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Electricity addict goes mad without power

I know you were all just petrified for me when you heard about the gigantic windstorms in the Pacific Northwest. You weren't?...You didn't hear about them?...Oh. Well! I'll tell you what happened anyway!

A big storm with gusts up to 65 mph was predicted for Thursday night. It rolled in right on time, and started by knocking over our recycle bin and sending our outdated grocery lists flying away into the greater West Seattle area. Wearing the baby, I went outside, tugged the bin upright, and dragged it and the garbage can up against a wind-protected fence corner, in a howling wind that led me to tell the baby, "Auntie Em! It's a twister!" I then saw a lightning flash, which led me to say, "Okay, time to go inside."

We still had power when we went to bed that night, though our bedroom window was getting lashed so hard by rain and screaming winds that I don't think either Steve or I slept much. Instead you're thinking, "So, if the cottonwood tree fell over, would it crush this part of the room exactly, or just the part over there?" Then, with a silent and chilling lack of sound, the nightlights went out. I don't know what time that was, since, like, the power was out and I couldn't see a clock; but I estimate somewhere between midnight and 2:00 a.m.

58 degrees in the house the next morning. OK, we can deal. Sat around and read books and ate non-power-required things like crackers and fruitcake and chocolate and oranges and cereal. (Had to try to use up the milk while the fridge was out.) Went outside and looked at a tremendous number of fallen trees around the neighborhood. Power seemed to be out just about everywhere.

56 degrees inside by the time we blew out the candles and went to bed Friday night. Not too bad, but what a difference ten degrees made, we thought! (That is, ten degrees lower than our usual room temperature.)

49 degrees Saturday morning. Able to see breath in air, indoors. Hmm. This was losing its thrill. There was a little bit of warm water left in the water heater, so I took a bath, and got out steaming and shivering in the candlelight. Found there was power up the road, so we spent a lot of time in bookstores and restaurants and PetCo (baby liked looking at the fish, birds, chinchillas, ferrets, and mice; as well as one insane hamster that kept pawing frantically at the corner of its glass cage for, oh, an hour straight). 48 degrees when we went to bed, and Molly getting into very bad mood.

44 degrees when we woke up this morning. Dead frozen icy air, like inside a tent on a mountain in March. Swore and cursed while putting clothes on, and went straight to local diner (which had power) without even brushing hair. Molly making patient, wifely statements like, "I'm not staying here another night. I'm calling hotels if our power isn't back by 3:00 today." Fortunately for all within reach of Molly's spoiled and bitter mood, power was back when we returned from diner, about 11:00 this morning. Heat is busily blasting away, and the 56-degree mark now feels like a summer day.

Actually, 56 degrees is a summer day around here.

It was nice to get a Christmas card from ramaustin, though, sending "warm greetings from Florida." Warm greetings were just the type we needed. :)

Also, as a public service announcement, do not run generators or charcoal grills or propane grills or any other outdoor-type of grills indoors. People are dying or being hospitalized from carbon monoxide poisoning when they hauled their Smoky Joes and generators inside for warmth--adult people who should know better. Be careful! Don't be idiots!

And also, get your damn trees trimmed so they don't fall on power lines. Harrumph.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2006 10:41 pm (UTC)

Stay safe. I saw a story on the news from the pontoon bridge that connects Seatle with... umm.. I forget.. but they were saying that that storm you reference ripped steel bolts out and created some pretty damaging effects. scary stuff.
Dec. 19th, 2006 01:12 am (UTC)
Yeah, we kind of expected the floating bridges across Lake Washington to collapse and sink, but I guess they're still up. They'll need work, though...they've been an ongoing problem even before this.
Dec. 18th, 2006 04:23 am (UTC)
I wonder if this will affect any land use restriction laws. I'm sure there's going to more than a few instances a tree that came crashing into a home where the owner had previously tried but was denied permission to remove it.

As for indoor heat...I found that candles actually make quite a difference. I shut all the doors to other rooms and had about ten going in my living room and that kept things relatively comfortable. I was quite suprised.
Dec. 19th, 2006 01:14 am (UTC)
Good question, on the trees. I hope it leads to more common-sense regulations; but then again, it's bureaucracy, so we can't expect much.

The candles did seem to hold off the encroaching cold a bit, but our house was just too drafty in the end. And overnight the temperature would really plummet.

Dec. 18th, 2006 06:58 am (UTC)
Weathering the Storm...
Good to hear that you survived this powerful storm and that indoor camping agrees with you and your family. *grin*

Makes one appreciate the amenities anew; brings home the virtues of underground power lines, as they are less susceptible to weather effects than the pole and wire approach. You can see why an EMP attack by, oh, say Iran or N. Korea, which would blackout most of the country, would be so destabilizing to us and therefore attractive to our enemies du jour.

(Deleted comment)
Dec. 18th, 2006 03:10 pm (UTC)
Re: Weathering the Storm...
Undergrounding of distribution has its costs, no doubt. The technology has improved with use, as I understand it from my Distribution Engineering brethren, and the words cost-effective usually fall political prey to extended outages, which usually occur during weather extremes and thus bring additional hardship to people (here, voters).

Undergrounding of water utilities, by comparison, is understood and accepted as technologically sound although its costs are much greater than above ground distribution (so with N. gas, etc.). Our telecomm utilities here were undergrounded (at great expense) in the 1980s but we have enjoyed
simple add-ons/upgrades since.

A balance is ususally struck between dense populations and sparse, with undergrounded and above ground distribution. As the general population grows, undergrounding in the most expensive way (back-fitting in urban centers) occurs. Somewhere in the scheme of things, good planning sees this reality and undergounds all distribution for new towns and cities.

The best we do is get what we pay for...

(Deleted comment)
Dec. 18th, 2006 04:03 pm (UTC)
Re: Weathering the Storm...
Sounds about right; this gets sorted out via the political process, usually on the 'back end' of the product life cycle. BTW, above ground distribution for water was a commonplace in several countries but gradually disappeared for the reasons you cite. Sewage was an outhouse, etc. Natural gas usually gets undergrounded now, for example, and has a history to support the cost. Electrical power is still cheaper 'in the air' at the transmission level, for example, and is considered unsightly but safe, unless you are an EMF special interest group lawyer.

People who live in cities tend to have the political power (cf. NYC vs. NY state voting patterns) and get what they want as compared to what they need, etc.


Dec. 19th, 2006 01:21 am (UTC)
Re: Weathering the Storm...
I concluded that cause of death for half the people in the "old days" was hypothermia. :)

Actually, though, they were better prepared--we had no way to cook or stay warm other than candles. Next time, we need to have a gas fireplace installed or something. Unless hotwiring the gas furnace is a good idea, which I doubt.

We thought of the underground power option too. Seems like these aboveground lines are so delicate and problematic. But then I talked to my dad (a.k.a. "the other nuclear engineer I know") and he recalled a time when their underground lines, in Oregon, got disrupted somehow and left them without power for days, as it was much harder to find where the problem exactly was. Maybe we just need a new mode of distribution altogether. Whoever works out a reliable, compact, efficient way to harness solar power--as opposed to the bulky, difficult ways available now--will win a Nobel Prize.
Dec. 19th, 2006 05:28 am (UTC)
Re: Weathering the Storm...
Wish I could do that! And your other Nuclear Engineer is right about the teething problems with underground circuits, like most technologies that go into high volume production, the first models usually have problems.

I'm thinking the best residential bet at present is a natural gas or propane gas tank (above ground, of course...) that feeds the furnace and a standby fuel cell, so you can withstand loss of both power and gas. Water would be more (above ground....)tankage. There, you're all set...only set you back about 20,000 USD...

Dec. 18th, 2006 12:01 pm (UTC)
I sympathize in the opposite way, having gone through Florida hurricanes with almost 2 weeks of no power in the hottest part of the summer. There were some nights when I honestly would have rather died, it was so, so hot.

In Virginia we were okay because we had an oil/woodburning furnace. No power, no problem. :)
Dec. 19th, 2006 01:23 am (UTC)
Ack, yeah. I naturally thought of the much worse conditions for the Katrina victims, and concluded I'd still rather be too cold than too hot. I *hate* being too hot.

But then, we don't have A/C here--and while that usually isn't a problem in Seattle, there are a couple days a year when life is miserable and we just have to spend all day wearing wet clothes and sitting in the basement. :)
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 19th, 2006 01:26 am (UTC)
Thank you!
*stuffs chocolate and pretty sparkly things into your holiday stocking*
Dec. 18th, 2006 06:18 pm (UTC)
You'd think burying power lines would be a far more senisble alternative wouldn't you?
Dec. 19th, 2006 01:27 am (UTC)
We thought the same thing...but I suppose it would be highly expensive to convert everyone now.

They just need to come up with a way to beam our power to us without cables, like a wi-fi internet connection. :)
Dec. 18th, 2006 06:53 pm (UTC)
Stay safe, Molly. Hope the nasty weather blows over soon!
Dec. 19th, 2006 01:28 am (UTC)
Thank you! It's settled down now, but some folks still are without electricity, so keep them in your prayers.
Dec. 18th, 2006 11:20 pm (UTC)
Yikes! Well, at least you got a chuckle-worthy LJ post out of the experience, I guess. Though I'm not sure freezing my bum off for that long would be worth a yarn for me. Brr! Glad you all made it without having any trees fall on you! *uses penguin family icon because...yeah*
Dec. 19th, 2006 01:31 am (UTC)
Definitely more important to have heat and refrigerators than an LJ post, but yeah, could've been worse! Some folks are still out.

Hee--penguins are highly appropriate. *pats them* They would have been nice and cozy in our living room this weekend.
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )