Storm Season Starts – November 2022

More weather news? Really? This blog is about island life, and the topic on the island for the last few days was the storm that hit Saturday. It was short but its affects lasted days. Some places still don’t have power back from what was an almost total island-wide power outage. Almost? Well, islanders are resourceful and flexible. Some never notice because they have it all covered.

Most folks moving to a new area have more than enough questions. The first one probably isn’t, “How often do you lose power?” It might be in their top twenty if it is a topic that came up somewhere else in their history. Storms happen frequently enough that many folks have generators. People with sufficient solar power and house batteries don’t have those worries – as long as the panels aren’t damaged. Storms like this one may make the news, probably don’t get named, but will be a party topic for years.

Our storms almost always come from the Pacific, and can begin almost anywhere west of here from Hawaii to Alaska. They may not be hurricanes, but they can be the remnants of typhoons. This one snuck in down the Strait of Juan de Fuca, due west of Oak Harbor, then sliced down across Whidbey; and not just Whidbey. Within a few hours it knocked out power to over 200,000 people in the region and basically the entire island. When that happens you know it is going to be days before the power is fully restored. As I type, there are ‘only’ fewer than 4,000 customers out of power in the region. They even recognized that Whidbey Island was the hardest hit place.

So, how often do we lose power? Often enough. November is the stormiest month. And the storm hit in the first week. There’s the rest of the month, the start of December, and winter following.

Driving around wasn’t an option for a while because many roads were locked by trees and wires. One report claimed a maximum gust of 58mph, but it looked like local micro-bursts exceeded that. The main site for weather reports is at the Navy base north of Oak Harbor. That can miss what happens in places like Langley. Just watch the ferry cameras in Coupeville and Clinton to see how different things can be. There are additional certified sites, but the easiest source is Wunderground which shows dozens of sites from personal weather stations. (Some are more reliable than others.) 

Dozens if not hundreds of sites on the island reported outages. Trees fell, which is heightened by the height of our trees. Trees dragged down powerlines, leaving some stretched across the road, some lying on the road, and some tangled in trees as if someone was trying to decorate with tinsel. Power transformers blew. Power poles fell, included one which was special and had to be trucked in from Olympia, which had to be a crazy assignment for some trucker because the entire region was hurting.

Puget Sound Energy, our local provider, maintains an outage page which provides estimates of causes, fixes, and when service will be restored. When there are this many outages it becomes an overlapping patchwork in red.

One year’s storm can produce next year’s firewood

Dozens of work crews were dispatched, and five days later there remains work to do, especially in the more rural and forested areas. Of course, the rural areas also come equipped with chainsaws, people who know how to use them, and a resourceful attitude.

Next come the tree trimmers. Locals and local authorities will have cleared some, but there are lots of trees to beak down and pick up, trees that are obvious hazards, trees that could be hazards, and trees, trees, trees. They are nice to have, but sawdust happens.

 

Then there are the street sweepers. Those road shoulders are cleared by yet another set of crews. In some places there can be so many branches, twigs, leaves, and needles that drivers can’t see the lines on the road, or the road.

Emergency preparedness can be abstract in some places, one of those ‘shoulds’. Here they get exercised. Folks who are prepared have unique sets. Families take care of generations, old and young have special needs. Health care issues at any age need to be covered. Some jobs can’t be interrupted, so power and internet may be primary. FEMA has advice. So does the Red Cross. And Island County has an emergency response group. 

Personal experience: A butane burner may not be as powerful as a gas grill, but a lot of emergency foods only need hot water. Uninterruptible power supplies are impressive, but a portable solar panel can at least charge a phone. Chest freezers can keep food long even if opened occasionally, but judicious use of styrofoam shipping boxes can provide some cheap protection. Ice or ice packs make that better. But be careful in all of these things. It is better to use them when they are not needed so you know how well they work when they are needed.

There will be stories to tell. Will be? There are already are stories being told. Tell yours. Listen to theirs. Think about what to do for next time.

The details of the storm are probably in some National Weather Service report. Puget Sound Energy is probably reviewing their response. The more important information is going to be the lessons you and your neighbors learn because when the next outage comes, and it can be from anything including earthquakes, you neighbors are already there. And if it is going to take days for the officials arrive, it might be a good idea to get to know the un-officials.

Stay warm. Stay safe. Be prepared. And maybe take a lesson from the lowest-tech locals, like the deer. Hunker down. Let it pass.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s