This week, we intended to bring you another installment in our series on rare diseases, but Mother Nature had her way and Oh MY is She ever stubborn! We experienced a severe ice storm in our area known as a “Silver Thaw” and lost power on Thursday night, the 11th of February. We only just got our power back up and running today, the 16th, so needless to say, I’m writing this blog by the seat of my pants in order to get it posted by tomorrow. I want to preface this blog by saying, “I don’t camp. I’m not a camper. To be clear…I hate camping”. There. I said it. And yes, I know hate is a strong word. I tried to write “strongly dislike” but nope. Hate it is.
I’ve long been a proponent of Disaster Preparedness. I’ve preached to anyone who would sit still long enough to listen, that you need an earthquake “go-bag“, extra food and water, on and on ad nauseam. I’m so sorry to those I offended because when it actually happened, guess what? We didn’t need a go-bag. We were iced in. We didn’t need a lot of what I thought we would need. In other words, I prepared for the wrong disaster.
The night before the storm hit, we were lucky enough to get one of the last generators in town, a move we will forever be thankful for. We live on 40 acres and have a well, which doesn’t work without power. SO, mistake number one. Always have a backup source for power. It gets cold. Fast. Like really fast.
And about that food. You don’t want freeze-dried food when you are seriously hungry. You want comfort food. Hot food. Soup. Coffee. Right? You know it’s true if you lived this past week along with us. Mistake number two: gross food.
Hot water. Working toilets and showers. Shampoo. Dry shampoo. I never would have thought I’d be so happy to own a bottle of dry shampoo. I was thankful I had a NOAA radio and could keep up with the impending weather conditions, and we had plenty of batteries on hand for flashlights.
Now that I’ve got my complaining out of the way, here’s the real deal: these were all problems that were NOTHING compared to what others were and still are, going through. The all-call came out for 100 farm animals that didn’t have water due to a well issue. A mare gave birth to a foal and didn’t survive…the all-call came out for a nurse mare. My empathy bone was starting to get overwhelmed and I found myself in bed, reading the cries for help, feeling worse and worse.
Posts like, “Can someone check on my 90-year-old mother? I live out of state and haven’t heard from her in days“, and “I need hot water to give my infant her bottle…can anyone help me“? started banging around in my brain…and then the conviction came. GET UP. GET UP and help these people!!! What are you DOING? “Our assisted living facility needs lanterns“, “my reptiles are going to die if they don’t get heat soon“. Mistake number three: APATHY. Somebody else is going to take care of it…
I couldn’t help them all, but I could help some…even one was better than none. One was better than just me. Me, mine, we … we were fine in the grand scheme of things. Others? Not so much. I needed a shower, they needed food. BIG difference.
Our community started pulling together, just like we did during the wildfires…and things started to happen. Our local social media pages started organizing: who has trucks? who has trailers? who still has electricity? Nobody? NOBODY? How about neighboring towns and cities. NOBODY?! OK..that’s ok…keep on a pushin’. We’ll get through this.
The moral support alone was invaluable. I started watching for updates from our power folks, fire department, police, and city counselors and would repost in as many places as I could find on social media. Communication was so important at that time. One by one, needs were getting met. We all started to believe we really could do this.
The bar for having power restored kept moving. Tempers started to flare. About that, I want to say this: this event was nothing compared to a 9.0 earthquake or a Cat.5 hurricane. You want to see extended outages, wait for it. If we get hit with “the big one”, it could be months without service. During Hurricane Sandy in NYC, I had friends who had nothing. No food, no generator, no power, no phone, and NO HELP. The emergency services were hit just as hard as my friends, and I’m here to tell you when that happens, NOBODY IS COMING. I called on their behalf during that event, and that is exactly what I was told. “Lady, we can’t even help ourselves right now…tell them they are on their own…nobody is coming“, and they hung up on me. Reality check.
When an event like this occurs, and the infrastructure goes down, you cannot expect our first responders to give you a time that your power will return. It’s not going to happen, at least not with any amount of accuracy. In some cases, an entire bridge may need to be rebuilt in order to drive the equipment to the other side to begin repairing wires. It’s not that they don’t want to work, in fact, they are all working their tails off, it’s simply not humanly possible. Give them some credit. They know what they are doing and they are doing it as fast and as safely possible.
We lost a lot of trees here in our neck of the woods. As David and I ventured out at first thaw, we were devastated. The entire drive into town looked like a hurricane had hit. Tangled trees embraced by fallen power lines, the morning after the dreaded event. I was hit with a huge sadness that I couldn’t express.
That sadness weighed on me, until I saw someone post that they felt guilty, but they were very sad that they had lost a beloved tree. That’s when it hit me. I responded with a post of my own.
“If you are mourning the loss of a special tree or bush, it’s not “stupid” or “overreacting ” and you don’t need to feel guilty because others “have it worse” than you. Many of us get it. We do. You are not alone. As we drove down Macksburg today, I told David, it was painful to see my neighbors’ trees demolished. I have been watching your trees grow for more than 25 years. I drove past your tree when I got a new job…when my kids graduated…when I lost my parents…when I brought my dog home to bury him.
I loved your tree too“.
The last thought I had before falling asleep in the wee hours this morning, was for the homeless. I saw a picture that broke me. Tents in snow inches deep. On the cold sidewalk. I know many have strong feelings about this topic, and I’m not here to change your minds, but I do ask that you consider this thought…
Remember above, the folks with the reptiles that needed heat or their pets would die? They were asking for propane tanks…the small bbq size. I had a box. I took them two canisters. I can’t handle reptiles. I have a serious phobia. Then I found myself telling them, “look, we have a generator…if you run out again, let’s bring them to my house…I’ll pull on my big girl panties and we’ll take care of them”. I suddenly realized I didn’t have to like reptiles, to love them. I didn’t have to own them, to have a desire to see them live.
Surely, a human life is worth as much consideration.
We expect to be up and running by next week, and we will resume our series at that time. Until then, be good to yourself and each other…and thank you for reading us. We really do appreciate you.
NOTE: For those who would like some understandable information as to why the power is taking so long to be restored, I’m sharing this added piece. I don’t know who the author is. If anyone does, or the author reads this, please contact me as I would love to credit it to them. This is hands down the best explanation I’ve seen yet. Please share this blog to get this very important information out.
Why is my power still out?
A lot of you have no power, in the bitter cold, after more than three days. Power is integral to who we are as a society, and how we function in our lives. This rocks people at their very cores….their homes are no longer places of safety and comfort. Those in the power industry know this. Many of those out working on the downed lines and poles also have families at home, in houses with no power. As a society, a community, there are things we can do better. Preparation, in the form of generators and supply stocks. Compassion, offering sanctuary to friends and neighbors if you can…and empathy, if you can’t. This storm was a historical event. Many linemen, in the job for over 40 years, have never seen destruction like this in their lives. Repairs and rebuilding are underway but will take days to weeks in some cases. How can it take so long? How can it be so bad? Let’s look at how power gets to your house, to better understand.
Power is generated in Generation facilities. Once created, it is routed all over the Service Territory by Transmission lines. These are very very high voltage lines, carried on poles and structures that are bigger than your average street pole. Have you seen those large metal structures that look like crouched football players? The Transmission lines carry the high voltage power to power stations called Substations. These are spaced out geographically across the service territory. From the Substation, high voltage Distribution lines, called Feeder Lines carry the power out to populated areas.
If power Transmission and Distribution were a body, and power the blood, it would work like this: It would start at the Heart. (Generation Facility) The Heart would send blood (Power) to the Brain. (Substations) through the Aorta (Transmission Lines). From there, it would travel through Arteries (Feeder Lines) to the rest of the body.
If the Heart is damaged, the Brain, or the Arteries, the Body stops. From the Arteries, blood travels to the Veins. In this comparison, the Veins would be what we call “Tap Lines.” These Tap Lines carry power from the Feeder lines, to streets or neighborhoods. Smaller grouped areas of power need. The Veins carry the blood to the Capillaries. The Capillaries in this comparison would be the Transformers that step down the high voltage power to the voltage that your homes can use. At the very end, and I’ve run out of body comparisons, each house/shop/business/farm/street light have their own personal ‘Service Line.’
Each of these functional parts from the simplest (the Service Line), to the most complicated (the Generation facility), take increasingly more time and energy to fix. If the Service line to your house breaks, it would take a small crew around an hour to repair or replace. (This is a generality. Every power setup is different.) However, taking what we learned above, fixing your service line does not restore your power if your Tap Lines, Feeder Lines, Substation, or Transmission lines are still broken. This storm, and the ice-coated trees that followed, pulled down many Transmission Poles and the Transmission lines on them.
On average, it takes a specialty Line Crew approximately 1 to 2 days to replace a Transmission Pole, depending on the ground in the area. (Rocky ground increases the difficulty, as you can imagine.) There are places where this storm tore down 20 Transmission Poles in a row. 20 Transmission Poles that feed to Substations, which feed to Feeder Lines, which feed to Tap Lines, which feed to Transformers, which feed to Service Lines and homes. Sounds hopeless, doesn’t it?
Here’s where the heart and grit of the Linemen and 100s of supporting power employees come into play. These people want nothing more than for every home to be restored. In the offices across the Service Territory, people actually cheer when they hear over the communication radios that Substations and Feeders have been restored. They cheer because they know that means potentially thousands of people have just had their power restored.
The company has called in Line Crews from Washington, Idaho, other parts of Oregon, and California. An average Line Center that may normally have five or six Line Crews on a normal basis now is housing and directing 20 or 30. Everyone is driven to go out and get that power on. That said, the destruction is massive. The conditions, while improving, have been difficult. The Supply chain of new poles, wires, and all the accessory parts that go with that is being taxed. Don’t lose hope. It’s going to happen.
At this point, it just can’t be said exactly…when. Keep your focus on your loved ones, and your own safety and health. Move to another area if you are able to. Bring in generators. Go spend a few hours with a friend or neighbor who does have power, do some laundry there, and charge devices. Hard times are when the best of people come out, and believe me, they are out there. Above all, stay safe. I usually refrain from platitudes, but this, too, shall pass.”