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Saturday, April 11, 2009

After the Storm

I just wanna see the love in your eyes,
After the storm has passed through and gone.
— Crosby, Stills, & Nash

And the cleanup begins:

Snow on Tuesday, tornadoes on Friday. Even the weather is psycho on Planet Georgia. But I’ve always said that the weather here has attitude. Getting home from work became an adventure starting around 6 p.m. — up to this point, there had been clouds, light rain, and the occasional streak of lightning to make things interesting. As I came into town, the skies opened up and the first piece of hail spanged off the windshield. I made a quick detour to the gas station and waited it out under the overhang… not the best idea I ever had, perhaps, but it was the idea of just about everyone else behind the wheel. I just thought it first. Fortunately, I wasn’t trying to keep the car dry: the wind brought the rain under there with us. Some hail came in with the wind; some bounced off the pavement and landed on the car

Album 88 started barking the EWS alerts — they couldn’t get through a song without at least one coming in. The first one was for a storm forming over Reinhardt and heading south of town. Since I knew Daughter Dearest was on her way to the manor, I called her, got her voice mail, and told her to be careful coming home.

After a couple of minutes, the hail let up and the real fun began. As I signaled my turn onto my own road, an SUV at the stop sign flashed her lights at me. I stopped long enough to find out that there were trees down across the road. Fortunately, there’s another way in, past the in-laws’ place, so I gave that a shot. Nope! trees both in the road and getting ready to fall. Third way around: more of the same. Some of the trees here were not in the road only because the power lines were holding them up. At this point, I called Mrs. Fetched (no answer), the house (no answer), and her mom. Third time’s the charm.

“Looks like I'm not going to get home,” I said. “I’ll try to find a place to hole up for the night.”

“Yeah, well the power’s out here. Trees are down everywhere. Mrs. Fetched is sitting in the truck, waiting for the hail to stop.”

I called Daughter Dearest, getting her this time. “Don’t bother trying to get home,” I said, “you can’t get there. Just meet me in town and we’ll come up with something.”

“I’m already home.”

“Oh… well, you won’t be getting out, then.”

DoubleRed called: “I’m up in Blue Ridge, taking refuge in a church. The tornado was coming right at me and the only reason I got inside was because the cleaning lady just happened to show up. Then four more people came in right behind me." With all the FAR Manor denizens accounted for, my inner Sheltie laid down and took a nap.

Shortly after this, I returned to the intersection where I’d first planned to turn off, and a guy in a car with Florida plates waved me down. “How can I get to the lodge from here,” he asked. “The road is blocked.”

“All the alternates are blocked, too,” I said. “There’s one more chance, but it’s out of the way.”

“Can you take me that way?”

“Sure… I live that way too. Let’s try it.” I led on, reminding myself to go a little slower than conditions would allow… from getting behind a few, I’ve learned that Florida drivers aren’t much used to curves. There were trees down in the road this way, too, but fortunately they left enough room to squeeze past. At one point, it got really foggy, and I slowed way down… figuring this would be the perfect place to drop a tree. I was right, but not immediately. At one place, there was an old guy with a pickup truck, cutting a tree off the side of the road. I shouted him a thanks, but he didn’t hear me above the saw. Eventually, I reached my turn and sent the follower on his way, hoping that his last five miles were navigable.

The first thing Mrs. Fetched said to me as I came in was, “Change your clothes, we need to get a generator started down at the pump house.” She also gave me time to grab the lantern from the shelf in the garage and light up the living room. There’s a large (10KW) diesel gennie at the pump house, but nobody ever goes down and runs it to keep the starter batteries charged… so it’s never ready when it’s needed. The chicken house generator has a gadget that keeps the batteries topped up and the coolant warm and circulating, so it doesn’t have these problems, but the evil little boogers need water too. They have a small (4KW) portable gennie that can run the chicken house pump; it leaves the renters high & dry but they have drinks in the fridge. To my amazement, it started without much protest once I remembered to turn on the fuel… it ran a little rough at first, but the gas in it was old and that didn’t surprise me much. What also didn’t surprise me was the lack of an extension cord with 240V connectors; there was a 120V cord there so I scrounged a couple of the other plugs off unused equipment and got it going. Hooray, no die-off to deal with in the morning! We swung by the chicken houses and Mrs. Fetched turned the lights on so the birds would get up and drink.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Fetched’s mom was on the horn to the guys who installed the old Air Force surplus gennie at the pump house. I’d tried the starter switch when we were down there, and it didn’t even click, so we assumed the batteries were dead. They promised to grab a pair of fresh batteries and come down… and I got tagged to drive them down, since their truck isn’t 4-wheel drive. I had plenty of time for a sandwich before they arrived, then went on down. All quiet at the pump house: in the intervening hour and a half or so, the portable had used up the old gas. “Well, with any luck, that won’t matter,” I said. They popped in the new batteries and hit the starter button: after a little chugging, it coughed to life and spun up… and kept right on spinning up. The voltage meter, which is supposed to read 140V, swung all the way to 300V.

“It’s not supposed to be running this fast, is it?” I yelled above the roar.

“No!” he grabbed the “shutter” (throttle) and pulled back, bringing the engine down much closer to where it was supposed to be… but as soon as he let go, it spun up again. Then he smelled antifreeze and cut it off entirely. To make a long story slightly shorter, the gennie was toast: the governor was shot, the radiator had a pretty good leak, and a voltage regulator was kaput. Seeing that the thing’s a WW2 vet, finding repair parts for it would be rather difficult. I took them on back, then got a can of gas and a funnel to get the little generator back online. Mrs. Fetched later turned off the lights, figuring the chickens would have gotten enough water, then turned it off for the night.

My wind-up flashlight performed much better than I’d expected… I thought it would run a half-hour, but it ran for two hours (perched on my shoulder as I started Rama Revealed) and was still going strong when I went to bed. The power came back on around 11 this morning, so we won’t have that to deal with tonight. Just have to get up early-early for sunrise service…


  1. Lordy, what an adventure! Glad to hear that you and your family are OK, Far.

    It takes something of an effort to keep up with all the things that can possibly go wrong in a complex set-up such as you have described. In general, the number of possible combinations of “things going wrong” goes up with the square (or cube?) of the number of distinct items/things that can themselves fail or function improperly.

    We saw that thing here during the winter, that situation in which trees are held off the road only by virtue of having fallen onto the power/phone/television cables stretched across the poles. Not good. It was during that ice storm you may have heard about. (that's when I found out my old Powershot S50 was well & truly dead .. it had been glitchy all summer and finally gave up the ghost and had to be replaced .. hello SX110IS) It was actually quite pretty out.

    We had no phone tree set up, and I was so excited at the pretty ice storm outside that I foolishly tried to get to work that morning. Had to drive under a lot of about-to-fall stuff held up by strained cables not designed to hold up fallen trees. Got there to find my boss in her SUV waiting for people to show up so she could tell them to go home. Rather retardedly, I stepped over a lot of fallen wood to peer in the front door to verify that the power was off in the building. (we didn't know it then, but a fallen tree had smashed a hole in the roof and was allowing meltwater to run down inside the building) When I came back later, even more stuff had fallen where I'd walked. It was the kind of big heavy falling hardwood that would squish you like a bug.

    The town where I live had the only functioning gas station between here and Worcester, so I tanked up while everyone else was still confused. By a few hours later, there was a line there more than a quarter mile long, mostly emergency vehicles trying to gas up.

    We don't get bad weather like that very often here, thankfully.

    Great post. Glad you are all OK :)

  2. Hi Nudge…

    The point is: whether things go to hell in a handbasket or Asoka turns out to be right & everything will be fine, there are still things that can go w0rNg. Tornadoes, hurricanes, ice, earthquakes, or even the good ol' house fire, all can totally ruin your day. Having plans to cope with natural and not-so-natural disasters is just a good idea.

    Of course, when you have chicken houses, there's always a mini-disaster of one sort or another to cope with. :-P

  3. Gee, what a harrowing experience! I'll bet you wish you could have spent the night in a motel or something! heh! ha! No such luck, eh?! ha!

    I can remember the storm when the Fitzgerald ore frieghter went down.. Luckly for my mother and I, we had a saw and I used it clearing several trees that had fallen over the road, coming home. (Good thing, the saw was full of gas!)

    Glad, it went as good as it did for ya Far! Up here beautiful sun shiney skies, fluffy clouds and ponies prancing around!

  4. Hey Yooper… a hotel would have been OK except that I would have had no computer, a phone with batteries that were starting to run low, and no book to read. It would have been a very boring night. Not sure which is worse.

    Lucky indeed, that you had the saw with you! Pet the ponies for me, OK?


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