Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great Lakes Cyclone

The Upper Midwest/Great Lakes region was/is still being hit by a storm that, according to the National Weather Service Facebook Page, had conditions of a Category 3 hurricane, and made the storm that sank the Edmund Fitzgerald look like a breezy summers day. (Okay, maybe I exaggerate, but it still beat that storm by a bit.)

When they first started predicting 50 mph wind gusts, I was a little nervous. Monday night was almost eerily quiet. Maybe I was just imagining things, but the world seemed so still, perhaps because everybody was home battening down hatches. Tuesday morning dawned a bit breezy, but didn't seem that strange to me. I work at the airport, so we're used to getting some of the strongest winds across the runway. The dripping rain and muggy air was rather miserable for late October. But, not remarkable, other than some flickering lights and reports of power outages around the region.

Then Tuesday night I drove to Minocqua for band rehearsal. It was windy enough that driving was a challenge, and when I arrived I struggled to escape my car against a wall of wind. The drive home was a matter of dodging debris from fallen trees on the recently-cleared roads.

I entered my house fully prepared for the lights to not come on. But, to my surprise, the power was on and all was well. Unfortunately, I wasn't smart enough to fill my bathtub with reserve water just in case.

The winds increased in intensity yet again after midnight. Still, nothing unusual happened, though it was hard to sleep. I drifted off, but at 5 AM Wednesday morning was awoken by a loud thudding and a flash of light visible through my blinds. It wasn't until 7:30 AM that it was finally light enough for me to see the damage.

It was only one tree, but one very unlucky tree. It didn't just fall, and it didn't just fall across my driveway. And, it didn't just fall across my driveway and across the powerlines to my house. This carefully aimed tree managed to fall on all these things, while also taking down the power pole that brought the lines to my house, snapping it cleanly in half on its way down.

I haven't lost any other trees or suffered any other damage (yet). But, while we were lucky that it also cleanly cut the power lines so there was no danger of electrocution and we could at least get the driveway cleared, it also means that it's going to be quite a job to put in another pole and do all the rewiring.

With nearly half of the Wisconsin Public Service customers in my zip code, and some 25,000 customers across the region out of power, I doubt I'm high on their priority list. They're already predicting some homes won't have electricity restored until Friday or Saturday.

Luckily for me, I can be a refugee in my parents' home for the duration. There are many others who aren't as lucky. There's discussion of establishing shelters for those without a warm place to go. Actually, if it weren't for the shortage of water and heat, I'd actually be able to get along just fine. But our homes aren't made for living without electricity anymore. The furnace is gas, but requires an electric ignition pilot light and circulation pump. The water comes from an electric pump from the well. If it weren't for the heat, I could probably even haul my own water from home. But no heat in Wisconsin is a problem. Or at least a problem I don't want to deal with.

Requisite ironical note of all this? One of the local chambers of commerce is advertising a disaster awareness seminar. Oh, and all the area disaster response coordinators are out of the state at a training in Washington, D.C. Perfect timing.

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