Friday, March 8, 2013

Meanwhile, Back at the Farm: Important Information on Preparations

From the second story deck.  I do not recall a March storm this bad in the twenty five years I have lived in this state.

     We tend to be better prepared than most families.  Not to be, when you have a book out called Rational Preparedness would be just plain embarrassing.  As you all know, a late season blizzard hit our region of Virginia on Wednesday bringing a foot of very heavy wet snow.  Cedar trees snapped,  arborvitae snapped, and even my large bushes from Arizona which don't require much water are badly damaged.  Here in Virginia, some of the pines grow as much as one foot a year, and this is why this is such an attractive area for selectively harvesting timber. The recovery here can be so quick, that the wood is truly a renewable resource in a demonstrable time. I realized this week that one of the reasons so many families for so many miles are without power, are the trees. Pines especially grow very quickly here, and as the tree grows taller and very quickly heavier, it puts a great deal of pressure on the root system. The last couple of years here have brought drought, and this drought means that none of these tall and heavy trees have the root system they should. The result are tons of trees in this storm that are lying across the powerlines which lead up and down the roads.  Once power is led to a subdivision or a private home, most often it is buried, but first it must get here on powerlines which stretch up and down the mountainous roads.  When I finally got out of the farm today I had to stop counting the trees which were lying on powerlines.  There were Virginia pines, white pines, royal paulonias, and even a downed oak, and tons of gumball trees all swirled in power lines as a result of the snow and of the high winds.  No one is going to begin to work on restoring power until someone works on all these trees !   My plan in getting out today was to check our daughter's house, to get the mail, and then check the house of a friend.  After a couple of days without power, our daughter headed to a hotel for a shower, and heat as she has the flu. I found everything at her house to be in order, although her forest will need some tree work once the ground is dry and more stable.  I got the mail at the teeny rural post office, and headed to my friend's house.  She is out of town, which is a good thing, because her house still does not have power. I called her via cell and gave her the report.
              In my book, and as part of this blog I have said many times, that utility companies are not maintaining infrastructure as they once did.  Our extremely rural area only received electricity in the 1930s, and when it did, it did so through two electric cooperatives, and a larger company which serves more urban areas as well.  When we built both of our farms here, we were told that the larger more urban company would be serving us.  Today, as I drove back to the farm, I noticed that one "cherry picker" truck for one of the electric cooperatives had broken down and parked across all the sand parking spaces at the tiny rural post office.  It seems that they are not only not maintaining their infrastructure, but not maintaining their trucks either !  I headed for home. I had wanted to fill my car with diesel, but both of the gas stations in the village are out of power, and so the one with diesel won't be able to pump anything.  I decided to go straight home and not waste any more fuel. About six miles from the farm, I noticed another large truck from the other electrical cooperative. It was broken down in a deep water filled ditch at the side of the road.  Conspicuously absent is my own power company, which has not been out to our area yet and we have been without power since Wednesday morning.  The original projection for restoration came and went, and now they will no longer venture a guess.  The internet and the landline phone went out Wednesday also, but returned on Thursday.  The cellular service was patchy and slow all through the storm, but we were happy to have it.  We have survived without having to head fifty to seventy miles elsewhere, because we have the Simple Pump which will allow us to pump water, and use water in the house.  We also have a village generator which we purchased through a government auction. What we did not have was adequate diesel to run it for days because we had believed that it was late enough in the storm season that we could use the diesel in our vehicles in order to rotate it, and replace it. The generator runs and in addition to powering the house and outbuildings charges marine batteries which will power large inverters (Outback and Xantrex)  These are beneficial because your generator can operate for an hour or two during the day, and then be turned off. This will allow your marine battery fed inverters to operate noiselessly, making your family less of a target for those who have not prepared. Suffice it to say, in future, we will wait until April 15, to use and replace our diesel, and we will have better supply levels of it.   We also have a gas stove that will operate without power, and we have gas logs which will heat the entire main floor when necessary. The gas logs will operate in the absence of electrical power.  This allows us to survive. The entire house will not run at once, but we can cook, maintain refrigerators and freezers, heat or air condition, and provide water to family or animals. During Winter, without power, we cannot really heat water, (through our conventional water heater) and so we cannot easily shower, wash hair, or run a giant laundry load, however we are working on a way to do that too. We are able to heat water on a kettle on the gas stove, and pour that into the sink with cold water to do dishes.) We also have a security system and farm gate entry system which operates on solar with battery back-up.  At this time, we have no idea when our primary power will be restored.  I am relating this because it's important to see that it is very likely that restoration times will be later and later in the future as infrastructure continues to fail.

   Also there are two important products I wish to tell you about that have been invaluable to us this week.  (Once again, these are just my personal recommendations and I have no financial interest in either of these products. )   One of them is the Motorola Talkabout  2-way radios MJ27OR  FRS GMRS Radios.  These come with 22 channels, 121 privacy codes, 2862 combinations.  These NOAA approved walkies are available at Wal-Mart and were recommended to me by a neighbor at a farm nearby. These boast a 27 mile range. Our neighbor thought that we should have an agreed upon code in order to talk to one another in emergencies.  These devices were very valuable this week when our landlines were down, our cells were patchy, and we wanted an additional way to talk to our daughter whose house is a few miles away.  The only downside to these devices is that they need to live in a charger and be used, and then returned to said charger.  These are well worth having.
                  The second product I want to tell you about is the Eton Microlink FR160.   This is an amazing small device which can be charged using 90 seconds of winding. Then it provides AM and FM radio as well as all seven NOAA stations.  It also has an intermittent LED light, and a USB charging device which can be used to charge many cellular phones for an emergency call. They come in black, red and a fluorescent green. The only downside to this is that although the radio will run a huge amount of time on relatively little winding, you likely are restricted to only emergency calls, as it's a fair amount of winding in order to charge a cellular phone or similar device..  It also charges using solar energy.  During the day, I just placed it on the windowsill.
               Both products were extremely helpful this week during this emergency, and identical units will become gifts to my kids later in the year also.  (I hope they don't read this blog !)

                I want to leave you with a funny story.  One of our sons went to college yesterday and returned later this evening. One of his friends there lives in Charlottesville and commutes and lives at home. They have also been out of power since Wednesday with an open ended restoration date.  They have a generator and were using it yesterday evening, when all at once it cut out.  They looked outside to see that a man they didn't know had cut off the generator and was attempting to siphon the fuel out of their generator's tank.  His father grabbed the shotgun and our son's friend grabbed his closest weapon, an airsoft gun which shoots pellets. When they confronted the thief, rather than running, the man tried to retrieve his siphon, and then he ran. They chased him, and our son's friend shot the man in the back of the head with a plastic pellet.  The man kept running probably wondering if someone was going to shoot him with a shotgun next !   The attempted robbery was not all bad as they were left with the thief's excellent high quality gas can which they have put away.
                There are important lessons in both of these stories.  One of them is that each of us needs to be as well prepared as is possible. Many of us believe that US infrastructure will continue to deteriorate and that we will spent more and more time waiting for service restorations. Make a plan, and consider using your tax return for something which ensures your family's survival in an emergency.  Secondly, our son's friend in Charlottesville was only out of power for two days before someone brazenly turned off his generator and attempted to steal fuel.  How long do you think it would be before armed people came to take fuel or the generator itself ?

Please see our original post on this weather event and our coping with power outages:

UPDATE:  As of Saturday afternoon,  March 9th, the electricity here has still not returned, and we still have a fair amount of snow, although driveways, farm roads, mountain trails, and secondary roads here are passable.

Power returned in the early evening of March 9th.  Thanks to everyone who checked on us !


city said...

thanks for share.

MSgt B said...

Everything has melted away already here in Fred'burg, almost like it never happened.

We went without power for about 12 hours Wednesday. No big deal. Got a chance to work out the new propane heater. Awesome!

Now that Mrs B has discovered the thing, she runs it every evening to warm the living room. Whether it needs it or not.

Kristin said...

The joys of Global Warming...err...I mean Climate Change.

JaneofVirginia said...

I hope there were some things that were useful.

JaneofVirginia said...

Mrs. B is a bright woman. Propane heat can be toasty warm. We still have snow.

JaneofVirginia said...

I think this is probably within normal limits to this area if you consider a fifty or a hundred year calendar cycle. It just seems unusual to those of us who have lived at this particular location for a paltry six years.