2009 Ice Storm – Chapter Two

Another chapter already. I know I may be overwhelming my readers, especially after the long lapse in new entries here. And maybe I’m destroying the air of suspense. But I might as well go ahead and write this while it’s fresh in my mind.

After talking to Mom around noon, I began to plan the afternoon. When I suggested bringing them a phone that would work with their landline, assuming the landline wasn’t destroyed, she sounded more positive than when I suggested it earlier. She was probably beginning to get tired of isolation broken only for the limited life of a cellphone battery. But she insisted that there was absolutely nothing else they needed.

I already had the phone in my car, having guessed that they might decide they wanted it. So I’d leave work about 3:00, go to their house and see what I could do for them, and make it home in time to accomplish all I needed to do before dark.

Yesterday, I had a banana for breakfast, and a can of soup I heated in a pan on top of the kerosene heater for dinner. Today, I dug into my stash in the office and had a few handfuls of trail mix and a bunch of grapes. So I decided I would stop somewhere en route and treat myself to something hot, filling, and unhealthy.

I decided to travel US 27 through Paris towards Cynthiana, instead of the back roads that would usually be shorter and more fun. The major highways were more likely to be cleared of any lingering suprises. After dodging a down power line on the way into work, I decided maybe I had had enough fun for a while.

On the way out of Lexington, I had another thought. Mom had said one reason she was reluctant to light their kerosene heater any sooner than absolutely necessary was that she had heard warnings about carbon monoxide poisoning. The instruction manual for my heater warned about CO output from an improperly burning heater, and I wasn’t really sure mine was burning properly after the problems I had with it. Since I was running my heater 24/7, in spite of all the warnings about not leaving it burning while asleep or away, I decided a couple of CO detectors, one for me and one for them, might be a worthwhile purchase if I could find them easily.

I found the CO detectors at the Paris Wal-Mart, then decided to run across the street to Tractor Supply and see if they had any kerosene heaters. I had been thinking that one heater might not really be enough to keep my house above freezing in Friday’s predicted cold snap. I’d already looked in a couple of places and been told there weren’t any left anywhere. I wasn’t really sure I would need one, and wasn’t just dying to spend a couple hundred dollars on something I would probably use 1-2 weeks every 5-10 years. So I wasn’t going to get upset if I couldn’t find one, but if I could get lucky, I’d pick one up.

A woman at TSC told me they didn’t have any, but she said there was a truck en route loaded with heaters and generators, expected to arrive around 6:00 or 7:00. That’s what the people hanging around the front of the store were waiting for. It was about 4:00, and considering what I needed to get done, I wasn’t going to wait. But I considered the possibility of returning later.

Then I remembered I had forgotten my planned stop for food. So I decided to go to my parents’ house, deliver the phone and see if I could do anything else, then go home and feed the horses and see what else I could do. Considering that the temperature is not expected to rise above freezing for the next few days, it might be a good time to take everything out of the freezer and stash it somewhere outside to stay frozen, if it wasn’t already thawed. Then I could head back into TSC around 7:00 and see if the truckload of heaters had been completely consumed by the waiting hordes. Then I would find something to eat, and return home with or without a heater.

I arrived at my parents’ house to find the county road department there with their massive front-end loader, clearing out trees. The power line was lying on the road, but the phone line looked like it was still intact. I took the phone into the house, plugged it in, and got a dial tone. At least one mission accomplished. I put the batteries in the CO detector and figured it would probably work OK just lying on a table, instead of being mounted on a wall. Then Mom agreed that since I was there, it might be a good idea to go ahead and light the heater. We got it lit and she seemed to comprehend all the controls. Her macular degeneration has progressed to the point where she can’t read, but she seemed to be seeing everything she needed to on the heater.

After looking at their heater, which was basically the same as mine, I was even more convinced that mine was not working properly. That made the CO detector seem like a real good investment. It also convinced me that it might be worthwhile to spend some more time working on the heater to try to make the wick look like it should.

So now the plan was to turn off the heater as soon as I got home, to give it time to cool down while I fed the horses. Then I could mess with it for a while before heading back to town, assuming I probably couldn’t make it any worse. Not surprisingly, the shutoff didn’t work like it should, and I had to futz with it to get it to go out. That also meant that the gizmo to shut it off automatically if it got knocked over wouldn’t have worked if it needed to.

While I was messing with the heater, I suddenly stopped and asked myself “Boss!!! What’s that noise?” (Punch line to a politically incorrect joke). I hadn’t noticed it at first, but now I was aware of the sound of moving air. It sounded like my furnace would sound, if I had electricity. IF I had electricity! But what else could be making that noise?

It wasn’t my imagination. The electricity was actually back on! So the heater became less of a concern. I just need to try to get it working properly before the next ice storm.

I know this is somewhat anti-climactic after my previous dire predictions about week-long outages, or worse. But, from all the news reports, it appears that there are still several hundred thousand households in the state facing that gloomy prospect. According to BG Energy’s website, there were 981 in my county as of this morning. I’m not sure why I got lucky this time. I jokingly considered that maybe, in a sense of fairness, they restored people in reverse order from the last one. But that would mean my parents should have gotten turned on before I did.

More likely, I was just lucky enough to have been cut off by a break in a major line which affected a large number of people, rather than an individual feeder serving only a couple of houses. They’re probably handling those breaks first, to get as many people as possible back online in a short time, before heading out to remote areas where a half-day of work might restore a couple of customers, instead of a couple hundred.

So this may be the final chapter in this story. One gloomy note is that the power companies are pointing out that as long as it stays below freezing, the power lines and trees are still weighted down with ice, and still susceptible to more breaks. It’s possible that there may be new outages before everybody gets turned back on. I just hope I’m not one of them.

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