restaurant." It's the saga of a Thanksgiving dinner -- along with some other stuff.

    The ice and snow (dusting) hit here, but no power loss. We opted not to drive into PDX for TG dinner. (Ice, snow, holiday nut-jobs on the road, Black Friday hysteria, etc.)

    In other news, PDX FBI arrested a terrorist bomber somewhere around Pioneer Square. This was the LEAD STORY on BBC radio Friday night/Sat. morning.

  2. Thanks for the heads up on the CostCo generator!

    I have a feeling an outdoor cob or brick oven will happen before our second generator. The one I have has a surprisingly good surge protector. I did use a secondary surge protector before the TV/DVD/VCR and I did that in an effort to keep everyone happy with the prospect of having Thanksgiving in the dark (which would have been fine, but a lot of unanticipated work. Morale boosters go a long way).

    STA-BIL -- good stuff. Yes, have some!

    I heard PDX area was pretty mild weather-wise. Still, holiday nut-jobs and Black Friday are more than reason enough to stay far away.

    Was the bomber really a terrorist? Or was it part of a PR campaign?