The weather event itself wasn’t what most people would call a “storm”. It was just rain. But it happened to fall at a time when the temperature was at, and later just below, the freezing point of water. The rain froze as it hit tree limbs and power lines, growing increasingly thick and heavy until they broke under the weight.
The rain started on Saturday, December 8th. The TV cable was the first to go and we spent Sunday bummed out about not being able to watch football. Later we were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of tree limbs, and sometimes whole trees, cracking and crashing to the ground. As expected, the electricity went off sometime late Sunday night or Monday morning. By the time I got up the waterbed had started to cool noticeably.
My husband left for work just a little earlier than usual. A few minutes later he was back to get his chainsaw to clear trees out of the roadway. All day Monday limbs continued to crash to the ground, one every few minutes. I’ve never heard anything like it before. That evening we went out to eat. The road we usually take from our house to the main highway was almost completely blocked, with only low narrow tunnels cut through the fallen trees to drive through. By Tuesday morning the limbs had almost stopped falling and the sound of chainsaws had taken over.
Our house is “all electric” but our primary source of heat is a woodstove. The furnace only cycles on when it’s very cold outside. Lacking heat for the waterbed, we had to sleep in the guest room. We don’t normally call it that because we don’t have guests, just family who live elsewhere most of the time. Something between fifteen and twenty years of sleeping on a waterbed has made me almost incapable of sleeping on a normal bed, or so I thought. Actually it’s just motel beds that I can’t sleep on. Our extra beds (a daybed containing two twin beds) are somewhat softer than granite (unlike motel beds) and I actually slept quite well.
Power was back in most of the Nearby Small Town in just one or two days. We continued to eat out most nights. On Wednesday or Thursday (I forget which) we went to see Beowulf. One night I tried to heat soup on the wood stove, another night, pasta. That didn’t work out very well. It’s made for heating, not cooking. The top of it gets hot enough to almost boil water.
In the evenings we would sit around and stare at candles and listen to KOOL 106.1 on a small battery powered radio. (We can’t get my favorite station inside our house.) In the daytime I read a lot. I started and finished Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds – very good book – and tried to catch up on the last few issues of Smithsonian Magazine.
One day I finally had to take one load of laundry to the laundromat. I hate those places. Generally you see two types of people in laundromats: normal-looking young people who will probably be able to afford their own washer and dryer someday and creepy, inbred-looking people whom you wish you didn’t have to be in the same building with even though they’re probably not all that bad if you get to know them. There were not enough dryers and there were several people waiting so I took my clean wet clothes home and hung them up.
A couple of days before the power came back on one of my husband’s co-workers loaned us a generator. He had gone out and bought the generator and returned home just in time to see the lights come back on. We ran the refrigerator and two lights for the price of approximately 10 gallons of gasoline a day. Ouch. So I got some stuff to go in the refrigerator and we had sandwiches for a couple of meals. I won’t go into the ordeal of cleaning out the refrigerator. You can just use your imagination.
The power finally came back on Thursday afternoon, December 20th, then some idiot driving too fast hit a pole and it was off for another three hours. My husband and the neighbor were a little annoyed because the person he talked to at the power company wouldn’t tell us where the incident had occurred so they couldn’t go have a talk with the aforementioned idiot. The TV cable was back by Saturday morning. The phone was only out for three or four days.
What was it like being without electricity for 10 days? It’s hard to say. I’ve already forgotten. It was so unreal. After a couple of days there were houses within two miles of us that got their power back and for a little while I was expecting the lights to come back on “any time now” but it didn’t and for a while I felt like it would never come back – that this was the way life was going to be from then on. After the first week I even stopped reaching for the light switch every time I entered or left a room. Now… life’s back to normal and it’s almost like that week and a half never happened. Except that there are broken trees laying all over our yard, including the top of one of my favorite small trees. Most of our trees came through okay though. We have a lot of big, strong oaks. Once we get things cleaned up our place will look normal again.
There are still some people without electricity. We were lucky to get it back on before Christmas and on Sunday we had the little gathering that we had been planning since before the power outage.
My sincerest thanks to all the power linemen out there – truly everyday heros, working in the cold for up to 20 hours a day to get our lights back on.