Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Ice Storm

My last post was perhaps a bit more fortuitous than I had intended.  The letting things go and getting down on the floor to play with the children and focus on our blessings became something a large part of state was nudged to do as a large ice storm hit Michigan on the Saturday night before Christmas.  It began as icy rain and turned more frozen as the night progressed.  I'll admit that I did not take it as seriously as I should have and there were a few things I would have done to prepare for an outage had I paid more attention to the weather reports.  But my mind was on the things to finish before Christmas and enjoying the fact that I had some much needed time off work.  So I went to bed in a blissful state of unawareness while my husband worried a bit about the sounds of the ice beginning to form on the tree branches.  

At about 5 a.m. my little snuggler trotted into the room and nudged his way into bed with us and complained that his nightlight was off.  As we processed that announcement, we peeked out the windows and encountered a world plunged into full darkness and coated in a heavy glaze of ice.  Thankfully our phones were charged and a quick hop online confirmed wide power outages in this part of the state.  The house was still fairly warm (the power had only gone out about a half hour before apparently) so my  husband and daughter slept a while and my buddy and I headed downstairs - there was no getting him back to sleep with the millions of questions going through his head - mostly about the TV.  :)

As full morning dawned, it became clear that this was no short-term deal.  The trees in both of our yards and as far as we could see down the road were devastated.  My truck had some large branches on it - but thankfully no damage.  So I moved the truck to a spot in the driveway out of the line of fire as the branches crackled and snapped around me.  Thankfully in the spring when we bought the place, one of the first things we did was trim all the overgrown branches away from the house.  We would have had many more problems like a lot of people around us if we had not done that.  As it was, the many  large branches that fell didn't really do any damage to structures and even my horse fence was spared.  

After our last extended outage (we don't seem to be doing very well on average in this new house - two extended catastrophic outages in 3 months of living here) we had tested the fireplace to make sure it was safe to use if we had to during the next outage.  The first time around we had not used the fireplace and even though we knew the previous owners had.  When we found shorts and T-shirts stuffed into the wall around it instead of insulation, we had decided to err on the side of caution...  We had pulled all the "stuff" out and properly insulated it and did several test fires.  So we  lit the fire for heat and bundled everyone in hoodies, sweatpants and slippers.  

My husband and I headed outside a bit and worked for 2 hours clearing the large branches that had fallen.  A futile effort.  The branches above us continued to crackle and snap and release showers of ice chunks every few minutes.  The quiet was eerie but the crackling of the trees rifled through the crisp air.  There were a few trees down along the edge of the hay field at this point, but you could see the weight of the ice on the branches bending them low and every few minutes another would crash down.  My husband twice narrowly missed being struck by an avalanche of icy branches.  After hauling a few all the way to the fire pits, we gave up and started a few piles in other areas of the yard to be cleared later.  He broke out the quad to haul a few of the largest limbs away.

We had some firewood, and luckily had just stacked most of it in the garage so it was dry, but not a lot and so my husband contacted a co-worker and was able to score a generous amount of seasoned, split firewood.  So he went to get a load while I settled us in the house.  Luckily I have a gas range so even though I could not use the oven I was able to cook.  I was also able to load pots full of clean snow and ice and melt them for doing dishes, flushing the toilet and washing up.  I boiled some and filtered it through a coffee filter for brushing teeth.  My husband also went to a friend's to shower and filled up several containers for drinking water.  I was able to heat this up on the stove and then run it through my coffee pot filter for much-needed fresh coffee.

I also took the adjustable curtain rod from my spare bathroom and hung it across the dining room doorway and then rigged an old curtain on a string from the front door to the front hall closet door to keep drafts from the large windows in the living room and dining room from coming into the rest of the house and to direct any spare warmth from the fireplace room/kitchen area up the stairs to the bedrooms.  

The living room and dining room don't have any plumbing so there was no need to lose excess heat to those rooms.  We had plenty of candles for light where ever we needed it and with the spare bathroom right next to the fireplace room it stayed warm too.

After the first couple days, my husband was able to borrow a small generator from a customer of his who had power (you couldn't find one to buy anywhere in the state by the second day).  A friend stopped over to help him hook it to our main power panel.  We are thankful for the great people around us who are so willing to extend a helping hand.  Friends and family who had power and those who did not offered encouraging attitudes and resources when they had them.  Many of our friends posted about how their families were dealing with the outage and reflected on how this Christmas was one that brought the true meaning back for young and old.

The generator was not big enough to run our electric floor heat but was enough to power the fireplace fan, lights, the fridge and water pump.  We weren't sure about the hot water heater so we didn't really test it at first.  But having the fireplace fan running allowed enough heat energy to keep the bedrooms warm enough we could have slept upstairs if it weren't for the need to feed the fireplace.  Next time at least the kids will be able to sleep in their beds.

It is very rare that nearly all of our family and friends lose power for an extended time.  This area was just so wrecked with trees and power lines down.  Each day we have gotten a little more snow on top of the 1/4 to 1/2 inch of ice on our trees.  The power company crews and tree companies have been working non-stop - I passed 5 different crews on my way home from my mother-in-laws Christmas Eve.  But the amount of limbs and downed lines they have to content with is enormous and is so time-consuming that its been slow getting people back online.  Day by day they have been making progress but the continued accumulations of snow have meant additional outages in some areas.  The past two days tree company crews have been working near our house to clear downed limbs but also to trim those hanging precariously near power lines to keep them from causing new damage.

The kids did an awesome job keeping each other entertained during the day and snuggling together at night on a bed made from the chaise cushions from our bench seat and oodles of blankets.  

They went out once for a while and helped with some of the branches but in the end it has been just too dangerous to have them outside playing as the branches continue to fall.  

They have had plenty of time to play with their toys and work on projects and play card and board games together.  We've been able to charge their DVD players just a couple of times so they could relax to movies for a short time before bed.  After the first day they stopped asking about the TV and were the first to say they were just fine.  We were able to turn on the Christmas tree lights Christmas morning for opening presents and that was all they really wanted.

There are so many other mini-stories to share with you about this past week's adventure!  For sure it will be a memorable first Christmas in the new house and one the kids will tell stories about for the rest of their lives. We now own our very own 6000 watt generator that will for sure run the water heater - of course, about 2 hours after we got that one hooked up the power came back on yesterday afternoon.  But we are prepared for the next time and now are investigating our ability to heat the house at least when we are home for extended times with our fireplace instead of running the electric heat all the time.  We definitely will have access to plenty of wood to stockpile once cleanup can begin in the spring.  There are still branches and trees coming down in the yard and piles of them along the field we'll have to get cleaned up.

Tell me, were any of you affected by the snow/ice storms this weekend?  How did you get through?

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