Sunday, July 01, 2012

Storm's past, power's back

So since Friday night, when the big storm came and knocked us back to the 19th century by taking away the electricity and running water, Murphy and I have been practicing our emergency operating plan and surviving quite nicely.

I've said before that it's actually good for the power to go out for a day or two once a year or so, just to keep the preparedness skills sharp. And this storm, while validating my preparations and past practice sessions, still proved the need over here.

The lights went out around 10:45pm I used my cell phone light to find an emergency flashlight, none of which were where they were supposed to be. (-1 point). Fortunately I remembered nearly tripping over one such mis-placed light in the kitchen not long ago, so I found that one and used it to go down the basement to get to the stash of white gas and propane lanterns that I have there. I never leave one behind if I find one at a garage sale. No matter how junky or neglected they are, they can easily be repaired. One lantern, fueled and manteled, was ready to go and it lit right up. I had light (+1 point).

Then there was a massive bang outside, and I looked out the window and saw leaves where no leaves should have been. A tree of substantial size had crashed down, just missing the house. I stepped outside to make sure that it had in fact missed the house, and then went back in before another one came down. The winds were off the scale at this time.

I grabbed my NOAA weather radio, but the local weather station in Cumberland, MD was off the air. The one in Sterling, VA, well past me storm-wise, was already warning local residents of the pounding that I was getting, so I knew then that it was big.

Murphy was calm, so that was a help. Lagniappe, bless his soul, would have been off his cams in a storm like this. The winds were howling, the thunder roaring, and the lightning was arcing everywhere. We actually went out on the upstairs deck--the one above the falling-tree danger line--to watch. It was a spectacular show.

The storm passed pretty quickly, and didn't even drop much rain. After it was gone, I went outside to survey the yard. Power lines were all intact, and save for the big tree on the ground in my back yard, life was good. Even Murphy's run survived without a tree-hit for once. So with nothing more to do, I poured myself a drink then went to bed.

The next day, I got up early because it was already getting hot. I drove into town and found tree and power lines down everywhere. Most of Charles Town was dark, although a few scattered areas still had electricity somehow. Fortunately, I had a full tank of gas because I never put my vehicle up without at least half a tank. (+10 points...and Nyah at Nicki. Hee.) Then I drove out to the airport to check on my plane. It had survived just fine, but the airport was without power except for the control tower radio system, which was operating on generator. AWOS was down, but there were no clouds and no wind so I took the plane up and checked the area. You could kind of tell who had power and who did not by the number of cars in business parking lots. Restaurants with no power don't have customers, but those who had it...their lots were swarmed. Traffic lights were out over most of the area, and wrecks were occurring as people were too stupid or too impatient to treat the intersections as 4-way stops, especially as it got hotter. The worst roadblock, however, was on Route 51 just west of town. A train had come to a stop across the road last night per one of my neighbors, and as I flew over at about 11AM, it was still there, completely cutting one of the two major roads into and out of town to the west. And as I circled it, I could see that the engine's lights were on--it was running. However it was stopped at a signal tower which appeared to be dead so doubtless the highly-paid union rail-crew had decided not to move the train forward until they could get a signal and be assured of a clear track ahead. And I'm fine with that, however had they just backed the damned train up 200 yards, they could have cleared the intersection. As it was though, they were still sitting there hours later, and the road remained closed. I sure hope nobody out that way needed and ambulance or a fire truck.

I logged an hour of flight time sightseeing at 1200 feet AGL and then put the plane away and drove home. Chik-fil-a had power, so I stopped for lunch. (They also had air conditioning and wi-fi!)

Went home, decided that the power was not coming back on any time soon, and dragged out the generator. However I had not been maintaining it, so it did not start (-10 points). Drove to Home Depot, got a new spark plug and 5 gallons of high-octane gasoline from a station that was open, (No waiting. Hee at Nicki again.) then stopped at the grocery store and bought a huge rib-eye steak for dinner. Went home, drained the old bad gas from the generator and put new good stuff in, replaced the plug, and fired it up with a healthy does of starting fluid. Yay! Power! Ran a cord to the refrigerator/freezer and celebrated by drinking some cold beer shortly thereafter. Then I took Murphy down to the river to swim him, and I brought my shower kit with soap and shampoo, and he got cool while I got clean. Returning home, I cooked the steak on the gas grill outside. I have plenty of drinking water set aside, but wash water and water for the toilets came from the rain barrel (+5).

In the spirit of neighborliness, I offered the cat lady next door some surplus power for her freezer but all she wanted power for was her air conditioner (for her cats) and I didn't have that much to spare. So she declined my offer and went back to--I kid you not--wrapping her cats in wet towels to keep them cool.

I did find some extra power for the TV and DVD player, so I watched Tales of the Gold Monkey (Thanks, Aaron!) while I ate what had to be one of the best steaks ever.

Next I took a walk about the neighborhood to see how audible my generator was (not very, since I'd put it behind the house), and to see how many other people had lights and what sort. Generators were running at quite a few homes, and others seemed to be lit by battery or gas lanterns, candles, or not at all. Then I read for a bit and went to sleep.

I awoke to power. It came on about 5:00AM here. Welcome back, internet and civilization!

Lesson learned: Pay more routine attention to emergency equipment. Lanterns and flashlights were out of place and some were inoperable due to neglect. Generator should not have been down, either. Had this been a real emergency and Home Depot been closed, I'd have been hosed. Gotta keep this stuff checked and running in between outages from now on. Other than that, we did good. How'd you do if you were affected?


  1. Good job! I'm so glad you didn't sustain worse damage!

  2. Actually, this post serves as a reminder that I need to take the carb on my generator apart and clean the main needle.

    It had been a while since I used it and when I went camping last month, it would only run when partially choked. A couple of screwdrivers, a can of carb cleaner and a small stainless steel wire should resolve the issue.

    I would rather perform this service under florescent lighting rather than by lantern or light stick. I'm just sayin'.

    The reality is that I should not have to do this service at all, if I had done PM on it when I should.

    Shame on me. Congrats on the 172 BTW.
    Thanks for the post.

  3. Having worked for Home Depot, they actually have a pretty decent emergency prep plan in place, how well it would actually work with a large percentage of their employees paid not much more than minimum wage and thus little incentive to work during said emergency I have no idea. But they do have a plan to be open during major emergencies.

  4. Flashlights strung throughout house, so light without the heat of oil lamp readily available. Forgot, flippin' even though I saw that storm on doppler, to fill tubs for flush water. But plenty of drinking water. Could have cooked on gas grill. Preferred to go places with A.C. to eat.

  5. Better idea: have the spare plug and some gas (which you rotate at least every 3 moths) for the genny sitting there so you don't even have to go into town.

    Once a quarter, fil yer tank with the old gas and refill 'em. (or use 100 octane from the airport).

    15 gallons of gas and a few spare plugs are nothing for a man who can afford his own airplane.....

  6. Suggestion.

    If one feels they cannot maintain their generator then just drain it of gas and oil, buy several spare spark plugs, air filters, and some oil, and keep them and a small set of tools that fit it right beside the generator.

    Then in an emergency, just drain some gas from the car, swap plugs, add oil, and a new air filter, and start it up.

    That you everything you need to get it running is right there and no need to check it every year.

    Lazy, yes, but few people anyway keep them maintained, so why not plan on it?

  7. Got one gas can for the lawnmower, which has been trotted out for an emergency oh-crap moment beside the highway years ago. Lookin at getting a second one...fill both, and rotate between the two for the lawnmower. In a pinch, there'll be at least one full one standing by. Wife and I are looking to do the same with water jugs, and have been tickling the idea of rain barrels in the back...I say "tickling", because Texass isn't much renowned for its average rainfalls. Also looking seriously at a smallish generator to run the fridge. Glad to hear y'all weathered the storm okay, and that there will be positive changes made based on the experience!

  8. So now I had to do this. I blame you!

  9. Anonymous8:13 PM

    Wrapping her cats in WET TOWELS?!!