Monday, December 15, 2008

Ice Storm, December 2008

At 2:23 AM on the morning of Friday, December 12, we lost our electricity. Usually a few hours of inconvenience and the magic juice comes back on in time to avert any home front disasters. Not this time. All day Thursday the skies opened up with freezing rain. By the time it tapered off on Friday morning, power had been rudely disconnected from over 225,000 homes and businesses throughout the southern Maine area. Our house was one of them. I guess the swath in the Northeast blacked out a total of 1.3 million homes and businesses.

Two things became noticeable besides the obvious loss of Internet, TV, and ability to microwave popcorn, Not having that furnace making that comfort sound that always results in warmth we tend to take for granted. And the loss of the sump pump. My basement is a major conduit for all the water that flows in York County, Maine. Any interruption in this transfer of water at my house results in a back up almost instantly.

It took 10 inches of water in the basement to find that sweet spot of hydrostatic equilibrium. I ventured into the dark concrete pool once to check the water damage. Like a water cave spelunker, I had my head light on, was stripped to my skivvies, and I tried to remember not to touch the stalactites. I had not foreseen a level this high, and had only used pallets or six inch blocks to keep things up out of harms way.

As I waded through in the dark, a bucket floated by. In the flashing movement of the light I was using I saw a rodent family inside. Papa Mouse was wearing Racoon skin hat and balanced on the edge with a Popsicle stick stuck in the rising waves caused by my passing. He was struggling to steer towards landfall, any landfall. Momma Mouse had a panicked look on her face. She was hunkered down with Junior squeezed to her chest. She was wearing one of those frontier women outfits with the bonnet and apron. As we passed each other, Papa Mouse looked up at me and squeaked an ugly squeak and shook his paw at me. I apologized for the disturbance. I am sure that meant little as the bucket heaved side to side from the waves I was causing.

Near the sump hole, salamanders cavorted. Swimming on their backs and spitting streams of fresh water into the air. One of them looked up at me and gave me that beach dude thumbs up, surf’s up signal. As I turned to check the freezer, I noticed Resident Toad sitting on the four legged stool. He indicated in no uncertain terms that he was not happy. “We Toads do not swim very well you know. Physical activity like that is for frogs, not noble creatures such as we”. "Frog" came out of his mouth like he was hocking up phlegm, he said it with such disdain. He blinked at me, harumphed and turned his back on me.

When I left after my inspection wade through, I noticed the mouse family had tied off to the new workbench and Poppa was helping Momma scramble to safety on the toolbox used to hold my plumbing tools. “ Good”, I thought as I waved to them and smiled, “better a live mouse than one rotting in some dark corner and I cannot find it.”

I decided to check the outer limits of my living space. I waited until well after dawn and after the rain had dialed back from full tilt to what we call “Maine Mist”, a steady drizzle. Everything that could hold ice was encrusted with a 3/8 “ coating of the stuff. Branches were breaking with such frequency, I was sure there was a firefight in full swing over in the Pines across the road. “Crack”, and another tree would shiver as one of it’s branches tumbled through the canopy to the ground. The twisted and tortured Birch out front in the dooryard has finally met it's last twist and it's last bit of torture I think. It looks like a roadside bomb went off in it's center. One half of the 45 year old tree lays broken on the lawn. The back yard is strewn with the tops of many trees. And the lower drive is impassable. Pine boughs both broken and just over loaded with ice clog the exit to Sam Page road.

Back into the quickly cooling house to decide what to do. It only takes a few minutes to realize, my life is so dependent on the Grid, there really is not much of my normal day I can get involved with. The construction I had planned for that new super duper cat playground is on hold. The Internet was gone. Cable was gone. Just myself , my wife, and eight fur bearing critters in varying degrees of confusion.

34 hours later almost to the minute, the power came back on. But because the temperature had dropped as the storm passed and dragged in the air from Canada, my sump hose was frozen. Damn. I stripped down to skivvies again and ventured forth to try and save the pump before it burned up trying to pump past the clog.

Passing through with full lights on, it was just a flooded basement now. The imaginary visions I had conjured up while floundering around in the dark were no longer available to me. As I stood barefooted in ten inches of water on a concrete floor and contemplated unplugging a sump pump that was at the moment running, I did think about the possibility of electrocuting my sorry self. An image of me floating face down in clear basement water in my whitie tighties made me chuckle. The spark the plug made as I pulled it made me jump though and realize my concern was not misplaced. Got the temporary hose hooked up to the sump and waded back in to re-plug the sump. No spark this time, but I did have a moment of pucker factor as I prepared myself to either fry or be the hero.

Now it is yard clean up. I have been at it now for two days and I have just barely made a dent. I can see at least 4 major brush fires I will be tending here today. Now it is off to get the burn permit, fuel up the truck and swing by Mardens to see if I can find some water proof or at least water resistant containers to store stuff in for that next time Ma Nature decides to rain on my parade.

We ended up being lucky. Only 34 hours without power. There are folks in Acton who will be a week, maybe ten days before they see power. As inconvenient as this storm has been, I consider it nothing but an inconvenience. A small distraction that took us off our game for a couple of days. A forced vacation from the ordinary rhythm of our lives. Once a decade or so is fine with me. Considering what Ma Nature can decide to throw at us, we got off lucky.


Dawn on MDI said...

Glad you're back among us and that the storm did not do any permanent damage to your home or your person(s). Somehow, MDI has been spared this time around. Damned if I know how or why, but I'll take it.

Gary ("Old Dude") said...

The great ice storm of 2008, made the news out here on the west coast, and I wondered if you were a part of that, and now glad to hear you have survived it. We had our fires, and now with it predicted to rain all week here, we will get the mud slides---tis that season here.

BBC said...

I guess that it could have been worse but it's always a pain to deal with such things.

I'm 65 and can't say that I've ever had to deal with such conditions, and now live where it's seldom havoc other than some wind storms that take power lines out at times.

In ten years I haven't been without power for more than four hours and that was because they had to shut the power off for some upgrade.

Just in case though, I have backup heating and water systems that do not depend on electricity. And a small backup electrical system.

Hang in there buddy.

El Cerdo Ignatius said...

Hi Crum, glad you and your household are okay.

We somehow escaped the wrath up here in [Zanzibar] - it all fell as rain, with no freezing.

A Midnight Rider said...

You Mainiacs are survivors. The proof was in the pudding last night on the two hour finale. Dr. Bow Tie from Maine no less.

Anonymous said...

Glad you made it through. I can't imagine...haven't been through an ice storm, and certainly haven't lost power for that length of time. Gotta be a certain kind of strong to live in Maine!

Demeur said...

Loved the story and yep were freezing our butts off out here in Wa. state as well. They say it might last until January. God I hope not.

Stay warm.

Bull said...

Glad you came through in good shape. Never had it quite that bad when I was living in Brunswick, but I do remember some cold-ass mornings in a wet basement. And a squirrel that got into my basement one winter that I just could not catch or flush out ('twas a cluttered basement) until it dropped dead. Much less fortunate than your mice.

Fortunately, Boston just got rain. Had friends not 30 miles west of here that were in the same boat as you, though.

MRMacrum said...

To all - I am going to be temporarily less involved in blogging in the near future. The damage in my yard needs to be taken care of now, so today, another burn permit, chain saws, and sore backs are the order of this day and probably the next few. This storm did more damage in my yard than I first noticed.

Randal Graves said...

Glad you guys didn't get buried under a mountain of ice!