Tuesday, December 2, 2014

November came and went...like a lion!

It's not only March that can come in like a lion; we had a rather wild start to November.

It all started out innocently enough, the weather forecast was for about two inches of snow. Well, 2 inches or 5 cm for those who think in metric, isn't a lot to worry about in a place that routinely sees 100 inches/ 254 cm over a winter.

Yet despite all the high-tech instruments, the satellite photos, and what have you, the "about 2 inches" turned instead to "a foot or more" (12 inches/ 30.5 cm), and was I think the heaviest snow I have ever shovelled. A shovelful weighed about 45 lbs (20.4 kg). I know, because the kitty litter comes in
40 lb bags (18.2 kg) and the shovelful felt a tad heavier than that.

It was heavy, heavy snow, and as it fell thickly, it was accompanied by high winds. Not just gusts, which were higher still, but the average wind was 50 mph (80 km/h) for much of the time. My piano teacher told me he had to pick up his son, and while driving in a blizzard isn't his favourite thing to do, he has done it any number of times since he's lived most of his life in snowy places. But this was the worst ever drive he had because it wasn't just blinding snow that was unbelievably heavy. The high winds plus heavy snow snapped a lot of trees like twigs, so as he drove, he saw debris fly past as well as snow. Huge limbs airborne like feathers. He likened it to being in the Wizard of Oz when you see all sorts of things flying in the air.

I was home during the storm and looked out to see every branch of the huge white lilac on the ground. It was hard to know if all the branches were broken or just weighted down with the heavy snow. I went out to shake off the snow that I could, and maybe drag a few of the broken limbs away. As I was out there, with snow at least 6 inches (15 cm) by that point and showing no signs of stopping, I was surprised to find about half the branches weren't broken, merely weighted down. I dragged some of the big broken ones over to a spot between the lilac and the large hemlocks or cedars that are behind the barn, where they wouldn't be in the way once the snow was done. I wasn't out there long, maybe 25 minutes, and during that time, I heard four distinct cracks and saw huge limbs or whole trees fall in the back yard. The time between the crack and the fall was no more than five seconds, and most were within three seconds. Crack! and then a quiet whoosh.

I felt a lurch within my stomach, walked away from the lilac, to the front yard, past the barn, and to look at the boat in the side yard. So far, so good.

I then felt very unsafe and a quiet, persistent urging to go back inside and wait out the storm.

After I was back inside, the power went out. I watched a man in a Jeep Cherokee get stuck in my driveway when he wanted to turn around. He got the car out only after some coaxing by gunning the gas and letting off it to jar the car forward, and once out on the roadway, he fishtailed down to the stop sign. He wasn't driving fast at all, and I called the hockey coordinator to let her know I wasn't going to be at the rink to play later that afternoon. She said she'd already sent an email to everyone and posted on facebook. But, as I had no power, I didn't see either message.

Before daylight completely waned, I started up the coal stove, glad that I had dry firewood in the house, waiting to be used. I had thought to turn up the house heat once I saw that we were in for more snow than what was forecasted, so the house was a bit warmer than what it would have normally been, but not as hot as it would have been, had I thought to turn the heat up earlier.

I had a lantern with an emergency candle ready, I wound up all the wind-up flashlights (torches) and lanterns. I found the wind-up radio and had that ready.

When gathering things, I noticed the tree on the corner by the barn side waving strangely. The last crack i'd heard must have meant one of its branches had fallen. I went back downstairs and looked out back. I had been back inside the house for a little less than an hour and saw that one of the huge hemlocks/cedars had fallen on top of the broken lilac branches I had piled together. I was glad to have listened to that quiet, persistent urging to go back inside.

Himself was away, and I felt alone and forlorn. Glad that I'd come back in, and then overwhelmed by that sense of it could have been me as I looked again at the huge hemlock on the lilac branch pile. I looked around for the cats, and went into my office where the coal stove was.

Both were stretched out in front of the fire, luxuriating in the heat. Perfectly content and peaceful, and it did my heart good to see that. They were dry. Safe. Warm. And I looked around to see that I was, too. I had plenty of food on hand for them and me. I had two alcohol stoves that i'd gotten for the boat that I could use for cooking if the coal stove didn't answer. I'm on public water, so I could get water without worry, and if needed, I could draw water from the old hand-dug well to flush toilets.

And so I settled in, and found myself wanting to go to bed about 7:30 pm. It was dark as pitch outside, and there wasn't much to do. I listened to the wind-up radio and realized I wasn't sure what radio station would have emergency announcements. I listened to the end of a Bible study program as I moved the dial. The woman was an enigmatic speaker and she was summarizing her talk. I paused to listen and she prayed for anyone listening who needed help just then, who felt alone or frightened, who was in the midst of a storm. I smiled as I was alone and in the midst of a storm, but looking at the contented kitties, I wasn't frightened. I ended up listening to a French station in Montreal for awhile and then made my way to bed.

The next morning dawned sunny and bright. Trees were down everywhere, some snapped off, some simply weighed down by the heavy snow. The hemlocks or cedars bowed and some were on the clothesline. One of the supports had leaned forward but didn't break off. A few more of the lilac limbs broke during the night and I went outside to do what I could for cleanup. I walked in the front yard, in front of the barn over to the far side, and there I saw a huge tree had fallen. Well, a part of it anyhow. It was my neighbour's tree, one that was crotched with two main supports and a third, like an upside down stool. The third leg, which was closest to my house, had shorn off, and the wind carried it just enough so that when it came down, it hit the bow pulpit of the boat. I blinked a few times to absorb the sight. That's why I saw the branch waving in that funny way the day before. And this third of the tree fell where I had been when I walked over to check on the boat.

There was still no power and thankfully, I had charged up my cell phone. My landline was still working, so I called my boss to let her know that I was still without power and no business phone line (digital) or Internet. I called my ISP and they had no estimated time of when things would be back up and running.

The next few days were a blur. My power came back on late in the second day. I had taken a heavy contractor's bag, filled it with snow, and put it in the half-filled freezer to save the food in there. I waited over 24 hours before opening the fridge door to get a couple eggs to cook. On Wednesday, my boss wanted me to see if I could get a signal someplace, and I was able to get one at my local library. Power lines running across the road beside the library were typically not noticeable, as they were high in the air, but on that Wednesday, they were about a yard/metre off the ground, with brightly coloured streamers on them to warn would-be motorists to steer clear.

I downloaded my work emails, answered those that needed answering and had enough work to keep me busy the next day, even if I didn't get back online.

My drive to the library and home was a short one, but the devastation was apparent. Some of the larger trees had been cleared away from the main roads, but in some cases, only those parts that blocked the roadway had been cut. Huge, majestic trees that offered tons of shade in summer were lying on the ground, leaves still green. A road was closed because of downed power lines, and I saw a telephone pole lying diagonally across the road.

My neighbours were unbelievably kind and helpful. I wanted to get the tree off the boat, yet I knew the way it was positioned would mean i'd need to spend many hours with a chainsaw over my head, and that didn't feel safe to me. Plan B was to use my Pocket Boy® a wonderfully sharp saw that folded like a knife and cut away the branches on the boat and deal with the rest after most of the snow had melted, as the weather was to warm up.

And so it was, I was out there sawing, wearing my head and face gear i'd needed for my chainsaw class, when my former plowman's wife drove past. She had one of her sons and his friend with her, and they offered to help. If I had a chainsaw....

I did and told them it'd been a while since it had been started. The friend was 6'4" and could easily cut the branch I desperately wanted to cut off but felt unsafe doing it by myself having to stand on a 2×10 board across two saw horses so I could reach it properly with the chainsaw. So, my Plan B was to go out with Pocket Boy and cut away what I could in smaller bites.

I congratulated myself taking loads of pics with the digital camera that I could send to the insurance company, and Tall Friend started the chain saw on the tenth pull, and in three minutes had sawn the large branch and Son pulled it off the boat. They were tall enough to do so.

Plowman's wife offered to let them do more, but I didn't want to be a bother, so thanked her and told her I basically just wanted the tree off the boat. Everything else was okay as was.

Plowman stopped by later, and he burns a lot of wood in his outside boiler. We chatted a bit, he told me he'd sold his plow truck in the summer and Adam was taking over for him. Adam had shown up at my house with a backhoe to move snow around a couple times when it looked as though there wasn't going to be enough room to push the snow aside before we were done with snow for the year. I asked Plowman if he wanted the wood from the tree. If so, he was welcome to it, I needed to get some work stuff done, but planned on having a date with my chainsaw that Saturday to cut up what I could.

Plowman thanked me, showed up on Thursday and cut up not just that tree but the large hemlock/cedar that fell in the back, and a few other smaller trees, too.

Kind neighbour Bob from up the street told me to use his trailer to take my brush to the dump. To use it for several days until I could get the cleanup done. I had loaded it up one day and ran out of time to take it to the dump. Next day, I had an errand and figured on the way back from my errand, i'd hitch the trailer to the truck and take it to the dump. When I got home, the trailer was gone.

I called Kind Neighbour Bob's house. His wife answered. Bob had gone to the dump, saw the trailer all full and waiting, so he hitched it to his car and ran it over. He stopped by on his way back, dropped it off by the large pile of brush still waiting to be taken, and went on home. He hadn't stopped in to say hi, as he didn't think I was back from my errand yet.

People who've lived here their whole lives thus far say they can't remember a storm like this one. But they won't forget it, that's for sure.

Most places have been more or less cleaned up, and the day before Thanksgiving, we got another big snow. It wasn't quite as heavy, but I went to shake it off the trees as they were still a bit bent from the earlier storm. A few places lost power, but thankfully, I wasn't one of them.

Himself was here, the coal stove was merrily burning, and we spent Thanksgiving cooking and shovelling out. Friday, we went snowshoeing.

I made a success/failure/serendipity/lessons learned list after that first storm. I'm glad to say there were more successes than failures and little moments of serendipity that were a wonderful balm. Such as the hot water heater having heated the water to as hot as it gets before the power went out, so that for the two days I was without power, the hot water was at least warmish. That I had succumbed to the siren song of Oreo cookies and had bought a bag just beforehand.

Successes included having enough stores on hand so I could stay off the roads, and I could offer a place for people to stay if things got too cold at their place.

Lessons learned included that although I had the alcohol stoves, I had yet to use them, so that was a failure, yes, but my plan going forward is to have a "prep weekend" where one weekend a month, I focus on some emergency tool and really learn how to use it. Like the alcohol stove. Or, to find out which stations carry emergency information, and can I get those on the wind-up radio.

The storm shook many people to their cores, and it was a reminder to me how complacent I've become. I can't be forever vigilant because that'll burn me out in the long run, but I can pay a bit more attention to what I have on hand, make sure I know how to use it, and to practice.


  1. All we had was a couple of feet of snow and the one of the coldest Novembers on record. I think abut all the physical labor of clearing the debris and am humbled.

    1. Joanne, it was amazing. I didn't bother calling anyone for help, because everyone was busy. Electricians are still backed up installing generators, and there are still huge piles of brush that will most likely not be cleared until spring.

      I was also surprised by how exhausted and overwhelmed I was. In retrospect, I should have taken off the rest of the week to do what cleanup I could rather than to try and get work done and then use my lunch hour for cleanup.

  2. I have seen no predictions of snow for us here, but I shall buy extra emergency provisions just in case. I dread the power going off as I have large amounts of meat etc in my 2 freezers.

    1. Cro, that's why I figured i'd pack the freezer with snow. I have another freezer with the refrigerator, and that was nearly full, so I figured if I didn't open it at all, i'd be all right for two days. Once power was restored, I opened it and still saw ice crystals on everything, so I knew all was well.

      Had we been without power for one more day, I was going to pack the frozen items in the fridge's freezer in the 5-day and 3-day coolers that I have and pack them in snow inside the freezer and build up a snow bank and put the coolers in there. It took over a week for most of the snow to melt, and all that was left before the big snow at the end of the month was the pile left by Adam when he plowed the driveway.