Saturday, December 26, 2009

Winter in the Smoky Mountains

It's an adventure. It wasn't supposed to be an adventure. We came here partly because of the mountains, partly because of the cost of living, and partly because of the climate. This area is supposed to receive something like 12" of snow annually, with an average winter temperature of 32 degrees.

The entire 12" annual snowfall, and then some, arrived on December 18. We watched as the trees that surround our house bowed under the weight of all that heavy, wet snow; and we continued to watch as big branches cracked and fell all around us. Some of the fallen branches were as large as 5" in diameter and 20-30' long, so we were holding our breath hoping that none of them would land on our vehicles or on the house and poke a hole in the roof or break a window. Thankfully, none of that happened, but at about 4:30 in the afternoon our power went out. And stayed out.

We were somewhat prepared for the emergency, having recently bought a kerosene heater and five gallons of kerosene. We have loads of candles and flashlights around, and we had plenty of batteries. We didn't however, have nearly enough water for what turned out to be a three-day outage. And as temperatures plummeted to the teens, the kerosene heater struggled to keep the house warm. On the third day we woke up to an inside temperature of 46. We did have enough drinking water to last us three days, and we had a gallon of milk, but since we have a well we didn't have enough water to flush the toilets. Yuck. We resorted to carrying big tubs of snow in to the bathtub so it could melt and be poured into the toilet tank. We also melted a bit of snow in a big pot on top of the kerosene heater (since the stove is electric, we had to do all our cooking on top of the kerosene heater, too -- thank goodness for oatmeal and soup).

With all the snow on the ground, and with a twisting 45-degree-incline driveway, we opted to stay at home instead of trying out the roads. The mountains are gorgeous, but there's not a lot of plowing or salting during the winter. No sense getting out and getting stranded somewhere, right?

Push finally came to shove on the third day of the power outage when we ran out of drinking water and milk. We had been in contact with our future neighbors (who were staying warm with their wood-burning stove and were using a generator to be able to have water), so they were keeping us somewhat apprised of road conditions. The local power company was doing a great job of posting updates on their phone, so we knew we weren't the only ones in the county suffering through this mess.

So off we went on Monday, after doing a quick (VERY quick) wash of my hair with melted snow. Pat managed to navigate successfully down the driveway, which he had cleared of all the broken branches. Thank goodness for four-wheel drive. The roads weren't really too bad, although there was some black ice along the way. It was soooooooooo nice to be able to get out of the house and walk around, even if our walking was done in Lowes, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Ace Hardware. It's a good thing we had bought our kerosene heater and kerosene when we did -- everyone was cleaned out of ANYTHING emergency related! We snagged the last Coleman camp stove at Wal-Mart, so if this happens again (according to the locals that's unlikely) we'll be able to cook. And we went out to eat. That was nice. I was really tired of having oatmeal and soup.

We weren't looking forward to going back to the cold, dark house, but we knew we needed to head home kind of early so the kerosene heater would have a chance of warming up the house a bit before we turned in for the night. One last phone call to the power company told us that we were going home to a house that was still powerless, even though our neighbors had had their power restored (we're on the tail-end of the line, apparently).

Well, joy of all joys... As we turned the corner onto the road that leads to our house, there was a LIGHT!!! Hip hip hooray!!!!! Power restored, after 74 hours of outage. Whew. We've been warm and toasty ever since, and after that shopping trip last Monday we feel a bit more prepared for the next emergency, if it does happen. We have some 24-gallon tubs with water for toilets, kerosene for the heater, a camp stove and the propane it needs to run, and extra lights for the headlamp I used to do all my reading and beading while we were here.

One thing I'll say -- the local power company did a stupendous job of restoring power for the six or seven counties they service. There were downed power lines, downed poles, and roads that were nearly impassable; but they worked 24 hours a day the whole time and called in workers from other power companies to get everyone back online as quickly as they possibly could.


Anonymous said...

Wow...that's rough. At least it was only for three days and you had snow as backup water! Looking back though, those things are kind of fun (afterwards of course) and remind us of how much we take for granted in our normal daily lives that others regularly go without.

Thyme2dream said...

We had a storm like that on Christmas Eve...first Blizzard warning we had in many years, and quite a spanner in the works for our Christmas plans. Thankfully we didnt lose power- sounds like you had quite an adventure!!:)

Kristin at My Art and the Mom in Me said...

I have friends who live in the was rough for them too! :(

Glad to hear all was ok in the end!

Kim said...

an adventure indeed

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