Whidbey Wind Storm – December 2018

That’s a bold title. It assumes we’re only going to get one windstorm this month, but we’re only halfway to the end of December. Last night Canada breathed a sigh of relief as a windstorm forecasted to hit British Columbia hit Washington State instead.

“Peak gusts have been reported close to 80 mph in some locations.”

That was in the wilderness. Down in town:

Screenshot 2018-12-15 at 14.03.51

Surprise! How many candles bought as presents got unwrapped and used during the power outages? Over 80% of a neighboring county was knocked out. Over 20,000 in Seattle were out. The power company for Whidbey Island reaches far across the region and noted over 85,000 without power. One estimate produced a combined total of 200,000 households without electricity during the storm. At one point, both weather radars and the Seattle office of the National Weather Service were out of communications. Even the ever-useful Outage Map from Puget Sound Energy (PSE) wasn’t working.


Good news. Less than 18 hours later, PSE only has to reconnect under 10% of those hit last night. That county with over 80% out (Clallam) is already down to under 20% out. Those can be impressive numbers in cities, but to recovery that quickly in rural communities means covering a lot more territory, being exposed to wilder conditions, and being farther from additional assistance. Fortunately, in an area where people are prepared to be out of power for weeks or months after an earthquake, a few hours is more likely to be an excuse for a fire in the fireplace, talking with friends, maybe opening an old style book (the ones made on that radical material produced from dead trees), and snuggling under a warm blanket. At times like those, headlamps rule!

Islands have to be ready to be self reliant. A pair of videos can show how difficult travel can be when wind and waves take over. Last night’s video is not from the island, but from the route just below it. You know those instructions you get on board an airplane that most folks ignore? There are instructions that ferry riders tune out, too; but these conditions are why it is best to either be in your car or sitting upstairs, why it is much more important to put your vehicle into Park and set the parking brake, and why turning on your car alarm is one of the silliest things to do on a ferry.

For a view of the Clinton/Mukilteo run in a previous storm, check out that slideshow. Smart ferry workers think ahead and park cars back from the lip when the weather gets rough. Something else to keep in mind; that’s saltwater washing the cars. Time to wash that corrosive off the metal, after the weather calms. The waves can become big enough to float a car into another, so standing out there for a selfie or a video is risky in many ways. The Coupeville/Port Townsend run is even more exposed, on a smaller vessel for a longer ride; so don’t be surprised if they prudently strand you on one shore or the other.

On the island, besides power outages there are also a few driving considerations. The most common is tree branches. The island is largely rural, with a significant lumber industry. Tall trees, high winds, narrow roads mean it is easy for roads to be coated with leaves and branches, and occasional trunks that may driving slow or impossible. A 150 foot tall tree can very nicely block a road when it decides to lay down. Some sturdy souls are known to drive with chainsaws (note the plural) in the back, just in case they have to cut their way through.

Sound alarmist? Maybe, if you’re more familiar with city streets and dwarf ornamentals. Instead, it is common to find informal and quick cleanup crews (as long as no power lines are involved), and sweet support networks springing up thanks to social media. One post of a problem can create a surge of help before someone even gets home.

Why put up with such conditions? Well, a little preparedness eases a lot of issues. A generator, or even just a big battery mitigates an outage. Keep the fridge closed and the woodshed full. Know who to call and who to call on. Be prepared for episodes of Island Time, when things happen as they can, when they can because we’re all in this together.

The other reason to put up with such conditions? Because, while we get wind, and rain, and snow, and cold, we rarely get more than two at a time. Shoveling snow may get you a bad back. But picking up branches might just get you firewood, kindling, mulch, or materials for something creative. Imagine, gifts from the trees that are hopefully only delivered to the lawn, not the car, truck, house, or people.

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