In previous articles I have explained that I have lived all over the country and that my wife and I have experienced just about every natural disaster there is with the exception of a Tsunami because we have never lived by the seashore. We have gone through Winter storms that produced multiple feet of snow, sub-zero temperatures with -80 degree wind chill temperatures, and various types of power failures. Losing power in Summer when you don’t have air conditioning anyway is not so bad. Winter power failures are the exact opposite. As you all know, when the power goes out in the Winter there is a cascade of problems that arise.
The beginning of the storm produced rain and as the temperatures fell the ground and other surfaces were cooled to freezing (32 degrees F) or below and produced what is called freezing rain. The rain was not frozen, but it froze when it fell on the colder surface.
It didn’t take long for branches and even whole trees to start falling down. From my house we could hear explosions which were power transformers blowing out. One of the booms sounded much closer and our power went out, then it came back up for a few seconds when we hear the second boom and the lights go about again. I was told by EWEB employees years ago during a more minor more localized neighborhood blackout that the system tries to reroute the line and that’s when our power came back on. If it doesn’t take it will try a second time. Back then I was told that after three tries at the most if the good line can’t be established the power shuts down automatically until the line is physically repaired. At least that is my recollection of what I was told.
It was about 6:50 PM on Wednesday 12.15.16 when our power went out as we were getting ready to watch Jeopardy. I got out the flashlights and put an oil lamp on the coffee table. It was already getting pretty dark so it didn’t take long for the temperature in the house to fall to what would be called chilly and that was closely followed by “it’s getting too cold in here.” We have a decorative fireplace in the living room that won’t heat the house, but it does help keep the temperature at a more livable level while still quite chilly.
My first step was to get one of those starter logs going because they start burning quickly. It seemed to at least slow down the cooling process in the living room. We waited for a while to see if the power would come back before I started a “real” fire. I then went to the woodpile outside and started collecting split firewood I have stacked there. It didn’t take very long to have a roaring fire, but as I said it didn’t generate enough heat so we started putting on more layers of clothing topping it off with the heaviest winter jackets we have, gloves and all.
If you have ever been in a situation like this where the only connection you have with the outside world is your cell phone that has a battery that will only last so long without being recharged. That also means that your sense of time gets out of whack.
Suddenly we heard a loud thud or bang. I looked out of all of our windows and couldn’t see much. The streetlights were out so that meant it was starting to get pretty dark out there. I saw something, but I couldn’t make out what it was. I opened the front door and stepped out onto our front brick steps.
Then I saw it. A tree had come down between my house and my neighbor next door’s house and it was sticking out past the middle of the street. At first I thought it was one of his trees or from the neighbor’s yard behind me, but no the tree was in my side yard and took out part of the fence between our two yards.
What can I do now? That was the question that exploded in my head. My physical condition makes it impossible for me to cut up the tree myself and I can’t afford to pay someone to do it for me. That is a serious problem. There was nothing that could be done Wednesday night so It would have to wait until Thursday. We didn’t sleep very well because the house was still quite cold and my wife and I both need CPAP machines for Sleep Apnea. Without the pressure of the air pumped through the machine I kept waking up with the feeling of choking and that is what was really happening to me. After a restless night and not being able to get a good night’s rest getting through Thursday was going to be quite a chore. The day did seem to last forever.
For me it takes a hot shower in the morning to shake off the cobwebs of sleep. No such luck. There was probably some hot water in the hot water tank, but I doubt enough for a shower in the dark with only flashlights for illumination. I started to wonder, but not out loud what else can happen?
We were trying all of this time to listen to local radio stations, mainly KKNX AM/FM for whom I forecast the weather Monday through Friday. They were off the air due to power problems at their tower. They were streaming live on the web, but with no power I had no chance to listen on my computer. The power failure also meant that I could not post my forecasts on my website timchueyweather4u.com, eugenedailynews.com, or send my audio forecasts to KKNX Radio FM105.1/ AM 840 HD.
My power was restored at 4:30 PM Thursday and my wife and I immediately plugged in our cell phones to get them charged and I started working on my weather forecasts since was so far behind in getting them posted. After having all of this happen and remembering all of the other emergencies and disasters we have been through there is an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for the simplest thing like walking into another room and flipping the light switch and having the room actually light up. It’s a matter of being grateful for what you have.
The very cold weather prompted the opening of the Eagan Warming Centers and in South Eugene where I live the Red Cross opened a shelter at Spencer Butte Middle School for people whose homes were without heat and light.
Here’s a quick look at the storm that caused all of these problems. Take a look at the National Weather Service map that shows the storm as it was starting to move away from us. The central low with it’s associated fronts moved in from the Southwest sweeping in warm air over the top of the cold air we already had at the surface thus producing the freezing rain. A stationary front was to our North and it started moving to the South. That’s why the Portland area and the Columbia Gorge got a lot of their precipitation as snow. The cold air aloft was moving over them from the North as the warm moist air from the Pacific storm pushed Northward at them.
According to EWEB about 20,000 customers were without service at the height of the storm. They did a superb job replacing the downed wires and restoring power as quickly and as safely as possible. Thanks again for a job well done. A special thank you to all of those who provide assistance for those who so desparatley needed it. A 2-1-1 Power Outage Help Line was activated by Lane County Office of Emergency Management for people still without power and experiencing a crisis.
The next thing that happened was a good thing. It was a wonderful thing. My next door neighbor Bob called me on the phone Friday. We discussed what happened to the tree and what could be done about it. I told him I’d be glad to give someone the wood if they could cut up and remove the downed tree. He said that his son and son-in-law would come over and cut up the tree and he would be able to use the wood himself because he used the wood to heat his house. That was a God-send.
I was glad to have him keep the wood since our decorative fireplace is only used in emergencies such as this. I also have a significant amount of wood cut and stacked in my backyard from the trees that came down back in 1996 in that big storm. That shows how infrequently I have had to use it.
They made it a family affair with Bob’s wife, his son, and son-in-law making quick work of a labor intensive job. Sunday December 18th they cut up the tree and stacked it up. They were even kind enough to cut up an Arborvitae that crashed to the ground on the other side of my house. It’s neighbors like this that restore your faith in humanity. I can’t thank them enough.
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