This post is quite lengthy but it won’t take you nearly as long to read is as it took us to live it. I decided to give a lot of detail in hopes that readers may learn a little something from our experience. I do hope you will take some time to read this.
An unprecedented weather event blew through our area last week. I am hesitant to call it a storm lest you get the wrong impression. The sky remained mostly sunny throughout the day and no snow or rain fell. This was a pure wind storm; tropical storm force winds was how it was described in news reports. The following links tell parts of the story, but there are two things that added to the severity of the damage that are not necessarily emphasized in these articles. The first one is the duration of the storm, while we did not wake up to high winds on Wednesday, they started sometime in the morning and continued throughout the day and well into the overnight hours. The second is that the ground was completely saturated due all the rain we had in February and the first week of March. Many large trees were uprooted and power poles downed by the strong winds because the ground was not stable enough to hold them.
I’m going to tell you about our experience during this storm, but first I will preface this story for readers who don’t know us. Our house is in a manufactured home community in Columbus Township Michigan. Our farm, where we raise chickens, bees and crops, is 7.6 acres of land approximately 1 1/2 miles away from our house. The farm is completely off grid. We travel from the house to the farm several times a day, minimally to open the chicken coop, provide feed and water in the morning, at midday to provide fresh water and feed if necessary and collect eggs, and in the evening to close up the coop once the chickens are in for the night. The season and the weather are the major determining factors of what we do at the farm and how much time we spent there on any given day.
This past Wednesday, March 8, 2017 the wind was really blowing around noon when we decided to go to the farm for a midday check on the chickens. When we stopped at the house of a neighbor, who lives just around the corner from the farm, we learned that his power was out. As we continued on to our farm we noticed that a dead tree had fallen in the road. Someone had cut it up and cleared it out of the road but some nice pieces of firewood remained on the side of the road. “Maybe I’ll get some of that later” my husband said.
The wind had affected very little at the farm, one of the long poles at the safety station by the pond had blown off the post it was attached too, and an empty bee hive, that was really just the boxes stacked on top of each other, had blown over. Other than that things were secure. When we got back to our house I checked the DTE power outage map and discovered that the outage that our neighbor was experiencing would have included our farm. Since our farm is not reliant on electricity, we did not even notice.
Back at our house as we listened to the wind howl my husband put the load of clothes he had washed that morning into the dryer. He said he wanted to get the clothes dry before we lost power. I kind of chuckeled at this. We haven’t had the power go out for more than a couple hours since the power grid went down in 2003. If either of us really expected a major power outage I would have had dinner ready and we would have had a good supply of fire wood ready.
At 2:00 o’clock I sat in my recliner to do some crocheting while watching an episode of Bonanza on ME TV. I would start preparing a shepard’s pie for dinner at 3:00. Around 2:45 my husband was in the kitchen when the TV went off. I thought it was strange because some of the lights on the electronics were still on. I said to my husband “did the power go out?” He noticed that the clock on the stove was still on, so he first said “no”, but further investigating lead us to discover that we had a brown out. I have heard it said that this condition known as brown out, or running on only partial power, is worse than the power going out completely. I suspect this is because it is possible for this condition to go unnoticed, especially if no one is home. Refrigerators, furnaces , freezers and other things that run off electric motors can burn the motor out if they are plugged in during brown out conditions. When we realized that we had a brown out my husband immediately turned off the main breaker.
Over the next 20 minutes or so he checked a few times to see if we had returned to full power. When this was not the case he decided it was time to build a fire in the fireplace. We talked about what to do about dinner. I could still cook since we could manually light the gas stove. When I told him that my concern was not having water, especially for washing dishes, he told me that the community had recently installed a generator as a source of emergency power for the pumps. His call to the community office to confirm that the pump would continue to work went unanswered, so I continued to use the water with cautious optimism.
I washed peeled and boiled some potatoes and cooked a pound of ground beef. I mashed the potatoes, then put the ground beef in a casserole dish. I drained a can of corn and put it on top of the ground beef, then I topped it with the mashed potatoes and put a few pats of butter on top. I was ready to put it in the oven, but we discovered that we could not get the oven lit. I felt this was a non-issue since the ingredients in the casserole were already cooked, and I was going to make a gravy to put on it as well. When my husband asked if the casserole dish would tolerate being placed on the burner he sparked my creativity.
We placed the casserole dish inside the stainless steal pot then filled the pot about 2/3 full of water. We then heated the water which in turn heated the casserole. I made the gravy and we enjoyed a nice hearty meal to prepare us for the night ahead.
Since the power was still not up by the time we finished dinner we figured we better get ready for a night without electricity. Firewood became my husband’s priority. We use our wood burning fireplace in the winter as a supplement to our natural gas heat. On days and evenings when we are at home to keep the fire burning we often turn off the furnace and use the fireplace for heat. It does not heat the entire house, but it does a nice job of keeping the main living area comfortable. We have never before had a time when we had to depend on the fireplace as our main heat source round the clock. We have been using the fireplace often in past weeks so our firewood supply was somewhat low. We had not brought in a large amount of wood because when the wood burning season ends we move the firewood supply off our deck and use that area for other things. The warm temperatures in February had led us to believe that our firewood needs for this season would be minimal. My husband stocked our indoor wood supply before he left to cut up the downed tree we spotted earlier that day, and bring home the firewood.
While my husband was out cutting up firewood I got ready for darkness to fall. I set up oil lamps and candles in places where we would benefit from the light. Four oils lamps and two candles gave us a decent amount of light where we needed it. Flashlights would guide us in places where we were not spending all of our time. I kept the fire burning while he was away and thought about our other needs. If the power were still out in the morning our coffee pot would not work, so I got the percolator out of storage and set it up for our morning brew.
We avoided opening the refrigerator and freezers for the remainder of the evening so we did not let the cold out or the warm in. Our next door neighbor, on the east side, told my husband that he had his generator going; if the power was still out the next day he would be happy to let us plug in our freezer.
I wasn’t sure if we would spend the night in our bed or camp out in the living room in front of the fire place, so I added an extra blanket to our bed just in case. Later that evening, when we decided to sleep in our bed, my husband more than doubled my effort by putting a large sleeping bag on top of all of our blankets.
As darkness was falling and our needs: heat, light, water and food were all met, I realized that other than keeping the fire going I really didn’t have anything to do. Darkness comes early this time of year and the low level of light was not conducive to my usual evening activities of crocheting or reading. Obviously watching TV or doing anything on the internet were not options. I then decided to try something I had never done before – finger knitting. Even though I had never done it before I basically knew how to do it. I went to my yarn stash and found a skein of yarn that I had no planned project for.
At this point the only thing missing was noise. We often have an evening with the fire burning in the fire place and use candles and oil lamps for light, but usually we have the stereo playing as well. At this point the only sounds we were hearing other than our own, voices and the occasional bark out of Trooper, were the crackling of the fire and the wind howling outside. We decided it was time to get out our wind up radio. Much like the percolator, that was tucked away in a closet, this radio was something that we purchased many years ago just to have on hand for such an event. Though there are different brands and models of wind up radios I have included a link to the model that we have because we found that it worked so well. We ran the radio off batteries instead of using the wind up feature and it came in loud and clear. We were able to tune into the local music and news stations that we ordinarily listen too, but it also, just as clearly, picked up a station in Chicago and one up in Northern Canada. This radio ran on batteries for at least 36 of the 52 hours that our power was out and the batteries were still going strong.
Once it got dark we no longer had to turn on our breaker to see if the power was still low. The street lights outside our house would come on when the power was restored.
The living room stayed very warm throughout the evening, and since the outside temperature was forecast to be slightly above freezing, we decided to sleep in our bed. Before we went to bed my husband tended the fire then closed the attached safety screen and placed the free standing screen in front of it as well. I can’t say how low the temperature dropped in the house overnight but I slept comfortably. I heard my husband get up a couple times to feed the fire, but he said he also was comfy and warm in the bed.
Around 4:00 A.M. I was awake, (this is not unusual for me) so I got up and was feeding the fire. My husband got up and joined me. When I said I was going to stay up he turned on the coffee and put the radio to our local news station. He then went back to bed for a couple hours.
I have only made coffee in a stove top percolator one or two times before, so how to adjust the heat and how long to perc the coffee for were in question. I started it over low heat, because I did not want the water to boil. It took quite a while before it began to perc. Then after about 5 minutes the coffee bubbling up into the glass knob was brown, so I decided to try it. At this point the coffee seemed very weak so I left it on low for a while. I didn’t really time it, but I suspect it was at least 45 minutes from start to finish. I am probably not the best person to judge the flavor of coffee since I usually doctor it up with sweetened almond milk, but my next cup of coffee was much better. When my husband, who likes strong black coffee, got up and had his first cup he declared it “good coffee”.
In the predawn hours of Thursday, March 9, while enjoying my morning coffee and maintaining the fire, I worked on finger knitting and listened to news reports of the storm damage. The radio station was reporting that this storm had caused nearly 900,000 power outages, a record number of outages caused by a storm (in our area). The CEO of our utility company was being interviewed. He said that at this point they could not give any estimates of when power would be restored, but he was sure they would not have full power restored to all customers until Sunday at the earliest. Because the wind was still strong into the night time hours they had not been able to do any restoration as of that time. They were still assessing damage, and securing hazardous areas would be done before any restoration would take place. They had about 650 crews coming in from other states, and this would double the amount of people they had working to get power restored. So far this power outage was simply inconvenient for us and a bit of a test. With the temperatures forecast to drop into the teens on Friday night it could become way more inconvenient. We had some work to do to be ready for it but I didn’t see it as a crisis – there was no need to panic.
When my husband got up we made a plan for the day – bacon and oatmeal for breakfast, steaks on the grill, with baked potatoes cooked in the fireplace and the salad that was in the fridge for dinner. He would cut more firewood and fill the oil lamps. I would find stuff to do at the house while keeping the fire going. We would move all of the food from our deep freezer in the dining and the freezer attached to the refrigerator into the upright freezer in the backroom. Then we would run the upright freezer on our neighbors generator for a few hours. One freezer full of frozen food will last longer than three freezers partially full. We would clean out the fridge and determine what we could still keep cool throughout the day, what we could freeze, and what we would need to get rid of.
While my husband went to the farm to open the chicken coop, I cooked bacon and oatmeal for breakfast. When I decided that I would have a fried egg with my breakfast and a slice of untoasted bread, my husband’s creativity kicked in. He said I could cook him an egg as well, and while I did that, he held slices of bread on a fork and toasted them over the flame in the fireplace. I wouldn’t say that flame broiled toast is the best, but it was certainly better for dipping in egg yolk than soft bread would have been.
After breakfast I got a call from our neighbor to the west of us. He said that he had his generator going and to let him know if we needed anything. I told him we were doing good at that point, but if we needed anything we would certainly let him know, and I thanked him for the offer of help. When I talk about our neighbors, both on our east side and west, I should be saying friends. They are people who we have grown very close to over the years.
Since the bathroom was quite chilly that morning, we opted to just wash up with a warm washcloth before getting dressed. Stepping out of a hot shower into the cold air was not appealing thought. Later in the day, my husband would get our kerosene heater out of storage and ready it for use. When we were ready to shower we could use the kerosene heater to warm the bathroom.
My cell phone battery was only half charged, but since I knew I could charge it later at the neighbors house I decided to check on my Dad and the kids. My dad still had power, Tina & Ken and the baby were out of power and were staying at Ken’s parents house. Kara was scheduled to fly to Texas for work on Wednesday, and after a two hour delay her flight took off and she was safely at her destination. I was relieved that everyone was doing ok.
Our day went pretty much as planned. My husband filled the oil lamps, then prepped the kerosene heater. I charged my phone at the neighbors house. I kept the fire going, while he cut up the dead tree that was down in our back yard. Since I couldn’t do some of the things I would normally do like vacuum, laundry, or baking, I decided to organize my crochet patterns. We worked together to consolidate the food into one freezer before plugging it into our neighbor’s generator. We put the cheese, cream cheese, and sausage/pepperoni sticks that were in the refrigerator into the freezer as well. We left the freezer plugged into the generator for about four hours.
We poked holes in the potatoes then wrapped them in foil and placed them on the edge of the fire around noon.When the potatoes weren’t soft after a couple hours my husband moved them into the hot coals. They cooked much faster this way. He grilled the steaks and it was an enjoyable dinner.
Before we lit the kerosene heater in the bathroom, my husband checked the battery in the carbon monoxide detector and placed it near the heater. We only left the heater on for a couple hours to add some heat to our bedroom and bathroom.
Our evening was spent much the same as the night before. As we sat by the fire we evaluated our situation. While we thought it would be on sooner, it was possible that we could be without power for the next three days. Temperatures were supposed to drop down into the teens on Friday night. If the power was still out we would hang blankets in the living room doorways leading to the kitchen and dinning room in order to keep the warm air in the living room. We would also remember to leave a faucet running to help prevent the pipes from freezing. We would need more firewood and the easiest way to get that was to buy some from the sawmill around the corner.
We were extremely grateful that the water was still on and that we have a gas stove. We are truly blessed with great neighbors/friends. We decided that since the deep freezer and refrigerator were both empty we would give them a good cleaning before starting them back up. We would also clean behind the fridge while it was empty and unplugged. This is a task that we have put off for too long, and now God has given us the perfect time to do it.
We started a list of things we should stock up on, even though we are not completely out, – lamp oil and wicks, candles, batteries… We need to get a car charger for our phones and get better about keeping stocked up on firewood. We were thankful that we had the sleeping bag, the radio, the oil lamps, the kerosene heater and the percolator. On most days these things sit tucked away in closets or sheds, but today they seemed worth their weight in gold. Even if we never use these items again I still would consider them a good investment.
Before we went to bed my husband tended and secured the fire. It should provide heat for at least a couple hours. When I woke around two a.m. to go to the bathroom I checked the fire. Since it was out I spent about 20 minutes rebuilding a fire so it would provide some heat for a couple more hours. I returned to bed and slept comfortably. It was nearly 7:00 a.m. when my husband kissed me before he got out of bed. I lingered under the covers as he turned on the coffee and got the fire going. It wasn’t long before I was awakened by the wonderful aroma off coffee brewing. Wow! It smelled too good not to get up and have some. I never smell coffee brewing when I use my electric coffee maker.
While my husband went to the farm to open up the coop, I made breakfast. I decided on “creative” breakfast sandwiches. Since we like our breakfast sandwiches toasted and using the toaster was still not an option, I decided to grill them. I buttered the bread and placed one slice (butter side down) on the griddle, then put on one slice of cheese, one egg fried with yolk hard, two slices of crispy cooked bacon, a second slice of cheese, then the second slice of bread (butter side up). I grilled it on both sides until the cheese was melted and the bread was toasted. Basically it was a grilled cheese sandwich with egg and bacon. They turned out really good.
After breakfast a shower was in order. My husband lit the kerosene heater in the bathroom and I let it heat up for a while before I hopped in the shower. When I got out of the shower I realized I could not blow dry my hair. I towel dried it as much as I could, brushed it and it and let it air dry the rest of the way. My husband showered next. “That felt good, ” he said as he came out. “Yes, it did,” I agreed. Then as I worked on washing out the refrigerator and the deep freezer, he took $30 to the saw mill and came back with a truck bed full of maple logs, cut and split into quarters. I went out to help him unload the fire wood but decided to work on splitting the logs into smaller pieces so that they would burn well in our fire place.
I used our manual hydraulic log splitter. We have had this tool for 4 or 5 years now and I really like it. It won’t split really large logs but has handled most of the logs we want to split. This is another tool that has served us well.
While my husband was unloading firewood from the truck our neighbor stopped by. He said that he received a phone call from the electric company that said the power should be back on before 11:00 o’clock that night. WOO HOO! This was great news! After the wood was unloaded and stacked on the deck, my husband plugged our freezer into the neighbors generator. We left it plugged in again for several hours. I continued splitting wood while my husband went to the farm to feed the chickens and gather the eggs. We had decided to get Chinese carryout for dinner that night, so we were able to relax for a while before my husband went to pick up dinner. We still kept the fire burning and while he went to get dinner, I lit the oil lamps.
Periodically we would check to see if the power was back up. Around 6:30 my husband went to the farm to close up the coop. I opened the door for my husband when he returned. “The power is on,” he announced as he walked in. “YES!” I looked outside and noticed the street lights were on. We set the furnace to off and unplugged the freezer before turning the main breaker on. When he turned the breaker on the lights were back on full power, the TV was on, the stove clock was on, and the stereo began going through it’s process of resetting itself. We then plugged in the freezer and turned on the furnace. I called both of our neighbors to share the news.We closed up the fireplace and let the fire die down. We took the sleeping bag off the bed for the night. We left the refrigerator off for the night. We went to bed early and read before going to sleep – thankful things were back to normal.
We have learned some things from this experience and even decided to make some changes in the way we do things. We learned that our stovetop percolator makes a better cup of coffee than our electric coffee maker and it does not take that much longer to make it. We have continued to use the percolator for our morning brew. We will make an effort to keep the freezer(s) full. A full freezer takes less energy to run and the food will stay frozen longer if the power is out. If we don’t have enough food to fill the freezer I can make blocks of ice using empty milk cartons. If needed the blocks of ice could be used to chill refrigerator items. We realized that we sleep just as comfortably in a cooler house with the extra covers. We have begun turning the thermostat down to 60 degrees at night and keeping the extra covers on the bed. I have not used my blow dryer again. Since I don’t use a curling or straightening iron and I don’t use any hair styling products there is no need for me to have my hair dry to style it a certain way. If I was going out in the cold air or going to bed right after my shower I would definitely use my hair dryer, but other than that I’m not sure why I need to.
Now that the power is on, and things are normal again, it is the perfect time to evaluate the situation by asking ourselves the “what ifs?”. Although things went smoothly this time, what if any thing was different? What if the water was not working? What if the gas stove was not working? What if we did not have the use of our neighbors generator to, literally, save our bacon? What if the power remained out for 5 or more days? Do we have backup plans in place? Yes. Would it be easy? NO! Could we survive? I believe the answer is yes.
As I was writing this today I began wondering,”What if we weren’t home during the brown out and the motors on our furnace, refrigerator and two freezers ad burned up?” I made a phone call to our insurance agent and asked the question, “would our insurance cover this?” The answer I got was “Yes, minus the deductible”. I was relieved to know this.
As you have read this far I hope you have thought about yourself being in our position. Would a two day power outage be an inconvenience for you or a crises? Now is the perfect time to think about it and make a plan. How would you meet your basic needs, food, water, heat, light? Now is the time to get ready because even though it has never happened before doesn’t mean it won’t.
Please feel free do leave your comments on this page. I would love to hear from you.