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Monday, February 8, 2010

Snowmageddon 2010

In 1993, the South Western PA area had one of its biggest storms to date. It was deemed the Storm of the Century. It was fitting as how there was less than 10 years left in that century. Not that bold of a statement considering. Of course, at that time, you had to see a plow truck on its roof in a ditch to cancel in my hometown. The following year, during which I was a freshman at Pitt, we had one of the coldest winters on record. To know the campus in Oakland, you are aware of the wind whipping in between buildings. As you turn a corner onto Forbes or Fifth Avenue, the protection of the tall structures are gone and you are enveloped by gust of icy daggers, ripping into your skin. Still, classes went on as the temperatures dipped into the sub zero range.

It wasn’t until, then Governor, Bob Casey was in town for a routine check up on his heart that the issue of cancelling classes was addressed. The Governor put the city into a state of emergency and classes were immediately cancelled. Of course, that effectively closed all student services and I was left to eating cold cereal or Ramen Noodles for sustenance. Still we dealt with it.

Now, to compare the events of this past weekend to those of the Tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, or the earthquake in either China in 2009 or the one in Haiti this past January is stretching it a bit. Fact of the matter is that we’ve been spoiled for far too long. Me included. We all sit around and wax nostalgic about having three feet of snow, no school for a week, and a snowman bigger than that damn statue on LOST. And in that same breath we bitch about how we never see that kind of weather anymore. My wife is a snow junkie and wants to see it up to the window. Me, I’d rather have snow on the ground for most of December, including Christmas, and then be done after January 15th.

So, when my wife got all excited that we were going to get “some” snow to the tune of four to eight inches, as was originally predicted by the local meteorologists, she got into this nesting mood and decided that we needed to go out and buy lots of food to hold us over until Monday. “Oh, it will be nice. We’ll make warm dinners and sit and watch the snow in our nice warm home.” Then, as the hours rolled on into Friday afternoon, and the snow started to fall, the tune changed. “Get your ass home, we’re getting a foot of snow!” This was the call I got at work on Friday around 3:00. As we continued to watch the news the totals jumped every hour until we were expecting up to 18 inches. The lights began to flicker in and out as the heavy wet snow began to cake up on the trees and power lines.

Well, we were ready for the snow. We went to bed in awe of the thick fluffy blanket that descended onto our house and trees and cars. What we weren’t ready for was the power outage.

I woke up around 7:00 and called to cancel an appointment I was supposed to have at 10:00. That was because I had a “Dude, where’s my car?” moment when I looked out in the driveway. I went back to sleep for a couple of hours and figured I wake up and enjoy some time in my chair watching the snow and drinking some coffee. Around 9:30, I woke up and we had no power. By 11:00. The temperature was down to 68 in the house and falling. We had no wireless signal due to the outage and our basement, was slowly falling below 56. We made the decision to tough it out at my in-laws until the power came back on later. I spent a good two hours shoveling the driveway and the cars out of the snow. Our road was completely bare because all of the snow was now in our driveway. While the shoveling went smoothly up near the house, the treated snow that was on the road had melted and packed down in my driveway after being plowed. It was harder than hell to get rid of it.

As the temperature inside the house reached the low 50s, we packed out enough for an overnight trip and left. Our cats, which I hated to leave had enough fur to keep them warm, and they could always tunnel underneath our bed covers to stay warm. We were heading for civilization. While our road was sufficiently plowed, the surrounding main roads were hardly touched. We barely made it to my in-laws who were nice enough to carve out a space in their driveway that was big enough for our van.

Every couple of hours, I called the house to see if our answering machine picked up, letting me know the ordeal was over. No change. I called the power company who told me that the best prediction for all customers to have power restored was Friday. This was a week after the storm. I feared we were going to have to pack up our cats and bring them over to the house, putting us at eight in one house, which is only three cats shy of crazy cat lady status. That evening we went back to check on the cats and became excited. As we drove through our neighborhood we saw signs of power on along our road. However, once we reached the top of our hill we noticed a block or so section that was still in the dark. Our hearts sank as we feared that our hopes of dodging that deadline of Friday was too good to be true.

My wife and I slept in her old bed which was uncomfortably small. If this was going to be an extended stay we needed to make better arrangements. We decided to go back Sunday morning and retrieve the mattress from our old futon as well as enough clothes and food to help out her parents throughout the week. We both travelled back to our house along the bad roads and found that the temperature in the house was now 48. The refrigerator was defrosting and the tray underneath was full. We had taken the biggest items that required cold and put them in a cooler on our back porch, which was down near 30 degrees as the outside temperature dipped down towards zero. I built a fire in the basement to being the temp back up over 50 and we gathered up the rest of our stuff needed for the week. We fed the cats and made a plan to bring them back over if the temperature dropped below freezing. We also turned the faucets onto a drip after running hot water through the pipes.

After coming back to my in-laws I learned that some electric company trucks were in the area and hopefully we’d be back in business soon. That estimate of Friday made me still cringe because I realized that the power company was going to hit the biggest areas first to restore the most power to the most residents. Then they would move on down the line picking up the few spots that still needed it. That meant that our area would probably be last as we were only a couple of blocks among thousands of residents without power.

We unpacked all our belongings, stocked their fridge and made preparations to be there for awhile. Just about time for Super Bowl kickoff, I felt the urge to try calling the house one last time. A few of my Facebook friends who lived in the area were without power and had updated their status to say they were back up and running. The previous attempts to dial were met with no ringing and that familiar shrilling tone and voice that stated it was sorry that it could not complete my call. This time was different. One ring. I was slightly excited. Two rings. I was getting more excited. Three rings. Oh, boy! Four rings. Hot damn. “H, you’ve reached…” My answering machine picked up the call. Our power was restored. And probably within a half hour of us leaving with most of our worldly possessions. “Son of a bitch” I yelled. Just to be sure, I called again and as the fourth ring passed, I held the phone up to my wife’s ear. “Yeah!”

I took a car load back and shut off most of the faucets. I made sure everything was still running and the temp was already up to 64 degrees. Yep, it had come back on shortly after we left. As we settled back in to our home, got warm showers and slept in our nice soft, BIG bed we realized that we don’t appreciate what people go without on a regular basis. We take for granted the simplest of luxuries that we think of as just standard, everyday rights. You walk through a darkened house and immediately try the same light switches fourteen times because you just assume that they work and don’t even realize that you still don’t have power. It’s habit, not instinct. Instinct would be making yourself more prepared for such an outage. Having enough warm blankets for the duration of the outage or at least enough flashlights to see where you are going.

But, in all, we bitched and moaned about not having power for a total of 24 to 30 hours. The storm rated fourth on the list of total inches of snowfall in our area, behind that storm from 1993. We lost power but didn’t end up any worse than being put out of a weekend. For all the fear of freezing pipes and kitties, the temperature never went below 40 degrees in our house. It just goes to show that if you want to get your power back on in a storm, don’t call and complain to the power company. Don’t twitter or bitch on Facebook or hope to use other social networking sites to shame your provider into working faster. All you have to do is pack up all your stuff and plan to be out of your home for a week. Then, the power will magically be restored once you unpack at your temporary shelter.

Oh, and don’t buy a hell of a lot of food that needs to be refrigerated. That’s a sure fire way to get your power to go off in the first place. Take care to all those still in the dark and stuck in the snow.


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