Surviving an Ice Storm; December 2007

Unless one has lived through a major ice event, there is no way to describe the impact that would begin to communicate how bad things get.  It is not so much the icy roads, although they certainly cause accidents and at times prohibit travel at all.  It is not the cold, for the temperatures are hovering right around the 32 degree mark.  The problems being faced by all of us directly in the path of this event is power outages and tree damage.

This past Sunday morning we were awakened at about 4:00 a.m. by a violent thunderstorm.  This would not be unusual except that the temperature at the time was 26 degrees.  All the heavy rain quickly turned to ice, especially on tree branches.  By 6:00 a.m., huge tree limbs began crashing down and we lost power about 6:30 a.m.  Why do ice storms cause power outages?  The answer is quite simple.  As ice accumulates on tree branches and limbs, the weight of the ice increases to the point the branch or limb snaps and comes crashing to the ground.  If there happened to be a power line near, it goes to the ground also.  In a matter of a few seconds, power goes out to all those “down line” from where the incident occurred.  When this same scenario starts being repeated over and over again, the outages start multiplying rapidly to the point whole neighborhoods and cities lose power.

If the roads are covered with ice, then the power company trucks cannot get out to fix the problems.  They must wait for the road crews to put chemicals or sand on the roads.  This all takes times.  Once the crews make it to the site or sites of the problem, it many times is a maze of broken tree limbs and wires all tangled together.  The situation must be dealt with great caution due to the power of electricity.  There can be no “quick fixes” allowed.

We were without power (the first time) from 6:30 a.m. Sunday until around 9:00 p.m. that evening.  15 hours is a long time to go without power.  We, thankfully, have a generator but since I had been remiss and had not started it for well over a year, it took me many hours to finally get it going.  By late morning we had enough power to run the pump for our well, the sump pump and a few outlets.  Later in the day I got my small generator running I used to take in my van when I travelled.  It provided just enough power to run two low wattage space heaters.  As difficult as our situation was, we were in heaven compared to hundreds of thousands of people who have no generator and are still without power. 

If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, ice storms or earthquakes; I highly recommend you “INVEST” (and it is an investment) in a generator and have it professional hooked up to your home’s circuit breaker.  That way, if the power goes out for any length of time, all you have to do is start the generator and then flip a few switches near your “breaker box”, and you have enough power to run things such as a well (if you have one), a sump pump (very important) and outlets for the refrigerator, lights, computer and possibly a small space heater.  For a substantial investment, generators can be installed that run on propane and automatically go on whenever the power goes out.  These generators allow hospitals and other emergency facilities to keep limited power during “blackouts”.

If you don’t have the $2,500-3,000 do get a big gasoline generator wired to the circuit breaker; please at least get a generator that can have heavy duty extension cords hooked to it and can at least run the refrigerator and few outlets.  These kinds of generators can be purchased for $500-800.  I do not sell generators nor do I promote any brand.  I am simply trying to get people to understand how to keep from becoming a victim when massive power outages occur.

People always say they will fire up the oil lamps, use flashlights, build a fire in the fireplace and put on warm clothes.  The trouble is that most people never buy enough oil to last more than one night, don’t have enough batteries to run the flashlights for more than a few hours and have no wood to burn in the fireplace.  Thus, most people immediately find themselves in a crisis situation when the power goes out for any length of time, especially during the winter months.

When the National Weather Service issues an Ice Storm, Winter Storm, Hurricane or Flood warning; they always provide details as to what should be done ahead of time to prepare for what is coming.  Most people just run to the grocery store to get bread, milk and other “necessities”.  Very few people realize the first thing they run out of is water, and then prescription medicines.  Things such as food that does not need heat to prepare, gasoline for the generator, candles and spare batteries are all items usually forgotten in the mad dash to get “bread and milk” before a storm.  Everyone from FEMA to the Red Cross have detailed lists available for emergency provisions to have on hand.  Numerous places on line sell pre-packaged backpacks full of everything needed to endure 3-5 days without power and access to stores.

In all my attempts to “be prepared”, I forgot one vital thing; a battery powered radio.  Before I got the generator going, we wanted to know what was going on but had no way to do so.  I had also forgotten to run the dishwasher the night before the storm as well as getting all the laundry done.  No portable generator is strong enough to run appliances.  No portable generator can run an electric hot water heater, furnace or stove.  No portable generator is strong enough to do anything but provide emergency power.

Although we had land line phone service Sunday, we lost phone service most of the next day.  That puts a premium on the cell phone.  It is the only means of communication many times during a power outage.  Again, if you do not have a generator, a cell phone battery will go dead in no time.  The only way to recharge it would be to go to the car and do it there. 

At least because this is a winter storm, we do not have to deal with spoiling food in refrigerators and freezers.  During severe summer storms this is one of the biggest problems people must deal with.  Again, a portable generator, along with spare gasoline to run it, can easily provide enough power to run all the refrigerators and freezers in the house.  What takes power is any device that generates heat.  That is why generators cannot be used to run heaters, microwaves and other items that produce heat.

Last night, at 11:00 p.m. our power went out again.  Not because we were having any severe weather, only because somewhere “up line” a tree limb broke the lines.  I am so thankful all I had to do was step outside and yank on the cord to fire up the generator.  Then I went downstairs, flipped a few switches and lo and behold we had enough power to not “suffer”.  I went out on another porch, fired up the small generator and was able to run the two small heaters.  My wife was able to work on her computer doing eBay business, and I was able to get some sleep.  We did not get cold and this morning I had my normal few cups of coffee and listened to my worship music as usual.  About 7:30 a.m., the power came back on and I simply had to turn off the generators and flip some switches.

A few years ago, we purchased this home and had it remodeled so my elderly mother could spend her remaining years living with my wife and I.  She insisted I get the generator and have it wired into the house circuit before she moved in.  She had lived many years in Kansas and had suffered through many nights without power due to storms.  She did not want to worry about such things in her old age.  I did not want her to worry either.  Thus, we did as she requested.  In fact, we had a 250 gallon tank full of unleaded gasoline delivered just so we would never run out of gas for the generators.  In the time she lived here I had to use that generator quite a few times, once for almost a full day.  My mother was greatly stressed that day, but nothing like she would have been if we had no power.

PLEASE, if you live in a disaster prone area, figure out a way to get a generator and have it professionally wired into your home’s circuits.  Like any “insurance”, it will probably not be used for long stretches of time; but also like “insurance”, when it is needed it will be worth its weight in gold.  Trust me, I know this by personal experience.


1 Response to “Surviving an Ice Storm; December 2007”

  1. May 20, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Engaging site=D hope to definitely visit soon!

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