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Saturday, November 21, 2015

So we had a little windstorm...

On November 17th a windstorm blew across Washington, Northern Idaho, and Montana.  Central Washington lost power lines due to high winds snapping power poles.  The rest of the region lost power lines due to trees falling on them.

The trees were hard on other things, like dwellings, vehicles, and pedestrians :(

Below, a tree fell on an apartment complex in downtown Coeur d'Alene.  image courtesy of

Our little electric co-op lost power to 56% of the members, or about 10,000 homes.  Overall, the region lost power to about 200,000 homes.   This massive damage to the electrical distribution system happened right before temperatures swooned into the 20's, so the timing was pretty poor.

Here is a link to some impressive drone footage of damage in Spokane, Washington, courtesy KXLY news.

Here is a link to several impressive aftermath photos, courtesy of KHQ news.

We lucked out.  All my efforts to remove trees close to the house out of concern for wildfire paid off.  I had only one small tree that took damage (cracked trunk), and it wasn't close enough to the house to be of concern.  I already dropped it and cut it into firewood.

On the other hand, we lost power for 3 days, due to minor damage to the line coming to our house.  A tree fell and pulled the power lines down, also breaking the crossbeam on a power pole.  Not a major problem, but due to the major damage elsewhere, it took a while for the crews to get to our little road.

We used to live in the Mojave Desert in California, so we aren't strangers to powerful wind storms.   In fact, out on the desert, this wind storm wouldn't have even merited comment.  The difference here is that you are surrounded by trees instead of creosote bushes, and the trees are quite a bit more likely to fall and wreak havoc than a bush :)

Below are a few photos I took of the damage that caused loss of power to our neighborhood.

The tree that did it!  Bottom right.

Power lines coiled up across a neighbor's driveway.

Power lines coiled up alongside the road.  I guess once the tension is off, they want to coil up like they were still on the spool.

Damage to the power pole cross-arm.  Happily it's all fixed now.

There are a lot of little annoying things about not having electrical power, and a couple of life-threatening ones.  The life-threatening things are lack of heat and lack of water.

The annoying things are:
  • How much of your time is required to find alternative ways to provide heat and water.
  • Getting your car in and out of the garage, then going back inside to ensure the roll-up door latches again for security
  • Constantly refilling the generator with gasoline, and having no running water to get the gas smell off your hands.
  • Having to drive somewhere that has power so you can refill your gas can.
  • Ditto for propane
  • Ditto for water
  • The stores ran out of water
  • There wasn't a large generator to be found anywhere.
  • Being unable to heat the house with the LP gas fireplace because it requires power to hold the gas valve open
  • Forgetting to take a flashlight when you go to a room without a window (closet, bathroom, garage).
  • Having to go outside to start the generator whenever  you need to use power
  • Having extension cords strung all over the house for lighting, refrigerators, microwave, phone chargers, etc, etc.
  • The radon fan didn't work the entire time, making the basement air dangerous.
This three days is the longest I've ever gone without power, and fortunately it happened when I was not scheduled to work.  Hotels in town had immediately filled up with people seeking shelter... Happily we have a nearby relative who didn't lose power, and who allowed us to use their shower.  

The generator we currently own is a 2500 watt model with pull-cord start.  It's perfectly sized for charging the batteries on an RV, but it can't handle anything but the smallest loads of a house.  I ran extension cords to both refrigerators and one down to the basement where the modem is.  Another I ran to the PC so that I could get on Amazon and order a larger generator :)

I suspect there will be a "next time", and I intend to be better prepared for that.

I ordered this thing right here...  it has electric start, so the wife can probably get it to run if I happen to be working next time we lose power.  There's a low oil pressure shut-off on the engine, so it won't self-destruct if the oil runs low.  It has a nice big gas tank too; it got old running out of gas every hour with that little generator.

The first thing I will do is install a disconnect so that the generator I have on order can plug into the meter and provide power to the entire house. That should resolve a whole host of the issues I pointed out above.  I will still have to travel for fuel refills, but all the other issues should go away.

I'm not sure if this generator will be able to power the well pump AND the hot water heater, but we should be able to get water, lighting, and open the little gas valve on the fireplace.  The entire house has been converted over to LED lighting, so that's now a very light electrical load.

The gray cylinder between the meter and main 220v line is called a "GenerLink".  When you plug a generator into it, the GenerLink disconnects you from the electrical grid.  This ensures that your generator is not destroyed when power returns, and it also prevents your generator from back-feeding power out to high voltage lines and killing utility workers.

One thing that I was impressed with:  I hurriedly bought a LP gas "contractor heater" at Lowe's that was just awesome.  It heats the main floor of the house pretty fast.  Unlike a salamander, it doesn't require any power to run or start, which was a big selling point :)  It's really loud, but it rolls the heat out, and most importantly, it didn't set off the carbon monoxide detectors.

It's been an interesting week, I will say that!

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