Posted on | March 19, 2014 | 9 Comments
I still remember that forecast. Since it was already sleeting outside I figured we needed to know what else was coming. As I was setting the table for dinner, the meteorologist on television calmly assured me that we would only have a light glaze of ice. As a matter of fact, she stated it would be no more than 1/10 of an inch. She expected slippery spots on raised surfaces in the morning but, otherwise, not much impact.
I sighed. The kids cheered. We all knew that if there was even one icy patch somewhere in the entire county, then the schools would open on a late delay schedule, 2 hours after the usual start time. And in North Carolina, “late delay” is synonymous for “we might even decide to close for the entire day if we feel like it so as soon as you get up start checking the news and internet for updates and remember to pee as fast as possible because the closing announcement will probably come during the 2.5 seconds that you are in the bathroom but it will definitely come after you have everyone dressed, lunches packed, and teeth brushed, and way too much coffee in your system to go back to sleep.”
Anyway, it was after that 5:30pm weather forecast that we made our first mistake.
We turned off the television and ate our dinner. And since we are not big television watchers, we never turned it on again for the rest of the evening. We went to bed with our alarms set for 2 hours later than usual and had no idea that forecasters were changing their prognostications hourly. The only update I received in the forecast was sometime late during the night when the power went out.
“Guess it was a bit worse than they thought, ” I figured as the house settled into absolute silence (no bedroom fans, no fish tank bubblers, no heater swooshing on and off) except for dogs’ toenails clicking across the wood floors. I assumed the poor lineman that lived a couple miles from us was firing up the bucket truck that he keeps parked in his driveway. The search would begin for the line that an overhanging branch or broken limb had disconnected from the power supply.
Because the power was still off when I was roused for the morning. But it wasn’t the sun peeking through the blackout curtains that finally woke me up. No, there was definitely no sun. Instead, it was the sound of cracking and popping, crashing and thumping. The trees around the house were coming down.
During the night we’d had a little bit more than 1/10 of an inch of ice. Quite a bit more.
Our entire world was black and white. And not the good kind of black and white like that delicious cake they sell at Mad Hatter’s. Mmmmmmm…..black and white goodness.
No. This was black and white badness. Pure horrible badness.
Such badness that you can see some of the pictures are blurred by my tears.
Or else I smudged the lens with my thumb. Eh.
And although tree limbs were still coming down under the weight of all that ice, the worst of the damage had been done while we were sleeping. The damage on our road was so bad that it made all the local papers. The question wasn’t “Where were the lines down?” so much as it was “How will they even find the power lines?”
And “Are there any power lines left intact?”
Of course, the pasture and perimeter fencing had taken a beating, too. Bruno was sitting on the deck, a sure sign that the field fencing was down. Luckily, the goats, the chickens, and the pony had no interest in leaving the warm, dry barn for freezing, icy adventures. The sheep were out nibbling downed branches, cozy in their fleece coats. But my sheep are either too dumb to make an escape attempt or smart enough to know they’ve got it made at the Farm-Of-Never-Ending-Grain. Hard to tell with sheep.
Because I am (forcibly) trained in FEMA preparedness, I made a quick and painful analysis of our situation. There was a very obvious failure in risk assessment. Turns out the groundhog gave a better prediction of cold weather back in February than the meteorologist did the night before the ice storm.
With that failure in risk assessment was an accompanying failure in planning and preparation. We did not have any water set aside for drinking, cooking, flushing toilets, or watering the livestock until power was restored to the well pump. We did not have any gasoline set aside for the chainsaw or the generator. Speaking of which, the generator was at my parents’ house, with 7 miles and approximately 1,000,000 downed trees and 1,000,000,000 downed power lines inbetween us.
With a big fat FAIL in preparedness I decided to move on to mitigation. Fortunately, our farm has a lot of built in capabilities. We had a woodstove which provided heat to keep us warm and a stove to cook food. We, of course, had milk and eggs. We had a large pond which could be used for livestock watering and a small pond close to the house with water to use for flushing toilets if necessary. Even better, we fail to clean our gutters as often as we fail to prepare for storms, so melting ice was running off the roof in floods.
With a few well-placed tubs, buckets, and pans….
….we had a 3 day supply of water gathered and set aside in just an hour. Who says mitigation requires a 10 page EOP (emergency operations plan) and complicated COOP (continuity of operations procedures)??? Use what ya got, people!
Furthermore, we did have cash on hand. I’m pretty sure emergency currency is worth bonus points on a preparedness test. I’m not sure why because none of the stores, including the gas stations, had power so they couldn’t sell us anything if they wanted to. I’m pretty sure milk and eggs make better currency in an emergency than cash (if we had bread, we’d be the Emergency Trifecta Mafia) but I didn’t write the FEMA rules I was just forced to let them scroll by on my computer while I was on Facebook and then bluff through the test study them. Regardless, because it was goat selling season and I’ve been too busy to get to the bank with the cash people have given me for kids, I had some cash on hand. Speaking of kids, with the schools closed I had lots of free manpower, er,…kidpower.
You won’t believe this, but kidpower is not officially recognized by FEMA as a system capability. Probably because if you have the time to draft a NIMS Incident Command System that is so complicated it takes 3 hours to study it, then you must only have the national average of 1.5 children to take care of in your household. And it’s probably true that .5 of a child is not an impressive amount of kidpower. Around here there are 4 unschooled children to chip in during an ice emergency. Which meant we could start clearing the fence lines of debris at a rapid rate. Within another hour we had the pasture fence standing in all the locations where we could lift downed branches or limbs and we had isolated the areas where we needed a chainsaw to remove trees. Branches and trees continued to come down as we were working, but we only had one close call and thanks to a vigorous basketball season, Middle was way too fast to get crushed by a limb that gave a loud cracking and popping warning before crashing down into his work space.
The Other Half was left with clearing the trees out of the driveway with the chainsaw. We had one tree blocking the top of the drive.
And another blocking the bottom of the drive.
Which might have meant no work for me that night. Except that there was heat, lights, cooking, and showering capability at work. A strong incentive and a win, win for me and my employer! In order to find out if the roads were passable beyond our driveway, The Other Half joined with a group of men cutting trees and clearing the roads. Turned out that our main road was still impassable but one of the side roads was clear. The same side road that the lineman lived on had been cleared in order to get him and his bucket truck in service. Who knew there were these kind of benefits by living near a lineman???
Of course, I didn’t just leave The Other Half in the cold and the dark while I left for central heat, lights, and running water. Per NIMS protocol, the division of Unified Command required a proper transfer of command. Which I accomplished like any other emergency management official by calling in additional resources. In North Carolina a female in the midst of a natural disaster “calling in additional resources” is synonymous with “calling her Daddy.” By the time I was warming my hands at the station, I had arranged for The Other Half to meet up with my dad, pick up his extra gasoline, and transfer the generator to our place. I mean, really, who did you think I was going to call? 911? Please.
The Original Disaster Mitigation Association. No taxes, no flow charts, and no chain of command needed.
Once I was at work, I finally got up to date on how dire and widespread the storm damage really was. Without power, we had no idea what was going on in the rest of area beyond what we gathered from neighbors, word of mouth, and Department of Transportation vehicles trying to pass on the roads. The local radio stations appeared oblivious to the situation and with the creation of digital television no one was able to pick up the audio portions of local television broadcasts on AM or FM radio as we’d done in past emergencies. Perhaps, part of IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert & Warning System), besides its cool background music and flashback to duck & cover days should have been access to local news media even after the switch to digital television. Oh, sure you could watch the local news on your smartphone. Until your phone battery died. Then you could recharge your phone in your car. Until you ran out of gasoline. You could buy more gasoline with your emergency cash at the gas station. Unless the gas station didn’t have power either.
Oh, FEMA. My milk, eggs, and kidpower look like pretty good mitigation measures right now, don’t they? Yet in your billion pages of preparedness documents, dairy goats are not even mentioned.
Not. Even. Mentioned.
Turned out word of mouth succeeded where the electronic communication failed, though. The Other Half got his info from the feed mill, the gas station, and the few restaurants that were open. Friends and neighbors congregated in these places to check on each other, trade supplies, ask for assistance, and discuss storm damage. Once it was determined that houses and vehicles had been spared, the questions covered the status of livestock fencing, power lines and transformers, and finally, privacy.
“Yeah, ” some murmured mournfully, “the barn roof was spared, and so was the house. But we lost so many trees that now….
(insert sad shaking of the head)
….we can see the neighbors’ place.”
(insert horrified gasp from listener)
“It wasn’t too bad,” stated another. “At least the vehicles didn’t get hit and that smashed garden gate needed to be replaced anyway. I guess the worst of it is….
(insert forlorn downcast gaze)
that with the pines down, drivers can see the house from the road now.”
(insert chest grab and agitated, “Oh no!” from listener)
Basically the whole point of living in the country is so you can do the milking water the garden walk around in your pajamas without having to pretend pajamas are actually clothes (we’re not fooled, People of WalMart) because no one can see you. Loss of our natural privacy screens was a big topic among the country folk.
When I arrived at work, I got another dose of intelligence. I learned from my partner that the ice and storm damage didn’t extend more than 10-12 miles east of us. Other co-workers reported there were extensive power outages more than 2o miles west of us. Volunteer firefighters who had been out clearing roads let us know where streets were completely blocked and where they were down to one lane or required vehicles to be low enough to get under low-hanging power lines. In the morning the oncoming crew warned me about the locations of black ice on the roads long before it was mentioned in television or radio broadcasts.
Typically, “black ice” in North Carolina is synonymous with “Yeah, we know the precipitation has stopped but it’s below freezing out there. Below freezing is way toooo cold to go to school or work. I mean, people, please!” In this case, though, the sleet and dripping ice really had frozen in some patches overnight. When I finally got home and went to bed, the situation seemed dire.
Then I woke up.
And I woke up to sunny and 70 degrees.
No lie. It was icy and below freezing one day. And sunny and 70 degrees the very next day.
Oh, there were still a whole of lot of downed trees to deal with.
But it was sunny and 70 degrees.
Which made the chickens feel so good they had a dust bath orgy in the sunshine in the barn.
And made the rest of us feel like this:
For the record, we went 4 more days without power. But we did get the generator so we saved the farm fridge and the freezers. We didn’t get any damage to the house, the barns, the greenhouse, or the vehicles. Bruno and Bella lost their kennel and were left with the doghouse or the barn and some pallets to lay out on for the time being.
Meanwhile, we’ll be clearing trees off the perimeter fence, hauling limbs out of the woods, and chopping up everything into logs for the woodstove for several months. Good thing the rain, sleet, snow, and black ice keep returning and the schools keep closing every 3 to 4 days. We need all the kidpower we can get around here!!! (You people might want to rethingk that 1.5 kids thing. I’m just sayin’)