With a major winter storm forecast – snow, freezing rain and potentially an inch of ice accumulation starting later this evening and the local news going on about emergency crews on stand by, shelters ready to open their doors and reminding people they still have time to run to the store (glad I’m not going there) I’m reminded of the Big Ice Storm of 2007.
On January 12th 2007 a light rain turned to ice and continued for hours. As the ice thickened overnight the sounds of cracking, splitting branches and falling trees was unceasing. Locally, the National Weather Service officially recorded one and a half inches of ice accumulation. Approximately 200,000 residences lost power throughout this corner of the state. We were fortunate in many ways, we heat with wood and during the heating season our porch /entryway is kept stacked full of firewood. Not the most upscale decor but it sure is convenient. During the noisy night as the electric lines went down, we already had a toasty fire going, flashlights and lanterns close at hand.
The next morning as it became light I tried to call the elderly next door neighbor, no answer, so I headed that way. She was over 90, quite spry and good on her feet but at times rather vague mentally. I found her wandering in the yard, dressed only in her night-clothes, unable to comprehend what had occurred overnight. Even though her furnace was not working and the temperature had dropped significantly in her house she refused to leave and come over where it was warm. Thankfully I had phone numbers for a relative, was able to reach them and they arranged for another extended family member who lived close by to come pick her up. She never did really recover from the shock of waking up and seeing an incomprehensible landscape that resembled a war zone. From that day forward she lived with her niece.
Fortunately, even with the thick ice, the temperature was hovering a degree or two above freezing. The roads had accumulated heat from previous warmer days and the freezing rain melted upon hitting the pavement and not frozen on the roads. Had the streets been covered, as most else was, with the one and a half inches of ice, the situation would have been much more dire. Some people just headed out of town for a nice hotel stay. We did not venture out on the roads that day or for several after but saw vehicles go by.
My elderly father in law had fortituiously ended up staying with us – he lived about three hours north in a rural area by himself. On New Year’s Eve two of his adult grandchildren went to check in on him and visit. He came to the door in a bloody undershirt with a kitchen hot pad tied onto a string that he was attempting to position to stem drainage from a deep abcess in the middle of his back. They packed him off to the VA hospital located about 20 miles away where they cleaned and bandaged the abcess and sent him off with a large bag of packing gauze, dressings, saline solution and antibiotics. The ice storm did not hit as hard where he lived but it was effected and there were power outages. I firmly believe his grandchildrens timely visit saved his life. He stayed with us for the next three months while recuperating. These two personal stories made a blog post by Dene, The Country Consultant on taking care of elderly neighbors in time of crisis really resonate with me. Her article is spot on, worth a read and especially important today with the break down of extended families and rampant social isolation.
Again, due to the previous warm days and the temperature hovering around freezing, the ground was not as covered as the trees. The grass was ice covered, but much thinner and it was still crunchy underneath making walking a lot less treacherous that it might have been. I remember another ice storm in the mid 70’s, although not near as devastating as the 2007 storm, did have a significant ice covering on the ground. Not having ice cleats or golf shoes I remember having to literally chop footholds in the ice and sprinkle them with wood ashes to make it uphill to the barn safely.
Next door a huge section split off an old oak tree. The same elderly neighbor, who had grown up just down the road, had previously told me stories about how when she was young the entire stretch of road was lined with oak trees, which were even then large enough that their branches extended over the road and made a tree tunnel. This tree was one of only two left. The other one also lost major limbs to the ice.
It took a few days for electric crews to begin the first steps toward restoring power. First was cutting back limbs that still endangered lines. There were many places where it took two to three weeks or more to restore power. Due to the construction of subdivisions just up the road the lines had been upgraded to three phase sturdy new lines a few years back. Since luckily the line to the house was undamaged we were only three days without electricity. Next door where the weatherhead was taken out and supply lines down it took two weeks. Repair crews from all over the country converged on the area, working day and night to get the grid back up. Of course there was a run on generators, which soon disappeared from local stores. It did not take long for people to bring in truck loads from out of the affected area, offered for sale at premium prices. Our kitchen range uses natural gas and could be lit with a match so we never missed a meal. Our property is on a well so with no electricity no pumped water. Thankfully we had plenty of drinking and cooking water on hand. Our supply of toilet flushing water was limited, but again we were saved by a few degrees of temperature and were able in the days after the storm to catch ice melt off the roof in plastic tubs. We have since upgraded our stored water supply significantly. That was probably the area where we were least prepared and fortuitously spared by the few degrees of warmth above freezing that followed the storm.
Twenty two trees on our property were either lost or significantly damaged. It took lots of work over several years to really clean up. The bright side was lots of firewood available close by.
Crews from out of town were hired to haul away debris from the damaged trees. They made several passes a few weeks apart through the city and county. A large field north of town was designated as a dumping ground and smoke from the burning of the debris could be seen for many days.
As challenging and damaging as the Storm of 2007 was the ice also had a strange beauty. We also learned some lessons on preparedness and how very small unpredictable things (ie: a few degrees of temperature) can make a tremendous difference.
The word on the tube is that the current incoming weather will not be near as severe as 2007, hopefully the weather guessers are right.