Powerless

The snow and wind of NHWind2010 — as Twitterers dub it — left a lot of people in northern New England without power. (Some still don’t have it.)

We lost our power from midnight of Thursday/Friday until late Friday afternoon (16 hours), and then again for 5 hours on Saturday afternoon and evening. Given that we lost it for a week in 1998, during the ice storm in Maine (when we couldn’t even leave the house in a car for a couple of days because of downed trees, wires, and ice), this was a minor inconvenience.

road closed, wires down, 27 Feb 2010

Here’s some of what we did without electric heat, lights, vestigial land line phone (it’s VoIP, electric- and cable-dependent!), cooking stove and oven, internet access via laptop, TV, and the ability to flush the toilet much (we have public water but a private septic system with a holding tank that requires an electric pump to dump it), along with some ‘lessons learned’:

  • Located the wide-based candles, oil lamps, and flashlights. Some of these we hadn’t seen since we moved in late Sept. Even found the honking big ‘espresso’-smelling candle I thought I’d tossed. Its saving grace is that it’s fully enclosed in a glass jar, so it’s safe, portable, and did I mention that it will fill the earth with its aroma for decades?
  • Refilled the 4 or 5 oil lamps with oil. Glad we had a lot of lamp oil on hand.
  • Located camp stove and sterno containers. Didn’t use them this time (we sure did in ’98 – oh, the mac&cheese&tuna memories) but good to know they exist and made the move.
  • Started the woodstove going early in the day and kept it burning at about 500-600F during the outage. This raised the temp in the family room, where we spent most of our time, to around 70F, much warmer than usual for this time of year. Temps upstairs, where we didn’t spend any time, dropped to about 52F. The bedroom (downstairs) was around 60F, good for sleeping. Glad we have almost a full cord of split wood stored in the (dry) garage.
  • We didn’t shower or bathe on Friday. We have a propane-powered water heater in one bathroom but the septic system couldn’t handle too much water without the electric pump to dispose of liquid in the holding tank. Would be good to find an alternative way to operate the septic pump, and also to operate the fridge/freezer. It was in the high 50s in the kitchen, which helped keep them cold, and we could have stored some items outside in the mid-30sF snow, but in summer this could be a big issue.
  • Spouse wanted coffee on Friday morning.  Although our whole town lost power all day on Friday, including the gas stations and coffee shops, we found free brewed coffee at the grocery store, which was running on generator! Later we made hot drinks by heating water in a kettle on the woodstove griddle, since we had running water from the town. We also have some containers of drinking water on hand in case the town’s water is ever inaccessible or not potable.

snow in yard, 26 Feb 2010

  • We drove around for about 40 minutes on Friday morning, checking out the outage area, taking photos, looking for above-mentioned coffee, looking for gasoline for snowblower (none found), and charging my cell phone on the car’s charger. We had hoped to plug in laptops, too, and access the internet, but the library and coffee shops were without power and closed. Roads were snowy, and snow was falling, so we came on home.
  • Fortunately, the garage doors can be opened manually when the automatic (electric) openers aren’t working.
  • Spouse used snowblower to clear out driveway on Friday afternoon. We had some gas on hand, and in fact have a full gas tank in the little sports car, which, hailing from the auto dark ages of the 1960s, is easy to siphon gas from, so we weren’t concerned that we would run out. Both 1990s model cars were full, too.  As long as the sports car is full of gas, closed gas stations wouldn’t pose much of a problem for a week or so, but it might be good to have a little more gas on hand in portable containers.

snowblower

  • On Friday afternoon, I shoveled the end of the driveway, where the plow trucks deposit snow, and then I shoveled the dog’s path.

driveway

  • The dog was all set with food and clean water. We had enough food for more than a week, plus brown rice that did fine during our short outage.  She loved the ongoing woodstove fire. One of her toys (a large ball) glows in the dark and helped me see where I was going that first night without power! When the pet food store was open on Saturday morning, we bought another big bag of dog food (I was remembering the ’98 ice storm, when our then-neighbours didn’t have enough dog food for their menagerie and got some from us. Never hurts to be prepared!).

andover, snow, 27 feb 2010

  • I kept up with the outer world via my smartphone, checking email, Twitter, Facebook, and making phone calls (to the electric company, and to businesses to find out if they were open). We could always charge the phone from the car’s battery but because I used it sparingly (few calls, no music, few photos, abbreviated surfing), and because we had power from late Friday afternoon to early Sat. afternoon, during which I kept it on the charger, the only time I needed to re-charge it after Friday morning was late on Saturday, and fortunately, one coffee shop was open then, so we plugged in the laptops (we brought our own extension cord — only one plug available in the whole place!) to check email, see power outage estimates, do online banking, etc., and we charged the phones from the laptops at the same time. (And when we got home, the power was back on!)
  • I texted my sister and some friends a few times during Friday, partly because things were going on that needed attention and partly just to feel connected.
  • In daylight, I read 30 or 40 pages of my current book (Rene Girard’s Battling to the End ) and got through about 15 Wall Street Journals that had stacked up. I also pulled out a jigsaw puzzle I was given for Christmas and began it, first in daylight and then by oil lamp and camp lantern. Spouse gathered and readied lamps, camp stove, and other storm-paraphernalia, and read and snoozed.

jigsaw puzzle and oil lamp

  • We accumulated pee in the toilets, flushing every 4 or 5 trips. Spouse figured out that the mechanism on our toilets allows a partial flush, which uses half the normal water amount, so he did all the flushing. We flushed the ‘brown’ down more often, but that was only an issue on Friday mid-day. By late that afternoon, we had power again, and in the meantime we found a business nearby (on the town sewer) where we could have gone had we needed to. We also found that our neighbours across the street are on the town sewer and they offered us their bathrooms, too. (They were cozily ensconced in their living room, reading, with a wood fire burning, when I brought their newspaper in to them in late morning on Friday.) This flushing issue was probably the biggest problem for us and though there are workarounds, as noted (especially when some town businesses are open), it would be great to find an alternate  way — short of a generator, which requires gas and is noisy — to operate the pump. Or we could just bite the bullet and get on the town’s sewer system. (Previous owners decided not to do this when it was offered.)
  • We ate Chex mix; Jarlsberg and Havarti cheese and crackers; garlicky olives and kalamatas; leftover mac&cheese/tuna/peas; cheese and red pepper muffins (heated on foil on woodstove griddle); potato chips; bananas, oranges and apples; cookies; poppyseed bread; Jujyfruits (me); and drank seltzer, water, wine and beer, and hot tea, French press coffee (T.) and hot chocolate (T) — we heated the water in a little tea kettle on the woodstove griddle. (The woodstove instruction book explains how to make pancakes and roasts on the griddle!)  On Friday night, when most of the town had power again, we went out for Chinese, and on Saturday night, before we got our power back, we got a take-out salad from the pizza place. We had veggies in the house throughout the storm but what we felt like eating was mostly junk food, and fruit. (I forgot I had Captain Crunch or I’m sure I would have nibbled some of that, too.)
  • Yesterday, after it was all over (for us), we took a 3+ mile walk through town, on snowy, slushy sidewalks, and came home to a warm, well-lit house whose toilets can be flushed! Tonight I’ll make an asparagus, sugar snap pea and bow tie pasta dish with cheese.
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