Yes, I admit it. I was excited about our snow forecast. And not just a puny amount, but inches–no, I hoped for a foot of the cold, white stuff. Just like when I was young (listen to My Music Man Chapter 2: Ice and Snow below). I envisioned fastening on my skis and puttering around the neighborhood, something I have done only a handful of times in the 30 years we have lived on this steep West Linn hill, best for sledding and impossible to safely maneuver with any amount of ice. Yes, we had food – but, frankly, I’ve always loved a snowy walk to the store, two miles away, as if I was truly snowed in, never before imagining the post-apocalyptic aura surrounding its shelves taxing its generator the day I did hoof –or slide– my way there. Oh my, romantic winter notions were shattered this past week.
We got snow – that puny amount. All might have been fine if it wasn’t sandwiched between layers of ice, the top slick layer measuring nearly two inches. Oh, then we lost power. Sure, we’ve suffered outages a few times in the thirty years we’ve lived here, yet never for even a full day. And certainly not six of them. We were fortunate to have our outage last only six as we know some in our community and beyond still await juice. A few days post storm, the sun made brief appearances, temperatures rose into the forties and the snow and ice began to melt. Instead of the percussion of trees and branches pelting our roof, yard and echoing throughout our town, ice chunks let loose from the Douglas firs and maples and dogwoods that hadn’t already toppled. For a good 48 hours nobody ventured up or down our street by foot or car, except for a few teens who slid down on backsides unable to control themselves in their descent, and one out of control landscape truck and trailer, fortunate not to sustain significant human or capital damage.
Yes, we have been fortunate, unlike those unsheltered or unable to stay warm enough: hundreds of thousands losing power in Oregon, not to mention Texas and beyond. Many still without. Climate change now demonstrating its impact each season. We are fortunate to have the means to own warm clothing intended for outdoor recreation and camping gear, and have a natural gas water heater along with a terribly inefficient gas-only fireplace in one room. No trees have (yet) gone through our roof and all the lost plants and tree limbs and trees can be replaced or forgotten. Yet, although I am at peace with Mom’s recent move to hospice as she lies bedridden in our dining room, I didn’t want her death to be precipitated by hypothermia. I thought I had all we needed to keep her as comfortable and content as possible, including an evacuation transport sheet in case of fire, not imagining a long cold power outage.
Thankfully, by the afternoon of our third day without power, and after monitoring her temperature daily, I finally felt I could stop worrying about Mom succumbing to hypothermia. Thanks to two neighbors offering spare hot water bottles – wow, every house should have two! Down sleeping bags, blankets, even a few hand warmers that never worked for my winter cycling days. A warm hat on her head and bingo. Not that I’d recommend it, certainly, and I was relieved when the electric hospital bed and circulating air mattress were once again operational, not to mention a space heater and CD player. Such luxuries we rely on! Earlier in the week I had been advised that if her core temperature dropped below 95 degrees F for us to call 911. Um, I felt the need to reply: even the fittest 911 responder wouldn’t be able to safely enter our house unless on foot with ice crampons, and certainly they wouldn’t be able to transport Mom safely to the recommended hospital. Not to mention we had no plans for future hospital trips. Yes, with that alternative we remained diligent in keeping her warm and she stayed rather toasty.
Dede’s storm takeaways
- Kindness endures when emergencies strike. Throughout our community, those with generators offered power to neighbors while still managing to adhere to physical distancing. Timber Unity offered free wood drops of seasoned firewood to those in need, wood salvaged after Oregon’s most recent wildland fire catastrophe. Folks set up meals and delivered them to the overstretched utility workers and families. Ironically, Mom and I have been reading Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie. (Yes, I rephrase any of the stories involving Native Americans). While our neighbors looked out for each other, we read about Pa and Mr. Edwards teaming up to help each other build their cabins and stables. Neighbors help each other, then and now.
- Are we really prepared for the Big One? Sure, we have canned food and water. But what if we are without power for –not days, but weeks – in the heart of winter? Are we truly prepared? Many of our neighbors are updating their lists for the next time, as are we. Here’s what we have learned.
- Camping supplies are king. My daily uniform was a thermal top and bottom, down vest topped with down jacket and wool hat. Sleeping bags kept us warm during the night, or even when eating during the day! Our Coleman camping stove set up outside provided better-than-cold meals except we need to have many more spare cartridges. Coolers filled with the food from the fridge and amplified by the ready store of ice from the storm allowed us to eat well. I don’t tend to normally have a lot of food in the fridge or freezer. If I did I’d be considering a generator to prevent food waste. More on that below.
- Hot water bottles save the day! Water stayed hot enough that if I put two on Mom at all times, as she lay in her bed, I only needed to change out the water two or three times each 24 hour period. (Yes – we were living the lap of luxury with hot water for a shower or bath. Yes, I’ve already blogged about me and baths.)
- Remember batteries. Being able to listen to that old transistor radio play classical tunes from All Classical 89.9 or news from OPB is comforting and working flashlights are essential. Last summer we meant to invest in a couple of lanterns – we will now.
- Cell phones? I’m planning on investing in a power bank or two. Even better if it’s actually charged when you need it. Trade notes with neighbors on having a generator around for others to charge phones as needed, or for other critical uses. Reactivate that “Map Your Neighborhood” plan and check in with neighbors: who has the chainsaws, the medical knowledge, the generator?
- And what about those generators? Certainly, if you or your loved ones have medical needs it is something to seriously consider. The two things the hardest to do without for me was a working hospital electrical bed and underlying alternating air pressure mattress for Mom. (After unbundling her fully we found two skin ulcers and the beginnings of one bed sore because of her lack of movement). If elders or vulnerable family members and friends live in a home or facility other than yours, ensure they have backup power or an alternative emergency living space. I personally hate the noise and the reliance on gas power, but understand why so many are investing in them.
- Don’t be stupid even after the ice has melted from large trees. The most terrifying noises (after transformers blowing) were tree branches, limbs and entire trees crashing to the ground, both in our yard and throughout our town. (Will we still be considered Tree Town, we wonder? I can’t even imagine what our beautiful Mary Young Park looks like now, still closed to even those awaiting cleanup.) Although I have never lived in a war zone, I can only imagine it to have sounded like this but magnified. Soon after the sounds progressed into a symphony of icy branches shattering to the ground. In our yard when it felt safe to investigate, we found widowmakers impaled into the dirt to almost a foot’s depth. Widowmaker (or fool killer) is a detached or broken limb or tree top and the cause of numerous tragic deaths of our forest workers and lumberjacks.
- Don’t be stupid with trees or electricity. Earlier today I learned about some folks who cut up a fallen telephone pole in order to open up a street. They assumed the power was off. Lots of work await professional arborists and tree removal companies. Yes, I said professional – not something to take lightly just to save a few bucks. (Remember reading about that neighborhood downed power line in Safety is the Foundation?) Looking to the future, as PGE and other utilities evaluate how to make power systems more resilient, we too must do our part to adapt our yards and parks to the changing climate, be it storms or fires.
- Pre-plan with vulnerable friends and family members. Often people don’t want to leave their homes: we saw it with the wildland fires and we see it now with power outages. Not to minimize the challenges we face in a pandemic as we all have very good reasons to want to stay in our safe spaces. A discussion prior to an outage or other emergency will help us imagine what our alternatives are and at what point we should tap into them. A friend of mine has tried to provide help to family members who will not leave their home, even though they refuse which makes an already stressful situation even more so.
And with that, I think I'll go enjoy the luxury of making a cup of hot tea. I hope for resumption of power, warmth and safety for all.
Listen to My Music Man Chapter 2: Ice and Snow