December 2008 Ice Storm

Here’s my journey through the storm.  I want to write it all down before I start forgetting it, and so I can point people who’ve been asking to a central place.

2008-12-11: Thursday night I was walking a Netflix movie to the mailbox during the beginning of the ice storm.  I heard several branches fall in the woods – and since our driveway goes under many trees I turned around.  I worked on the computer until around 11:30pm and went to bed with the power still working.

2008-12-12: Friday morning we awoke to no electricity and rainy weather.  We could see some big branches down on the lawn, but the house seemed intact.  Everything was encrusted in inch-thick ice.  You could stand on the front porch and listen to trees falling – sometimes seeing them but mostly not.  The house was cold, but not too bad yet.  The kids made snowflakes and I started making some calls.

Talking to my sister in Amherst, I discovered her grid power was off but their generator was running and they were inviting those in need to come stay with them.  I told her to hold us a spot, and that I’d call her back later after some surveying.

The sun came out around noon, and I headed out to see what I could see. 

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My first concern was the driveway.  There were a few birches down blocking the first half – pretty sure I could just bend those over and drive around them.  I didn’t want to cut them because I was pretty sure they would recover completely.

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The real driveway problems were at the end.  A couple large pine branches had fallen.  That’s the mail box at the end there – the one I decided not to walk to the night before.  Through out the day I was exposed to falling ice in this area.  I had bought a very nice hand saw just a few days before.  It came in very handy cleaning up this mess.

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At the end of the driveway I discovered a larger problem.  One of the pine branches had fallen on the top of the utility pole where our power comes from.  I learned how this worked a few months ago when a squirrel short circuited our transformer and tripped this line, so I knew once the main power lines were fixed, it might be a while before we got our power back.

We took a few pictures of various things covered in ice.  There are a ton more of these kinda shots.  They’ll be in a Picassa album eventually.

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Having made the driveway passable – and doing some research on the internets via the iPhone (which proved to be a powerful tool during the whole ordeal), I came to the conclusion that our power wasn’t coming back any time soon, and it was going to be getting very cold in the next couple of days.  So we packed up and headed to Amherst for the shelter called Valvanostan (aka My Sister’s House).  We ended up taking a bit of a tour of Bow and surrounding areas as the main roads had several blockages.  We were one of three families staying there. 

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They’re at the end of a dirt road, so they got a generator several years ago.  It’s an 8000W model, so it powers pretty much everything in the house except the hot-tub.  Thus begins my rapid education of generators – something I was mildly interested in before, and now know far more than I wish I did.  The house had a gas stovetop, so it was a very comfortable evening spent talking about other family’s situations and the fact that it was going to be impossible to buy a generator for a few days at least. 

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We celebrated my niece’s birthday with a larger crowd than expected.

2008-12-13: Saturday started sunny and warm at my sister’s house.  Here is where I ran smack into the biggest inconvenience of all. 

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At 10am Red Sox tickets went on sale – and it has been my yearly ritual to purchase most of the tickets I use through out the year on this day.  The real prize here is “Opening Day” – and I had 3 iphones trying to get passed the virtual waiting room, but never got a chance to buy a single ticket.  Typically I open hundreds of browser windows and usually end up with a few good games – but this year I totally struck out.

We packed the family back into the van to go and check on the house and basically get out of everyone’s way for a spell.  (It’s the living without electricity that makes me use spell as a noun).

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We were only able to make it a little ways down our driveway, and found everything pretty much as we had left it.  I bought some anti-freeze at the Home Depot in Merrimack and poured it into every drain in the house.  We opened the cupboards with pipes behind them, and I drained as much water as I could from the system.  Headed out to lunch in Goffstown and then back to my sister’s for a 2nd night.  We were able to pay back a little by babysitting all the children in the house while their parents went to an office xmas party.  I taught the two older girls to play chess while the rest of the kids watched a DVD.

2008-12-14: On Sunday I awoke to the gental hum of the generator once again and began a day of board games.  We discovered that my sister’s internet connection was back – but all it really told us was that it might be a while before we got our powerback.  My sister in law called me and bought me a couple red Sox tickets for Sept games, but opening day tickets were long gone.

I spent some time shopping on line for generators, selecting stores as far south as Baltimore – only to find them all unavailable.  I was considering it – and at my brother-in-laws suggestion, I tried craigslist and found excatly what I was hoping for – someone who bought a generator then got their power back and wanted to unload it.  He’d posted it on the NH craigslist – and sold it to me for $100 less than he’d bought it the day before.  There were issues about getting cash from an ATM and writing a check for the remainder.  My brother-in-law dutifully drove me down to Andover, MA and then back to my house and we installed the generator in about an hour.  It had 20hrs on the hobbs-type meter.  We wired it directly to the dryer jumper on the circuit breaker (with phone assistance from an electrician)- which meant the generator was in the garage – and the 20ft cord it came with wasn’t long enough to get it outside and close the garage door.  I sealed the inner door as well as I could – and drove to Lowe’s to buy a couple carbon monoxide detectors.  We now had the house powered, and the family returned.

We’d received news that there would be no school on Monday.

The kids in bed – we started watching a movie in the room above the garage – we had a CO detector at our feet, and one at the top of the stairs.  After about 2 hrs the CO detector went off – so we ended the movie and put the detector at the bottom of the stairs.

2008-12-15: At 1 AM Monday morning the Carbon Monoxide detector at the base of the stairs started going off.  The one at the top of the stairs hadn’t gone off, but I knew I had to fix things.  I opened doors at the front and back of the house and started planning the generator move.  I didn’t have any wire that would handle the load – so my options were to drill a large hole beside the circuit breaker – or feed the wire through the dryer vent and wire it directly to the dryer outlet.  I opted for the latter.

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I woke Suzy up to help and together we got the generator wired such that it was completely outside the house.  I reset the CO detectors and went back to bed.

Awoke the next day to a warm house and Suzy headed off to work.  The girl was complaining of a stomach ache which sounded a lot like what the boy had the previous day – so we had a slow morning watching DVD’s.  We had a bunch of stuff on the Comcast DVR – but you can’t access it when the cable is down, which I don’t understand.

A little before noon the girl was really complaining – and I was also feeling pretty sick – so I looked up carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms and the margin of error was too small.  We packed into the Jeep and headed to the ER.

We signed into the ER about noon – and at 12:15 we were being screened.  They used a new device that can measure carbon monoxide in the blood with out taking blood, they just put a little thing with a light on your finger – so they measured both children and they both came up with zero.  Three hours later, and moments before they were going to draw blood, the doctor came in – verified the gizmo’s CO reading and told us we could go home.

We got notice that once again, there would be no school the following day so we watched Wizard of OZ on the projector screen after I drove into Concord to get gas for our generator and chicken soup.

2008-12-16: Tuesday morning Suzy went off to work again while I kept the home fire burning.  All sick people were better, and we had hot chocolate for breakfast.

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The kids and I cleared the driveway and some of the branches on the lawn.  I shut the generator off and we headed to the store.  At the end of the driveway there was a crew working on the lines.  We hoped maybe by the time we returned we’d have power.  There was a detour at the other end of our road – but once you got into Concord, it was as if nothing had happened.  The ice damage seemed to follow an elevation pattern.  We still had plenty of ice on the trees.  Donuts purchased, and gas can filled, we returned home to find the power still out.

At around 7pm I noticed another line crew at the end of our driveway so I whipped up a couple hot chocolates and went out to see what was going on. 

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They were fixing the problem on top of our utility pole and said we’d probably be back up in a few hours.  The two utility workers were glad to get some hot chocolate, and soon two more people arrived – one to direct traffic and the other a supervisor.  I went back in and made a couple more hot chocolates for them- and it was here that the draw on the generator got too high – the heating system, the fridge and the microwave all at the same time tripped it.  For a second I was worried I’d left the main breaker on and was sending power to the pole and something horrible had happened – but it was just the breaker on the generator tripping due to too much load. 

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Got the hot Chocolate delivered and thanked them for the days they’d all been up working on the problems.  One of the workers gave me an email address to send the pictures to him.

2008-12-17: Late Tuesday, technically Wednesday morning – I was watching a DVD.  The DVR box normally shows the time on its front display – but since the power went out it had been showing an “805” meaning it was trying to get a channel to resolve. I glanced down and noticed it said ’12:53′ – and jumped up.  The cable modem was now showing a connection and sure enough we had power back.  I shut down the generator, unwired all the changes I’d made and tried to buy Red Sox tickets.  I failed.

Awoke to 3 inches of snow and both the snow blower and the tractor mounted snow thrower failed.  It feels very much like a Monday as I type this.

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5 thoughts on “December 2008 Ice Storm

  1. That is a really kewl blog entry id not all that pleasant an experience. It finally snowed a bit up here again … just getting to the point where it might last through the winter.

    Gods I remember the one we had up here. When it stoped icing and stuff the damage in the trees was so bad that it looked like the aftermath of an artillery battle in some strange war,

    Love ya all,

    –dad

  2. Oh-mi-gosh Matt! This is unbelievable to us in the “south.”” By the way, you missed your calling. You should be a photo journalist.

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