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Subject: Snowstorm: October 29, 2011

Written By: MaxwellSmart on 11/11/11 at 5:37 pm

An early snowstorm on October 29th sent trees crashing down.  Their leaves not yet fallen became laden with wet snow.  Tree tops snapped like matchwood.  Boughs broke off every which way.  Sometimes the trunks themselves toppled.  The resulting power outage left my neighborhood in the dark for seven days.  The blackout from the Saturday storm was the longest anywhere I've lived since the Blizzard of '78.  Most of Hampshire County was restored by Tuesday, November 1.  However, streets that sustained heavy damage, like mine, were not restored until late in the week.  Areas of Belchertown, South Hadley, and Long Meadow remained in the dark through the middle of this week.  Outages were even more severe in Connecticut.  The National Guard had to help clear trees and keep order in many towns north and northwest of Hartford.  

If this post is late in coming it is only because Comcast did not restore our service until today, almost two weeks after the storm!

My street, October 30                                                                  My street, November 4

I made the grievous mistake of underestimating Mother Nature.  I would like to blame our tabloid weather reporters who declare every flake that ever falls in October a freak snowstorm and a life-threatening emergency.  However, I did ignore warnings of dangerous conditions and impassible roads.  I can only blame myself.

The snow started at 2:30 on Saturday afternoon.  The power went out at 5:00.  I thought the blackout would last only a few hours.  I didn't want to sit around in the dark, so I left home and drove to the university to do some work at the radio station.  Campus has its own generators.  I stayed on campus until 2:30 in the morning.  I figured the roads would be clear by then.  I was partially right.  The main roads were clear.  However, the town was in a complete blackout.  Not even the stoplights were operating.  Drunk university kids stumbled about in the snow and hurled snowballs at every passing car.  I think they were mad because the weather emergency curtailed their Halloween pub crawl.  And I crawled.  I crawled every so slowly down 116.  I turned onto my street as I have done a million times before and was instantly mired in the plastery snow.  Then I was disoriented because there was no street, only a canvas of white.  The witchy whiteness enveloped the boughs of the fallen trees and the glow of the headlights made a menacing show of it.  There was no way around the debris.  I tried to reverse, but the snow thwarted my attempts.  I stepped out of the car.  I could only hear the grains of snow as they pelted onto the car.  Tree tops cracked like gunfire and crashed to the ground.  I feared for a minute I had not turned onto my street at all but into the woods themselves!  I went so far as to clear the street sign to double check. 

I felt helpless.  Imperiled.  The tree trunks were all leaning like the Tower of Pisa and straining under the weight of the snow.  One could fall on me, on my car, or on my house any second.  The downed power lines were inches from my car.  I was 99% sure they were dead, but that 1% uncertainty set my teeth on edge.  I dialed the police on my cell phone.  They told me power would be out for a couple of days and to abandon my car where it was.  They said even their emergency crews couldn't get through the mess and I should just walk home and stay there since I was so close to it.  I slogged home on foot.  My housemates were both gone for the weekend.  I made sure the cats were indoors.  Then I went back out.  I wasn't leaving my car on the street.  I know the police.  They'll tell you your car will be safe, then they'll tow it, or a plow will smash into it.  I was determined to get back onto the main road.  I rocked it back into the ruts and reversed at a snail's pace.  That's when the plow crew showed up.  The plow man told me I was "pretty stupid" for being out there and drove off to clear Bay Road instead.  Fortunately, the ground was not frozen.  Minimal ice build-up in the tracks allowed me to break free onto 116.  It took me an hour to get back to campus.  Police barricaded 116 in two places were the wires were down.  I survived two hair-raising detours on choked side streets afraid I would end up stuck again.  My nerves didn't ease until I was inside the parking garage.  I stayed on campus until 8:30.  The scary part was over, but the blackout had just begun.

Subject: Re: Snowstorm: October 29, 2011

Written By: LyricBoy on 11/11/11 at 7:30 pm

Good driving there Max.  Got the car back in one piece before the road crews could trash it.

Subject: Re: Snowstorm: October 29, 2011

Written By: Foo Bar on 11/12/11 at 7:41 pm

If this post is late in coming it is only because Comcast did not restore our service until today, almost two weeks after the storm!

Oh, fine.  You're out there, all surviving and stuff, and we're trying to keep ourselves amused in your absence.  How dare you abandon us like that? :)

But seriously, congrats on making it out in one piece, and more interestingly, how was the blackout?  What did you do for temporary sources of heat/power, how well prepared were you, and what bits of improvisational engineering worked (and what didn't?) while the power was down?

Subject: Re: Snowstorm: October 29, 2011

Written By: MaxwellSmart on 11/13/11 at 7:09 pm

We used the wood stove and candles while the power was out. 

The divide between our ancestors and us seems razor thin when you've got no electricity.  Instead of watching TV or surfing the Internet, we were sitting fireside, drinking wine, and shooting the sh*t, just like we did for thousands of years before electrification!

The hardest thing about the blackout was anticipating its end.  The power company got the downtown and the main roads up and running early in the week.  Residential side streets got lower priority.  The power company told us Wednesday, then Thursday, and then Friday.  Finally the service crews for wires and trees arrived on Saturday morning.  The power was back on at noon, five hours short of seven full days after the outage started. 

I didn't miss TV or the Internet after a few days.  Yeah, it was a pain in the ass, but I'm used to things being a pain in the ass.  My housemates were more frustrated than I.  One of them is a grad student and needs the Internet for school.  Every time I had to tell Julia the power company changed the restoration time, I felt like I was responsible for the power going out!

We are on the municipal water system, so at least we had plumbing.  A lot of folks with wells had to haul water just to flush the toilet!  No hot water, however.

Julia asked, "Well, how am I supposed to take a shower?"

"Take a cold shower," I suggested.

She didn't look happy about the prospect.  She showered over at a friend's house.  Are friends electric?  It's an advantage in a blackout.

I took a few cold showers and Oklahoma carwashes in between.  A cold shower is better than no shower!

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