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.