I was sent a link to this first-hand report of a Seattle resident, Dave, who lived through this week’s blizzard.
As anybody who doesn’t live in a cave probably knows, the Seattle Pacific Northwest this week was hammered by winter storms, knocking out juice to what amounted, at the high point, to over 300,000 households, which affected around 1.2 million people!
In this case, it was actually predicted that there could be scattered power outages. News on Wednesday evening had stories about people stocking up in stores. IN A NUMBER OF CASES, THE STORES WERE ALREADY SOLD OUT OF THE DESIRED ITEMS!!!!
Flashlights, batteries, generators, stuff like that were already either unavailable or a premium item.
The snow started falling late Tuesday evening, and continued into early Wednesday morning. Local news was predicting a wide variety of amounts. Seattle has a lot of microweather because some areas are closer to the Sound which is warmer, and some areas are at much higher elevations, which, usually, but not this time!, are colder.
I made no advance preparations right then with the exception of digging out some small propane bottles and my little Century Primus single mantle lights. I also made sure that my flashlights were out in the open in readily available places.
Now, I say I made no advance preparations, but in a way, I lied because over the years, I have accumulated many necessities, some because of immediate need, some as a planned activity in cxse of a SHTF scenario.
I have two generators, a Champion 3500 watter (quite new) and a Coleman 1800 watter. Every summer I move them to the front of the shed they are stored in and fire them up. I also make sure the oil is clean and full and put a bit of a load on them and let them run until they are warm just to make sure they are well-lubed. After that, I hit them with a touch of carb cleaner. Just general small engine maintenance things.
I also have LOTS of extension cords, not just household type cords, but serious shop type cords. And power strips.
I also have stocked up on plenty of food and coffee. One of the things people were stocking up on were ingredients for soup. Soup is good food. In an emergency, soup can warm you and keep you alive!
Having been up almost all Tuesday night, with it still snowing, Wednesday morning I slept.
The storm worsens
Later on Wednesday evening, it started getting worse, according to the news. I am at 600 feet, and only had about 6 inches of snowfall. Now, every single year we have at least one storm that dumps way more than 6 inches, so I was not overly concerned. That night I heard a few branches fall, but not many.
About 10 p.m., my lights flickered and went out. I started my propane lights and turned on my BATTERY POWERED!!!! radio. I have about three of these, but rarely need to use them.
I didn’t start the generator right away because it didn’t seem so bad and my house was still warm. I had had the foresight to make a pot of coffee beforehand and put it into my thermos. Our juice goes out often enough that I’ve learned to do that, and if the juice stays on, I just pour the coffee from the thermos and it doesn’t go to waste.
A click and a ping and the power came back on about 2:00 a.m. So I went on my porch to take a look. Air temp was about 28 degrees. And it was raining.
That was when I got scared because I knew this meant a major ice storm was coming. I already had 6-8 inches of snow on my roof and didn’t need what might end up being an 8 ton block of ice up there! Plus, I have at least 5 Douglas firs over 100 feet tall within about 25 feet of my house. With the weight of enough snow, they could easily topple
Power was on, my heat was on, so I had a drink and went to sleep for a bit.
Life without power
Awake at 6:30 a.m. on Thursday, I went on the porch and was astounded. A lilac tree near my porch was covered with ice and bent over my porch. A cherry tree that grows nearby had it’s limbs almost touching my porch. It was still pre-dawn, and I had a cup of coffee and a smoke when suddenly there was a big blue flash, and my lights flickered. They came back on, but with a second blue flash, they went out. They came back on once more but a final blue flash killed ’em for good. It really was spectacular standing on my porch and watching the flashes in the distance. And there was almost a roar with the sounds of tree limbs and even whole trees coming down.
Now, I’m not the greatest housekeeper in the world, and I soon realized that you do not want to have a lot of clutter lying around when you are in anything like a survival mode! So keep the paths to your important items and resources clear, if possible.
My house was still warm so I didn’t worry about the generator, but I could tell then that this was going to be an extended event.
About ten in the morning I got one of my shop extension cords and a power strip and headed out to start it. I looked at the road and just did a general look of the neighborhood and saw no lights, heard no generators, not even a car engine. Everything was coated in ice.
I tried to start the small generator first, even gave it a shot of starter fluid, but no dice. It was cold out. It is no secret that when you are cold to the point of being uncomfortable, you RAPIDLY lose your effectiveness. So I came back in, got gloves and a hat, and went back out. Didn’t want to waste time, so I moved the small generator towards the back and rolled the other one up (the Champion), gave it a shot of starter fluid, and yanked on it.
First pull, it started.
I plugged in the extension cord, came back inside and plugged the power stip in. From there I hooked up various items starting with my pellet stove to try to keep the place warm.
One of the lessons learned: Over the next few days I used 4 shop type extensions cords (two of them 50 footers), two power strips, and about five household type extension cords. Better to have too much than not enough.
My power finally came on 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, making for 60 hours without juice.
I lost my internet connection. The phone worked for a while, but after about 6 hours, there was no dial tone, just white noise. The phone system totally powered down about 3 in the afternoon. I concluded that many of the small phone substations you see around are running off of UPS’s and if the local juice goes, they can only last for so long.
I was unable to get out in my vehicle because the snow was so bad I couldn’t get my chains on. Next time, if I know or hear about this in advance, my chains are going on BEFORE it happens.
Everything was OK though because I had plenty of food, coffee and propane for my lights (when the generator was off). My routine was to run the generator for about 8 hours, warm my place up good, then cycle it down and let it cool off. Wait (sleep) for 5 hours or so, gas up the generator and restart it for another 8 hours.
It was Thursday afternoon before I heard anybody else running a generator, about 4:30, right before dark. After dark fell, it was totally obvious who was prepared and who was not!
Fewer than one out of six had a generator, most places were completely dark, or very dimly lit as if by candles.
Temps in my house would get up to about 63 degrees with the pellet stove, but after 5 or 6 hours when the generator was off, it would fall to about 55 degrees. I quickly learned that SOCKS ARE GOOD FRIENDS!!
READ MORE: This article has 26 ways to stay warm without power.
I have a small propane cooking setup so was able to feast on scrambled eggs and ham. Carbs will give you short term energy, but if you are going to do heavy work while trying to stay warm, you need something more substantial.
Over the years when it gets cold, and it has gotten to zero in the Seattle area, I will fill up plastic bottles (like Gatorade bottles) with hot water from my faucet and put them at the foot of my bed. This worked very well for me this time, it’s important to be warm when you sleep and not fight the cold. You will be much more rested and ready for the next day when you wake up.
So I used this approach. It’s kind of a toss-up because by the end of the second day I really, really, really, really wanted a shower from all the messing around with gasoline, oil, my tire chains, snow shovel, etc.
I was scared I wouldn’t have enough hot water left, but turned it on and in a minute or so it was steaming. I relished what might have been the last shower I could ever take!
Some were prepared for blizzard survival, some were not
By Saturday morning it had warmed significantly, and I was finally able to get the chains on my truck. I was approached by a neighbor who asked if I could charge her cell phone. Hey, no big deal, so I brought it inside and put it on the charger. At this time, the power was still out and there were estimates that some limited areas might not have power until mid-week.
Talking to people on Friday I heard rumors of people being around the neighborhood who basically didn’t live here or belong here. So starting on Saturday when I went outside, I carried a small .22 mag revolver I have. I want to stress, however, that I didn’t hear of any break-ins or gunshots or anything like that, but I have ZERO doubt that if the situation had continued for another three days or so, that would have changed. Desperate people do whatever it takes.
Now at one point in time in the past I had told someone I had two generators. I bumped into him walking around, and he WANTED that generator! I’m not really sure what the solution to that problem would have been if the outage had been more long-term.
Another lesson: KEEP YOUR LIPS ZIPPED ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE!
One thing that struck me is that if there was a general SHTF power outage type event, do you know who would be the richest man in town? The guy who owns a LAUNDROMAT!!
Gas was already becoming an issue after just three days. A fellow I know has a 4K generator and he told me he would be out of gas today. Now does it make any sense at all to spend many hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a generator and run OUT OF GAS on Day 3?
Power came on here at 6:30 PM Saturday. Didn’t hear any shouts or yells but I am sure everybody was relieved. I had a fairly daunting task of just cleaning things up (still need to wash the dishes I let pile up).
If somebody asked me what the most important thing was that I learned, I would say “Keep it simple”. Simple things like propane lights, canned foods that need little prep, stuff like that won’t make you feel like you’re at the Waldorf Astoria, but it might keep you from getting so frustrated that you go out and start shooting from your front porch!