Country Living Series

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Windstorm 2015

As you all know, the Inland Northwest area was hard-hit by a windstorm on Tuesday, November 17. In fact, it was hit so hard -- hurricane-force -- that news people are now calling it (in suitably ominous tones) ... WINDSTORM 2015 (insert scary music).

But in fact this windstorm was no laughing matter. Three people died. It was the magnitude that caught nearly everyone unawares. We had brief warning of the storm's imminent arrival on Monday evening, so Tuesday morning I did laundry and we went around battening down hatches. As the day progressed, the wind got stronger and stronger. We have a number of dead trees in the feedlot, unnervingly close to the barn, that ironically we had scheduled to be felled by a professional (licensed and bonded) arborist on Friday. We called and postponed the appointment, since every arborist in the region is currently slammed with work, cleaning up serious issues.

Besides the dead tree that fell conveniently across the compost pile...

...we only lost a few smaller dead trees in our woods, so it wasn't a big deal.

The same can't be said for Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, or any other community in the region. Hundreds of trees came down. Power poles -- not just lines, but poles -- snapped all over the place. Almost the entire region was left without power ranging from a few hours to even now. Avista Utilities, which supplies power to much of Spokane, is calling this the worst disaster in its 125+ year history.

The effect on many urban dwellers was nothing short of devastating. Intersections were snarled with no traffic lights. Many streets -- some of them major arterials -- were blocked by downed trees and/or downed power lines. Lots of homes got smashed by falling trees or branches. To top it off, temperatures dropped to 20F, making a lot of people very very cold.

I can't even begin to express how thankful we are for the power crews who have been working in 18-hour shifts to restore power to everyone. Crews are coming in from many other states as well as Canada. The gratitude which should be extended toward these hard-working people (as well as emergency responders) can't be underscored enough.

We lost power at 6 pm Tuesday evening. Rather to our surprise, it was restored at 4 pm Friday afternoon. I say "surprise" because we're in such a small corner that I thought we'd be just about last on the list. As of this posting there are still around 55,000 customers in Spokane without power.

Needless to say, this was an excellent test of our preps and a way to determine our strengths and weaknesses. Almost instantly, the biggest weakness manifested itself: water.

We had plenty of water for household use in storage, about 50 gallons. This gave us ample amounts for frugal dishwashing, spot baths, drinking, and flushing. It did not, however, give us any water whatever for the livestock. Remember, we now have 23 head of livestock (we have three cow/calf pairs for sale as well as several animals slated for butchering, so we're livestock-heavy at the moment). It was imperative to keep the beasties watered. Livestock water became our overriding preoccupation for the duration of the outage.

Thankfully some friends with a solar system had enough juice on sunny days to power their well pump, so we brought barrels over and filled them.

We then siphoned these into a low tank. We use the low tank instead of the high tank because otherwise the calves wouldn't be able to reach the water when the other animals drank it down too far.

To fill the tub in the barn stall where Matilda, Amy, and Hector spend the night, I used a can to dip out of a barrel to fill a bucket...

...which I then used to fill the tub.

However as I was doing this on the second day, I heard the ominous sound of water leaking out. Turns out the plastic tub had developed a crack. With water so precious, there was no time to lose -- I snatched the rubber tub normally used for outside water for the chickens, knocked the ice out, and dipped the water from the blue plastic tub into the rubber tub. That's it, no more plastic tubs for me. Next time I'm in a livestock supply store, I'm getting a selection of rubber tubs. They last FAR longer.

With nights well below freezing, we were tasked with keeping the water in the barrels from freezing. Don rustled up sufficient insulation to keep one barrel wrapped (it worked). The other barrels -- well, we brought them into the house.

In all other areas, however, we fared very well.

Our biggest gratitude was having the woodstove and firewood. In this respect, nothing whatever changed regarding our comfort level -- we continued heating the house as usual.

Our kitchen stove is propane and does not require an electric starter, so we were able to heat water and cook as normal. In this photo, I'm about to put sausage rolls and cinnamon crust (for dessert) into the oven.

(As I prepared to clean off the bread board, I noticed this little doodle in the flour by artistic Younger Daughter.)

For dishes, I heated water in the kettle and distributed the boiling water (mixed with cool water) into the dishpan and a separate rinsing bowl.

The toilet worked fine -- we followed the standard "If it's yellow, it's mellow; if it's brown, flush it down" philosophy, and kept a plastic bag handy for used toilet paper. This kept our use of water for flushing purposes at a minimum. We were also prepared to transition to a bag-lined bucket (using sawdust for "burial" purposes) as necessary.

Filling the kerosene lamps was an afternoon task. We kept three lamps for evening use, along with a hurricane lamp for the chicken coop (see below) and two extra lamps in reserve in case our neighbors needed them.

Chickens don't seem to want to go into a coop at night unless there's a light to attract them (these guys aren't too bright). So I hung a hurricane lamp from a ceiling hook in the coop at dusk. The chickens obediently went inside over a period of time.

When they were all in and settled, I blew out the lamp.

Younger Daughter has a tank with goldfish, who were soon gasping for air in the absence of their pump. So she filled two gallons jugs with water from the barrels and brought them into the house to warm to room temperature, which she then poured into the aquarium. This worked fine and the fish were comfortable.

The cold weather, while brutal for those without wood heat, proved useful in one regard...

...namely, food preservation. We simply emptied the contents of the fridge outside and lost nothing (but did give me the excuse to clean the fridge).

I never thought of it as an advantage before, but having our chest freezers on the north-facing front porch was a blessing. We simply propped open the lids at night and closed them during the day, and lost nothing from our freezers. Two of our neighbors emptied their freezers, moved the units either outside or to their garage, and repacked the units. They also lost nothing.

In the evenings, we lit the kerosene lamps and spent many hours reading.

As avid and voracious readers as we are, however, these evenings got pretty boring. In winter, it's dark by 4:30 pm, so we had four or five hours of reading time before we could justify going to bed. Thereafter, we found a lively game of Life was a great way to spend the evenings.

Another huge benefit was these little flashlights. We get three-packs for about $15 at Costco, and they're wonderful.

Normally we keep four or five hanging by the door for outside excursions at night, but now we used them frequently to locate something in the dark. We have plenty of spare batteries as well as rechargeable batteries and a solar charger.

Now that power is back on and life is back to normal, this test has given us much to think about in terms of improvements -- notably, water for the livestock. Before anyone starts to make recommendations, please note we've spent years researching options for pulling water out of our well. Since the well is 610 feet deep with a static level of 450 feet, a hand pump doesn't work at that depth. Other options (solar or windmills) are far, far beyond what we can afford. After a summer of drought, our pond is nearly dry.

Our current plans include:

  • Build a heavily-insulated annex to the barn where we can store our 1500-gallon water tank (currently empty, since it would otherwise freeze in winter). Once full, this tank can be recharged by roof runoff.

  • Continue moving forward with our plans to harvest roof runoff to recharge the pond more rapidly.
  • When we can swing it, purchase a generator and supply of fuel for the sole purpose of powering the well pump and recharging the water tank only when necessary.

If anyone knows of an affordable nonelectric hand-powered solution for pulling water from 450 feet down, we're all ears.

This entire situation heavily underscores the need to be prepared. We're grateful we fared as well as we did, thanks to the generosity of our friends who let us fill water barrels for the critters.


  1. Glad you made it through, and you're back in power sooner than anticipated.

    I knew your well would be deep, but 450 feet is well beyond anything I've researched.

    Off the top of my head, I'd say you're implementing the best available solution.

    If I come across anything better in my research (I'm a soft Appalachian girl), y'all will be my first thought.

    Well, after "SWEET!!!"

  2. Thanks for sharing many great ideas. We are in pretty good shape but your family is way ahead of us. We admire your efforts and have learned so much from your site.

    The storm had slackened considerably by the time it got to NW Montana. Lots of trees came down but fortunately the electric is underground along our road. We lost power for just 12 hours.

    Glad that your are OK and back online.

    Montana Guy

  3. On the ranches we used windmill power to pump water, never ever had an issue, I would recommend this company here A windmill can pull up from as deep as 1500 ft, as it clearly states on the site, the deepest one we had was around 1200 ft. in the sand hills of Nebraska.

  4. So glad you did well with the wind storm. Sorry, no help for the well. However, with this strong El Nino there should be a strong La Nina which will make the storm/hurricane season much more active. Predictions are storms will start in March, not the typical June/July time frame.

    Your preps, your solutions to your glitches helps make us more aware of how to solve problems that will crop up. Just for starters those 3 packs of flashlights are something I'll be on the lookout for.

  5. You can't bury the tank? Friends of ours have a similar sized plastic tank mostly buried on the top of a small hill. They fill it every week or so (from their electric well pump; I have no suggestions in that regard), and being on the hill, it provides sufficient pressure through gravity, and manages not to freeze despite -20 F or -30 F on occasion.

  6. go to 'bison prepper' and read the guest post from an idahoan settler. many ideas for more than one source of water and none of them expensive. they couldn't afford the deep well either.

  7. I have my 2500 gal. tank buried about 3 foot and it is still taller than me, so plenty is exposed to the elements, including direct sunlight. I'm in Kamiah, Id at 3400' and haven't had a problem. It is also rainwater collector from my roof, so it's COLD come winter time. I will try to empty it about a third of the way during those spells when we don't get above freezing for days on end. I have another friend up here that was able to get his tanks buried with about 2-3 foot sticking up (rainwater collection) with no problem. Other than that I would recommend a propane generator, I love mine. I don't know how much power you need, but I bought a small 1800wt for a couple hundred from Amazon (go bigger). I bought the size I did for ease of moving. Plus, I was already using propane so it made sense to go that way. Also, you need to invest in an 12 watt inverter that plugs into your cars lighter for charging your laptop, and running your wi-fi for an hour or two. Also a little USB adapter for your cig lighter is pretty handy. I'm on solar, so I look at my vehicle as another generator for gadgets. Good luck!

    1. Thank you for posting this information. We are getting ready to install a rain harvest system and NO ONE has been able to give us any ideas of how to manage collection during the cold season. We are near a very temperate area but at a high elevation so we have been at a loss. I wanted to collect until half full then stop collecting during super cold times but have worried freezing/breaking lower outlets-even if not in use. Any comments or further thoughts much appreciated. I planned to daisy chain two 1500 gallon tanks with overflow from one tank filling the second. I would plan on only filling first tank to 2/3 capacity until worst winter cold temps are past. Tank burial not an option due to rock.

    2. You don't have to dig to bury the tank, just put the dirt over it. It makes a small mound. Old hay / straw added to the mound will provide extra insulation.

    3. I would be very careful with a partial burial. That plan might work fine when you are in an area that goes below freezing and generally stays there but if you are closer to the middle part of N.America the constant freezing and thawing can cause layered freezes that will break even metal tanks. I had it happen in 2012 when part of a tank froze on top then partially thawed then froze solid during the next freeze and no way to remove the pressure. Busted the lower side right out of it.

  8. So why not put that tank underground and run an old fashioned hand pump into it rather than building an insulated addition for it? I basically did the same thing with an old cistern I found that had been capped and disconnected for decades. Just reconnected the gutters and put a hand pump line down to it. I use it for the garden and emergency animal water now.

  9. Glad you're all ok!! With every disaster type event we do one more new prep . .

  10. Glad to know you guys are safe. If you can bury your tank below the freeze line, it will stay liquid all winter but will not be so far down that you can't use a hand pump. Depends on how deep you can dig. Best of luck.

  11. There are some fairly large tanks that are tall and narrow...if I was in your situation I might just get one or more of those and locate them inside the house to avoid the freezing problem-if there was room for that and there was a spot on the floor that could support that much weight.

  12. Happy to hear you all came through okay! A word on the plastic versus rubber tubs for critters . . . we don't buy any plastic feeders/waterers anymore. They simply don't last. Also, after a couple years switching out our 2 gallon metal chicken waters, we've simply begun filling two rubber feed tubs with water for the chickens in winter. The rubber tubs hold enough for them all and once they're frozen we just break out the ice and refill. No more bringing frozen waterers into the house! The rubber tubs and feeders are more expensive up front but well worth it in the long run.
    Blessings from PA and Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. we're down in Houston area and do rainwater almost solely. To bury a tank, keep in mind if it for empty there is the possibility of the surrounding dirt weight crushing it if it's empty. The previous commenters have been lucky or di more than just dig a hole and drop it in (look at how poly septic tanks are designed and reinforced for example).
    We have been doing a scenario with a group of friends almost replicating your experience (minus the sub freezing temps) as a test of our "what if plans"...thanks for sharing your experience!

  14. Why not bury the reserve tank below frost line and hand pump from it... like a sistern

  15. Glad to hear everyone is fine and almost back to normal.
    Getting water for your community of 30+ residents is critical during such times.
    I grew up in a dairy producing area that experienced simliar power problems. Rural, power grid not well built, weather, cars hitting poles, trees falling down, etc. Farmers looked at what they had already and went from there. Alot of them expanded the volume of water their ponds held and went deeper. A number of others looked for broader solutions to keep milking machinges and other equipment running.. Since every one had a tractor and some fuel storage, they realized they had half a genset. Adding a PTO driven generator completed that. Seems like you already have the well and tractor. Adding the PTO-Gen would provide an interim solution until something else if discovered for the long range. An example here:

    They come in various sizes and capability. Your tractor is capable of roughly producing 1KW power for every 2 horsepower.

    I see these for sale used at what I consider quite reasonable prices... Talk to your tractor folks and ask them to look out for a used one. Advertise in the local "farm" paper. Might surprise you what you find.

    Once you find your final solution, this becomes your backup/portable power source.

    Good Luck!

    George in Ohio

  16. what about a PTO driven pump, though a PTO driven gennie would be more useful, we have one to run our milking machine when we have power cuts, and the water pump tho we have a huge insulated tank in the dairy loft it doesn't last long, side benefit is power to the house mostly for light and refrigeration since we are all wood/coal for heating.
    Best wishes from the UK

  17. Hey everyone. I have been listening to Pastor Fox down in
    Missouri about being a prepper.He at least thinks out of the box.
    But he said that we cannot do any thing about like your windstrom,etc. But he said after the fact our biggest problem and
    I am thinking that if the power is out for a long time like an emp?
    that our main problems will be starvation.We cannot do any thing
    about the windstorms, etc, but we are suppost to do someithing
    you and yours as he put it, etc.

  18. Growing up on the farm back in Illinois we had a tank house. It held a 10,000 gallon wood tank that had been filled by a windmill back in the day. The walls were 6" thick and insulated with corn husks and had a double door entry. There was a 2 X 3 ft window on the south wall high up so the sun fell on the tank. Even when the temp was -20 degrees the inside of the tank house was always about 50 degrees. Something like that should work for you just paint the tank flat black and place it where the sun will shine on it.

  19. We share your hand pump dilemma, our well is 536' deep. The deepest hand pump we found is 300', which is pretty amazing. We were extremely blessed to only lose power for 12 hours while most around us lost it for up to a week. Our power went out at 5:15, just as I was coming in from the barn with a bucket full of milk.
    You mentioned rubber tubs for watering, they work well because they are flexible and the sun warms them up, but for tubs, I quit using those cheap ones (I have two of those blue ones for carrying hay, but they are about shot). North40 has some heavy duty ones, made in the USA from recycled materials. They are about $15 each, but the one I used for our calf when we started separating him from momma at night, stood up to his abuse. His mother's stall has one of the blue heated buckets (heavy duty) that I built a wood box for and then put solid foam insulation inside. The cord runs thru a hole cut in the back. This has been in use for 4 years and works great whether you need unfrozen water or not.

  20. I ran across this idea. It sounds like a piston pump would be what you would need.
    This uses manual action, which with a little innovation could be something as simple as an old windmill with a crank.
    I'm not sure that their design is best... but worth looking at

  21. Ms. Lewis,
    We, too, have a very deep well- ours is 660', pump sits at 600', static level is somewhere in the 450-500' range. No hand pump, even the Bison, can touch it! Except this one:
    At $4-6k, it's not cheap, but it IS a manual pump that can handle deep wells: it can pump from 800' down, so can also pump head above ground, AND can pressurize a home tank to 60psi, allowing the use of faucets, toilets, and showers.
    I have no affiliation with the builder or his company; I've looked into it as an option for our own deep well. The cost is the worst of it, but other than a windmill (even more money) or a 240v, 8kW gas or diesel generator to power the existing electric pump, we don't have a lot of options. Hope this helps.

    P.S.- Thank you for your article on WND, which led me to your post here! Your site is now bookmarked in my "Farm Survival" favorites. :)

  22. Sorry I'm late to the party, but I just found your blog today. Please tell me why the freezer lids (doors) were propped open at night and then closed during the day. Thanks.

    1. Temps were in the teens at night, so we propped the freezer lids open to allow cold air to maximize, then closed the lids during the day to keep the cold air in.

      And welcome to the blog.

      - Patrice