Friday, November 27, 2015

Electricity Envy: Windstorm 2015, Part 3

NOTE: Avista Utilities has worked around the clock from the evening of Tuesday, November 17th to restore power after the windstorm. According to their outage map, there are less than 200 customers without power this morning. It was wonderful to drive home on Thanksgiving evening and see all the lights on! This is Part 3 of a five part journal about our 6-day experience without power.

November 18, 2015 approximately 8:00 am

It’s cold outside, in the thirties. The temperature inside is 55. That doesn’t sound that cold, but you’d be surprised. I add more layers as I move around the house. After I feed the cats and stare out the windows, I turn on my cellphone. I’d turned it off last night to conserve the remaining charge, less than half. The weather alert is over, but it’s clear no one in the vicinity has power. I find Avista Utilities on line and am guided to the outage center.

Over a 120,000 homes are without power this morning. Wow! In a service area of 180,000 that’s a significant number.

I start wrapping my head around the idea that it might take longer than I thought for our electricity to come back on. In the meantime, the day ahead looks odd. All routines are scuttled. There’s no electricity to make coffee or yerba mate, won’t be cooking any breakfast either. That pile of laundry I’d been allowing to build, the one I’d been planning to tackle today, not going to happen. With our wifi down, I don’t have access to our computer backup, the one where I keep the most current files of my work. Hmmm.

I can meditate.

After that, I start calling the local coffee shops. No one picks up.

I reach a Starbucks farther south. “Yes, we have electricity,” the barista answers. We load up our phones, computers, ebooks, and their respective cords. Maybe we can re-charge some of this stuff.

Traffic lights are still out and most businesses we drive by are closed. We see little evidence of anyone with electricity. We see an amazing number of downed trees. And they're huge, with trunks several feet around.
Some have crushed roofs, gates, and a few have even pulled up entire blocks of sidewalk with them.
Roots that once tunneled ground, are now dead and frozen midair.
When we reach the Starbucks, there are plenty of cars in the parking lot. The line is out the door, and the interior is packed. There are outlets, but they’re all being used. My husband remembers there’s a local coffee shop two or three blocks down the street. He walks over there while I hold our line at Starbucks. I turn my phone back on, so he can call me.

“It’s less crowded,” he calls to tell me a few minutes later.

I gratefully relinquish my place in the ever-growing line at Starbucks and trek over to Revel 77 Coffee. It’s busy, but there’s actually a few seats and—hallelujah!—an outlet where we can recharge our phones. We settle in.

They have no wifi, Comcast is down. We don’t care. Our phones aren’t going to die. I run into a woman I know who works at the Post Office. She tells me the main facility at the airport has lost a roof, gas lines are broken, and, of course, the power is out. They’re working at the branch office with flashlights. The good news is: She’s one of the fortunate ones who never lost power at home. I can't deny the fleeting sensation of electricity envy.

Once my phone is fully charged, I begin searching for any news I can find about what’s going on. The worst power outage in Avista Utilities 126-year history pretty much sums it up. It starts sinking in that our power won’t be restored today. Maybe not even tomorrow.

We drink more coffee than we normally do, meet the head of the Spokane French Club, get some tips on snowshoeing—something I've long wanted to try. Mostly we're avoiding returning home, where we both work. Without any heat, it's only becoming colder with each passing hour. We finally decide to see if the gym my husband is a member of will give me a day pass. I could take a shower, maybe sit in the sauna and warm up.

Before we leave the coffee shop, we check the Avista Utilities site once more. The reported outages are fluctuating. At the same time that some of the outages are being repaired, more are being reported. The number of outages never drops below 100,000 that day. We check the status of our outage and there is no estimated repair date. Cold and grumpy we begin to mentally prepare ourselves for what’s ahead.

Thursday, November 19, 2015 approximately 4:30pm

Our neighbors across the street have lights! We’re ecstatic. Certainly, ours will follow soon. I pace the house, rubbing my arms to keep warm. The temperature in our house has dropped below 50 and I'm freezing.

After an hour of waiting, I finally break down and check the status of our outage. I'm trying to save my cellphone juice for emergencies. We have a repair estimate of Friday, November 20, 6:00 am. It’s the first time we’ve had an estimate. We can last one more night!

We head out for dinner; our ordeal is almost over.

We have to stand in line for 30 minutes at Dickey's Barbecue Pit. We're happy. The longer it takes to eat dinner, the longer we'll be in a heated place. A man who worked for Avista during the Ice Storm of 1996 is in front of us. He no longer works for the company, but I ask him if he can help me understand some of the news updates I've been reading online. He explains the transmission lines (bringing in enormous amounts of electricity from Canada and Montana—they had to be fixed first) and the substations (they break that electricity down to smaller distribution packets—they had to be fixed next). All that's left is walking (and clearing and fixing) 700 miles of line. He also tells us about a young man that died in the Ice Storm, and I begin to understand the repeated messages urging safety.

When we get home, we can’t help but gaze longingly at our neighbor’s porch lights. Electricity envy is blossoming in my chest. We bolster ourselves; maybe our electricity will be on before we wake up in the morning.

Our neighbor comes over and offers us the use of his generator, an LED light, a thermos of warm water. We're deeply touched, but there’s no way to hook the generator up to our heater, and at this point, heat is all we want. Plus, we’ll be getting our power back soon, too, we tell him.

Friday, November 20, approximately, 7:05 am

My cats are looking at me with murder in their eyes. It’s 45 degrees in the house. You’d think that wouldn’t feel that cold, but I’ve got on long underwear, a long sleeve t-shirt, a sweat shirt, a coat, and mittens, and I still can’t get warm.

We don’t have power.

I’m pretty bummed.

But I don’t want to get too discouraged.

The first thing I do when we get to the coffee shop that morning is check our outage status. The internet is back up. Our repair estimate has been changed to November 20, 6:00pm. Less than 12 hours! We’ll have heat tonight.

Saturday, November 21, approximately 6:55 am

We’re freezing. We have no power. Our repair estimate has been updated to November 25, 2015, 11:30pm.

The net numbers of those without power is steadily dropping by about 10,000 per day. By now it’s down to around 80,000. But increasingly, the remaining outages are the ones that are more complex and challenging to repair. Trees have to be cut down and cleared away along with any other obstructions. We’re starting to understand: This is going to take time.

To be continued ....

The Storm Hits: Windstorm 2015, Part 1
The First Night, Windstorm 2015, Part 2