welcome guest
login or register

A November Power Outage

It has been somewhat rainy late autumn weather, temperatures slightly above freezing. Last Friday the rain was turning to sleet, I changed winter tires to my car. When I left to work it was pouring a mixture of sleet and snow. The forecast said that it will be raining for the whole weekend, and I was planning to spend the weekend indoors - writing a piece of code for Sami, and hopefully finally writing a proper example story for Tarupaja.

I finished working after 8 pm, and at time there was already a 5 cm layer of snow on the ground. I thought that it won't stay for long, as the soil isn't frozen and the temperature isn't that much below freezing, so the snow will most likely be gone in a few days. On my way back home I quickly stopped at a supermarket to buy two cans of beer. The clerk suggested me to quickly finish my shopping while there still was electricity - she said that a moment ago the lights were flickering, and if the power goes out she won't be able to sell me anything. Well, apparently the weight of the wet snow was causing strain on the electrical lines. When I was driving home I saw a flash of white light in the distance - maybe a tree fell on the lines, creating a short circuit. For the last few kilometres I had to drive slowly, as the weight of the snow made young trees bend down, treetops hanging in the middle of the road.

Back at home there was still electricity and internet. I opened a can of beer and did my routine check: e-mail, the news, urw forums, blog comments, facebook. And then the lights went out. I lit some candles and spent a while sipping the beer and relaxing. I went to feed the horses and crawled to bed. At some point in the night I briefly woke up. There was an sms from the electric company, saying that it will take more than 24 hours to restore the electricity. Looking out the window I saw another flash of light behind the treetops, where the electric lines are. Saturday morning I got up and saw that there was about 35 cm of snow on the ground. I lit a fire in the stove and cooked myself coffee. While drinking the coffee I was thinking about my situation: I can get all the vital stuff done without electricity. The stove is good for cooking and it provides minimal heating. The water is the biggest problem - in the summertime if there has been a longer period of power outage, I have hauled water from a nearby natural spring. But it is all uphill from the spring to my yard, and now all the routes are covered with snow. Well, but I can just melt the snow to get water, no problem.

My water well is so constructed that it would be possible to install a manual pump next to the electric pump. I have wanted to do that since I bought the place, but I haven't yet figured out how exactly to do it. There are hand pumps made of cast iron, specially designed for Finnish winter so that they won't freeze - but such a pump costs around 750 € which is just a bit too expensive for me. And also, as far as I understand, such a pump should be installed directly on top of the well lid - but the problem is that sometimes I need to open the lid to access the electric pump for maintenance. With the second mug of coffee I thought that maybe it is not necessary to use a straight vertical pipe to pump up the water - maybe if I used a plastic hose with some 90 degree turns, I could install a cheaper manual pump right next to the well. That way it would still be easy to open and close the well lid, and in addition to the electric pump I would have a manual one. Hmm... But, yup, for now I have a plenty of snow for water.

The horses' drinking water container was half full. I filled it with snow and lit a fire under the container. As the snow melted I kept on adding more and more snow until I got a container full of water. I took some of the water to fill the sauna tub, and melted more snow to get warm drinking water for the horses. Then I went to check the road which takes to my yard. There were some young trees bended down by snow. The main road was already cleared, it was slowly snowing more, and all the landscape was painted with shades of white and grey. It is one of the local farmers who clears our road, and usually he also clears the road which takes to my yard. Well, but there must have been a reason why he had not cleared my road, which is OK for me, as I only need to leave on Monday.

I went back indoors, cooked some food and used the tablet to check the news. The news said that in our area there were some 60 000 households without electricity. A lot of trees had fallen on the electric lines, in so many places. The electric company had crews working all night and day, removing the trees. And the workers reported that it is impossible to estimate how much time it will take to get it all sorted out - when they had cleared one stretch of lines, new trees fell on those same lines and they had to start all over again. The company said that they also have four helicopters with special equipment to help removing the fallen trees. On worst areas even the telecommunications were down, since some of the link masts had ran out of back-up power. In facebook I read small stories of people co-operating the keep the life going on. For example, there were some of elders care homes out of electricity, but some of the workers had wood burning stoves at homes, so they improvised ways to get warm food for the inhabitants. That way they managed to keep people warm and fed until the officials arranged back-up power. There were fire-brigades delivering help to areas worst affected, all in all people were busy doing their best to cope with the situation. I thought that all of my neighbours are probably doing fine, there were no messages asking for help, so I went to heat up the sauna. I spent more than three hours having a sauna bath, occasionally leaping, rolling and swimming in the snow.

On Sunday I slept late. The indoor temperature was around +10°C - the stove alone isn't quite enough to keep the house warm. For sure I'll need another fire-place which is so constructed that it has enough mass which will store the heat, keeping the house warm all night through. Well, I hope to survive this winter with the stove and an electric radiator, as building a fireplace requires tearing down more of the kitchen structures and that has to be left for summertime. The next summer, hopefully. Not yet electricity. The news said that on worst areas it might take until Wednesday to get the electricity restored. So, I'd better prepare for that. Both the mobile phone battery and the tablet battery were about to run flat, but on Monday I'll go to work in another area - if they have electricity there, I can recharge my devices then. After all the rest and relaxation of Saturday I felt ready to work. I figured that my first priority is to remove all the trees blocking my road. I took the chainsaw and went to cut the trees. I also happened to meet some of my neighbours, and we paused to talk for a while. After I got the work done I noticed that someone had called me. It was the farmer who clears the roads. I called him back, and he asked if I'm all stuck at home. I laughed merrily and said that I'm fine, I only need to leave on Monday morning. And if need be, I'd guess my car could make it through the snow as it is downhill from my yard to the main road. The farmer said that he has been pretty busy just trying to keep the main routes open, and I totally agreed. He said that if he has time, he will come clear my road later on.

I started clearing my yard, as that is something I anyway have to do manually. It was slow work and needed some planning - in which order, to which directions to pile up the snow. As I was working the day turned into evening twilight. And again I saw distant flashes of bright lights. For a moment it felt like being in a sci-fi movie. Maybe the lights are because of the mainstream society collapsing, and the evening twilight sets for the mankind? Will it be all Mad Max in the snow? Well, after I got the yard cleared I checked the news - the society was still there. All the elders care homes had already been reconnected to the grid, and generally speaking things seemed to be getting better. I spent a while on the sofa, reading a book about Chinese hermits.

Monday morning - not yet electricity. The farmer had cleared my road while I was asleep. I gave food to the animals and left for work. At noon I got a sms from the electric company - the electricity is restored to my house. They have an automated service which sends those notifications. I was back at home at 10 pm, and found all systems functional. Now the weather forecast says that on Wednesday it will be raining, and on Thursday the temperature might be +7°C. So, let's see if all the snow will be gone by then.

Snowy treetops in the middle of the road.
Snowy treetops in the middle of the road.
Water in the making.
Water in the making.
Snowfall on village fields.
Snowfall on village fields.
Reading with a led lamp.
Reading with a led lamp.
tags: 
diary
homesteading
up
55 users have voted.

Comments

Pretty snow! We usually have some here by this time, too, but the weather has been weird this autumn... Unseasonably warm, though the past couple of nights have been down around -7C.

How deep is your well? If it is less than 20' or so (I guess 6 or 7 m, right?), there are some inexpensive pitcher pumps that will pump that far. What people around here do to keep them from freezing in winter is to put a foot valve on the bottom, and then drill a small hole in the pipe down below the frost line. Then the foot valve keeps the water level as high as possible without freezing, so that it is easier to prime the pump, but when the pump is not in use the water gradually leaks out of the little hole until it is down below the frost line. Would that work for you, or would it still freeze before leaking down below the frost line?

Our electrical grid here is pretty bad, lol. A couple of years ago, the wind blew something down and took out power for half of the state. Then they tried to back-feed it through some sub station somewhere, and blew up the substation. So we were without power for 8 days. It was the hottest part of summer, so some friends and I retreated to a dugout cabin back in the woods and hung out there drinking and riding dirt bikes until the power came back on, heh.

My most interesting time was back in 1985, though. Let's see, I guess I would have been 7 or 8 years old then. I grew up in a narrow valley, with only one road in and no other way out (at the time). A hurricane came through, and there was massive flooding all over the place. This area was one of the hardest hit by it. Anyway, it washed out both of the bridges on that road, so we were stuck down in there for about 6 months with no electricity or telephones. We are all farmers, so we grew gardens and had cattle and there was plenty of food, so we were fairly comfortable, but it was still an interesting time. I missed a lot of school, which was great, haha.

We had a dairy operation at the time, probably 300 head of milk cows, and there was a 2000 gallon holding tank that the milk was stored in until the truck could come pick it up. There was a backup generator on that tank to keep the milk cold when the power was out. Of course, all of that was washed out and ruined, but I remember helping my father fish that generator out of the stones and mud with a tractor, and then we tore it completely apart, re-wound the windings by hand and re-packed all of the bearings with grease, and got it going again. It was big enough to power the whole house, but we shared it around between the other houses down in there, so we only had power once each week. So we had just bought one of those "new fangled" VCRs, and had one tape for it. So every Wednesday I watched "Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn" several times. By the time we ran out of diesel fuel, I had the whole movie memorized, but by that time we had used up all of the perishable foods, so it wasn't a problem.

Many of the menfolk at the time chewed tobacco, too. My grandfather had a large stash of it in his basement, and the stash became the subject of secret night-time raids, and changed hands every night. But during the daytime, nobody talked about it and worked together to keep things going. But the chewing tobacco became kind of a currency, lol.

In general we had plenty of food, and all got along fine, until the National Guard started dropping crates of random donated food (which we didn't actually need) from helicopters. The thing is though, we had been eating pretty much the same thing every day, so the variety was something I guess we hadn't realized we'd missed until those crates were dropped. And then the social order broke down, as people argued over how to divide up the new stuff. I remember my mother and my aunt getting into a rolling-in-the-dirt fist fight over a 2 liter bottle of crappy hawaiian punch, lol.

Anyway, a short time later the state finally got around to putting in some temporary bridges, and the interesting time was over. But we had to have new topsoil trucked in from out of state to put on the fields, and we are still picking out the river rocks even today. If I had been older, it probably would have been a bad experience, but at that age it was one of the most fun times of my life, haha.

I'd guess a hand pump installation would work for me, the way you describe it. Ideally, I'd like to have a classic model, just for aesthetic reasons; http://www.nira.fi/en/product/157013/1000/nira-1-antique-garden-pump-2-5...

But, yeah, a cheaper solution might be a good option to start with =)

Heck, half a year isolated from the mainstream society - sounds like an adventure =) In Finland I'd guess it is only people living in the archipelago, who might face longer periods of isolation - when the ice is too thin to travel on, and the sea is too rough to go by boat, the islanders have to sustain themselves without any physical contact to others. Especially people living on remote islands are constantly prepared for that kind of conditions.

So, about how big was the local population in your valley - I mean, were you a dozen or a hundred of farmhouses / families isolated in that narrow valley?

Sorry for writing so much. It started small and turned into a big thing. :P

Let's see. At the time there was my family, my uncle's family, my grandparents, the hired hand's family, and the old folks up the road. So 5 inhabited houses, with hmm, 20 people (the hired hand had a /lot/ of kids, lol).

Maybe 6 houses and 21 people. I can't remember if the one guy was living here then or not. But yeah, something around that number.

That is a nice looking pump. I was thinking of one like this for my well: https://www.lehmans.com/p-2452-green-hand-cistern-pump.aspx Inexpensive (at least compared to the deep well pumps lol), but they only work on fairly shallow wells and they freeze in the winter and have to be thawed out with hot water. But I am having a hard time talking myself into paying $300 for a deep-well pump instead of $50 for a hand pump I won't use very often, just to keep it from freezing.

I have read about making pumps out of PVC pipe, so I may try that. But then I'd have to fence it off then to keep the cattle from rubbing all over and breaking it. And it would be ugly too, hehe.

Although with the cheaper pump, I bet I could unscrew the pump head and keep it inside the house to keep it from freezing, and keep a cap screwed onto the pipe sticking out of the well cap. Hmmmmmmmmm.......

Ah, absolutely no need to apologize for commenting in length! This is exactly why we do have a comment section here; so that people can share their stories =) And you write in a lively manner, so that the reader can easily imagine the things happening like watching a movie.

It just took me some time to reply, as we still have experienced occasional power outs for several hours each day. That, and I've been working.

That Lehman's pump looks like a miniature version of the one I've been dreaming of =) I think we also have some smaller, cheaper, imported ones for sale, too. Then, on the other hand, I was also thinking of a modern version, which is both small and efficient. It still costs some money, but might be worth the investment, if I plan to use the pump on daily basis - a pump outdoors would be handy for getting drinking water for the horses and to fill the sauna tub (or the garden bathtub). http://www.nira.fi/en/product/44979/1101/nira-6b-hand-pump-with-1-flange...

Hehe - if you unscrew the pump head and only attach it when you need it, that way it will also be safe from any damage caused by the roaming cattle =)

So much snow. I wish the snow here would stay too, since I've slowly getting sick of constant rains and I wouldn't mind if it would get a lot colder either.

Seeing your pictures makes me wonder if the Gulf Stream has gotten warmer in recent years and causes this kind of changes in Gulf of Bothnia.
I still remember when I was young we would have snow and cold weather before November. These days it is kind of a miracle if we will get any staying snow in December.

Yesterday it was +7°C and rain. Today all the snow is gone.

I think there are several factors contributing to the change we've seen in our weather. There is scientific data showing that overall warming in Fennoskandia area has been faster than the global average. A lot simplified, weather in Finland tends to be some kind of function of three big systems; the Atlantic weather, the Siberian weather, and the Arctic weather. All of those systems have changed over the recent decades, resulting in mild winters being more common in Finland.

But these things they aren't linear nor simply straightforward. The effects of overall global warming might occasionally mean colder and more snowy winters in the eastern U.S. and Europe.
http://insideclimatenews.org/news/20110112/arctic-oscillation-spilling-c...

Sigh. I often do miss the winters of my childhood. As we kept on clearing our yard, snow piles formed on all sides of the yard. And by x-mas time those snow piles were always so big that we could dig tunnels and caves in the snow.

It is warmer here in the Appalachians than it used to be, too. We used to go ice fishing most winters, but for the past 10 or 12 years the river does not freeze solidly enough for it. And the snows are later and don't stay as long. We haven't had a single flake yet this year. We usually have some flurries at least around the end of October.

The growing season is longer here now, though, so I guess I can't complain about that. Hehe. Do I recall reading somewhere that, back during the middle ages, it was warm enough in Finland to grow grapes? I have tried growing them here, but they fare very very poorly still, lol.

It's a long time since I last read about the history of Finnish climate, so I'm not sure if I remember it all correctly. But as far as I remember, 1000 years ago the climate in Finland was more or less the same as in my childhood. In the old port town of Turku there is a museum which says that they've found evidence of imported fruits.

But somewhere around 800 AD there was a period when winters were milder. But I don't know if it was mild enough to grow grapes.

Although, it isn't that far - nowadays they've been growing grapes in the most south-western corner of Åland islands. And some grape varietes might also survive on favourable spots in inland Finland, too. I'd guess they need a warm sunny southern wall protected from harsh winds.

Pages

Add new comment

CAPTCHA
Please reply with a single word.
Fill in the blank.